‘Ride for Gary’
Early this morning, about a dozen local firefighters headed for Atlanta to help raise funds for a fellow brother in need.
Traveling in a classic, 30-year-old refurbished American LaFrance fire truck, the group hopes to catch the attention of those they pass along the way and
generate interest for one website, rideforgary.com, using banners and signs.
“This is a guy that has been a friend to us for over 20 years, and we’re just looking to help him out and take care of him,” said Lt. Ken Retzer of the Cape Coral Fire Department. “He’s a fellow brother of the fire department.”
Retired Cape Coral firefighter Gary Mueller was paralyzed from the chest down in March 2009 when he fell off of the two-story back deck of his home in Flowery Branch, Ga. Now, his family and friends are trying to raise money to buy a newer specially equipped van for Mueller to replace the rusty one he owns.
According to his brother, Bill Mueller, the current van is costing the family too much in upkeep and maintenance because of its age and condition.
“It’s 11 or 12 years old,” he said. “They let us buy it for extremely cheap.”
On Saturday, Bill Mueller will ride a unicycle 100 miles to raise money for the new van. A unicyclist for 30 years, he will head out from a fire department in Gainesville, Ga., at 7 a.m. and travel through Hall, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Fluton counties. Stops are planned at multiple fire departments along on the way.
“There’s so much attention that I get when I’m riding it,” he said. “I thought this would be a great way to raise money.”
Bill Mueller created the website, rideforgary.com, and is collecting donations by allowing people to sponsor the ride by the mile. A donation of 20 cents per mile would amount to a total donation of $20. News of the site spread quickly and it seems everyone is pitching in to help raise the funds for the new van.
According to Bill Mueller, the company that makes the vans for the disabled, Vans Incorp., is offering the family a $5,000 discount toward the purchase. The website has raised close to $3,000 and the Cape firefighters union has raised approximately $3,000 that they are bringing with them to Georgia.
“Once they put it on a website, it took over a life of its own,” said Jerry Doviak, vice president of the Cape Coral Professional Firefighters IAFF 2424.
Bill Mueller added that a car wash thrown by a supporter raised $600 and a man donated an almost new scooter that will sold online to raise more funds. T-shirts are available for $20 to mark the event and bring in extra funding.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “There’s no way I could have done this, at this level, without them.”
Along with raising awareness of the fund-raiser by traveling in the restored classic fire engine, which is owned by the union, the Cape group will escort Bill Mueller on his 100-mile ride to generate more even interest along the route.
“The intent is to buy the van, but the motivation is to help Gary regain his independence,” Retzer said. “This is just a shot in the arm to turn the page in his life. We have no plans on quitting before this goal is met.”
Since leaving the hospital, Gary Mueller’s wife, Mary Ann, has been taking care of him along with his brother. Gary is unable to remember what he was doing prior to his fall, but his family believes he may have been filling bird feeders.
“It was pretty serious,” Bill Mueller said of the accident.
He added that the fund-raiser has changed his brother’s disposition.
“It almost completely turned around his attitude,” Bill Mueller said. “His spirits are great.”
A pre-event party will be held at 8 p.m., Friday, at Engine 11, a restaurant and bar in Atlanta that once was a working firehouse. Following Bill Mueller’s ride Saturday, an after-event party will be held at Engine 11 beginning at 9 p.m.
For more information or to donate, visit the website: ride for gary.com. Donations can be made using a PayPal account and debit or credit cards.