Daniel Start is a veteran with disabilities. He is also an avid motorcyclist.
This Saturday, Start will ride a three-wheeled motorcycle loaned by Harley Davidson of Southampton in the seventh annual Holyoke Home Soldiers’ Motorcycle Run hosted by Victory 4 Veterans.
He said he’s looking forward to riding the trike, rather than maneuvering his two-wheeled bike in a big group of motorcycles, stopping and starting and holding up a 600-pound motorcycle with legs that, he said, “don’t always hold up so well.”
Start enlisted in the U.S. Army to help pay for college in the late 1980s, served in Korea on a hardship tour and then served in Operation Desert Storm during the first Gulf War.
He battled Gulf War syndrome for years afterward, and said he finally started to get his body back to normal with the help of a natural doctor.
Now, his wife, Amy Mathison-Start, said he’s facing early onset Parkinson’s disease at age 50. She worries about her husband riding his motorcycle and waits anxiously to hear that he made it wherever he’s going safely.
“He deserves to go out and have fun,” Mathison-Start said. “And the trike is a much safer alternative.”
She said it’s “positively amazing” that Start will get to ride an easily balanced trike on Saturday, especially because it can take up to 20 minutes for all the motorcycles to go by and she worries about vehicles trying to pass. She said as many as 1,200 riders fill the streets.
His fourth time participating in the ride, Start said he looks forward to the camaraderie of the motorcycle community and the amazement on the veterans’ faces when all the motorcycles pour into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home parking lot at the start.
He said he has purchased all of his previous motorcycles from Southampton Harley Davidson, so for the shop to offer the trike for Saturday’s event means a lot.
“A big shout out goes to Southampton Harley for making this possible for me,” Start said, “and I hope everyone has fun this weekend.”
Brendyn Pac, sales manager at Southampton Harley, said for the store, “It’s always our pleasure to support the local community and even more so to help Mr. Smart go on this ride on a Harley Davidson.”
After serving his country, Start studied chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has worked in the field since graduating in 1997. He and his wife live in his grandparents house just down the street from where he grew up in Hatfield.
As president of Post 224 American Legion Riders in Easthampton, he strives to bring younger veterans like himself together for veteran events and activities. As the father of five children, he hopes to leave a legacy for them through the American Legion, creating a place of community for generations to come. And of course, joining the riders had a little something to do with his love for motorcycles. “I may be bald, but it’s the wind in your hair,” Start said. “It’s freedom. You just get on the bike and it becomes an extension of you.”
Rider, passenger and after party tickets for Saturday’s event in Holyoke are available at victory4veterans.com and event organizers said the event is expected to sell out.
The after party will feature BBQ, a raffle and a performance by the 1980s band Great White at the Waterfront Tavern in Holyoke, in what Start describes as a “big picnic atmosphere.”