In a crowd of leather, bandanas and arm tattoos, an 8-year-old got to do what he’s always wanted: burn rubber with the big shots.
Marc Okes, like many boys, loves motorcycles and policemen, but unlike the average first-grader, he suffers from a cancerous brain tumor.
His dream has been to ride a motorcycle, and on Monday afternoon with the help of local police departments and Gainesville Harley Davidson, that dream became a reality.
When Marc told his mom, Sandi Okes, and family friend Christy Anderson that he wanted to ride in a motorcycle parade, Anderson quickly coordinated the ride with a fellow motorcyclist and a retired Gainesville Police sergeant.
Beginning the parade at Gainesville Harley Davidson, supporters lined the roads to cheer Marc on as nearly 200 motorcycles escorted him to High Springs and back.
Marc rode in the sidecar of Gainesville Harley Davidson owner and general manager Kevin Lytle’s motorcycle while his mom rode on the back.
Marc’s favorite motorcycle in the parade was “the black one,” he said, but he pointed excitedly at all the motorcycles and repeatedly shouted, “Mommy, look at that one!”
“It was my favorite day because I never done that in my whole entire life,” Marc said after the parade.
Lytle said Anderson reached out to him with the idea to help Marc. He said it started out as a small ride until it hit social media.
“A little bit of the word got out to some people, and this is what you see today,” he said as he gestured to the crowd with a smile.
Rick Buehn, a motorcyclist and one of the organizers, rode near the front of the parade in his motorcycle.
He said the support for Marc was huge.
“There were a bunch of people lining the route, and they were just waving,” he said. “It could not have been a more beautiful day for a better cause.”
Officers from GPD, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, University Police and Alachua Police Department participated in the parade.
Marc received presents from some of the agencies.
GPD gifted him with a motorcycle helmet designed to match the officers. Lytle gave him a motorcycle number plate signed by Gainesville Harley Davidson employees, and the sheriff’s office presented him with a plaque and hat naming him an honorary member of the motor department.
Retired GPD Sgt. John Franklin also helped organize the event.
He said he rode toward the back, so he could watch as almost a mile of motorcycles drove Marc around the county.
“You get choked up,” he said. “Hell, I was crying through half of the route. I think he had a great time, and it was an honor, an absolute honor, and something that’s pretty important to him. Kids should not have to go through this.”
Marc’s mom, Sandi, said he was so excited when they arrived he almost jumped out of the car before she parked.
Because Marc is sick, he doesn’t get to do a lot of the fun things he wants to, she said.
She was thrilled when the parade turned out to be so big.
“You want to see happy days for him that he’s going to remember forever, and that’s what this was for,” she said. “Through all of this Marc is the most positive.”
When the parade finished and the line of motorcycles returned to the store, Marc took off his GPD helmet and blue sunglasses and hopped out of his sidecar.
He plopped his ASO hat on his mother’s head and gave a thumbs up to the crowd, which shouted “Way to go, Marc!” and “One more time!”
Marc gave Lytle a long hug to thank him.
Then he pulled back.
“Wanna take me for a ride on the red one now?”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 3/11/2014 under the headline "Motorcycle parade grants kid’s wish"]