RAGBRAI riders are heading into the homestretch. They woke up in Knoxville Thursday morning and headed east. Riders say they’re enjoying the beautiful weather and nice people along the way. Some teams aren’t just rolling across the state for fun, many have a message.
Charlotte Baldridge says as she gets ready, “Need to get my helmet, you bet” This isn’t her first ride across the state. She says, “We took this ride years ago, 34 years ago, and we decided we’d try it one more time.”
This time, she, her husband and brother are enjoying all the stops. She says, “It has just been marvelous. The people have been wonderful and the little towns go all out and welcome us with open arms.”
They’re also sharing their story. Baldridge says, “Autism affects our grandson. And, it’s important to get the word out as to these children, what it’s doing to their lives.”
Her grandson, Sam Wessels, serves as Team Autism Wave’s support crew with his mom. Mom Linda Wessels says, “He’s a really great kid. He hangs out with mom a lot, don’t you?” Sam responds, “Yep.”
Sam is also an advocate for people with Autism. Sam says, “Because I have Autism.” At eleven years old, his message about the condition that affects the way people communicate and interact with others, is clear. He says, “That we need to do more to help people with Autism because while some people can do it easily, other people can’t.”
When RAGBRAI rolled through Des Moines, Team Autism Wave made a pit stop. Sam got to take his message to the state capitol.
Linda says, “We had a private meeting with Governor Branstad. And, it turned out very well. He gave us a very generous amount of his time.”
The Wessels met with Governor Branstad for about 45 minutes. They talked about upcoming legislation, education and new research. Linda Wessels says, “There’s a lot of research emerging that Autism isn’t just a neurological condition, but it often encompasses underlying medical conditions that if we treat those the Autism significantly improves.”
The Wessels don’t know what will come out of their meeting with the state’s leader. But, the team knows their message is reaching riders as they make their trek across the state. Baldridge says, “We’re doing great. We’re going to make it. We’re going to make it to the end, one way or another.”
The team’s RV also carries the names of more than 300 people around the world with Autism.