Bikers help make dreams come true for student

May. 01, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

At first, Joshua Clifford thought there were missiles outside his house. But when the 14-year-old Floyd L. Knight student went to investigate, the commotion turned out to be something he was much more excited about — motorcycles.

Joshua is the only person known to suffer from a certain combination of rare genetic disorders, said his father, Michael Clifford, and has always loved motorcycles and other high-octane forms of transportation like race cars and helicopters. But because of his disorders — Fahr’s Syndrome, which limits his strength and movement, and Cockayne Syndrome, a rare form of dwarfism — Joshua has spent most of his life in a wheelchair and, until recently, never had the chance to indulge his inner speed demon.

Thanks to some Harnett County motorcycle clubs, that changed. Joshua has now ridden with three different clubs, even becoming a lifetime honorary member in two of them, Souls of Service and Old Skool Bikers. Each gave him a vest — one denim and covered with patches, the other leather and more spartan — bearing his biker name, Flaming Rugrat. He also has a helmet signed by many of the bikers.

The energy his nickname implies is right-on, too. Despite being confined to his motorized wheelchair most of the day, Joshua’s mom, Kim Kruger — she and Clifford are divorced — said the boy is quite active. Sitting in her living room Monday afternoon, Kruger said Joshua often grabs a toy rifle, puts on some military clothes and goes on patrol outside. Indoors, he can pretend to be on a motorcycle as he rides a special physical therapy tricycle, which can be pedaled using both hands and feet. Despite his active imagination, however, she said nothing compared to his excitement over a real motorcycle ride.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” Kruger said. “It’s something he always wanted to do, and it went really well.”

Joshua’s disorders have also left him with a speech impediment, but the teen is nevertheless talkative. The very first ride and that unknown rumbling, he said, was great.

“I thought it was a torpedo coming; I thought it was a missile coming,” Joshua said of hearing 30 motorcycles pull up to his dad’s house in southwest Lee County, as a birthday present in April. But was he scared once he got strapped into the bike for that first journey, a 40-mile jaunt around Lee and Harnett counties?

“No,” he said. “It was fun.”

It was so enjoyable, Kruger said, that Joshua rarely took his vests off for days after he got them. He even went to school in his colors, as they’re known in biking circles.

The bikers are also doing more than just taking along an extra member on joy rides; they also helped Joshua get some much-needed updates to one of his two motorized wheelchairs. He needs two since he splits time with his parents, and neither has a vehicle that can hold the heavy, bulky chairs. But his health care only pays for work on one, which is the one at his mom’s house.

His dad wanted to update the wheelchair he keeps, which is more than a decade old — however, a new one costs about $27,000, so that was out of the question. Even repair work added up to thousands of dollars, so the bikers set out to take care of their newest member, reaching out to contacts in Texas to get the work done and also raising money for the cause.

Now, the chair is on its way back from Texas and will be presented to Josh at noon on Saturday. The ceremony will take place at Motorcycle Madness, located at 112 S. Fayetteville Ave. in Dunn, Clifford said, followed by a police-escorted bike ride back to Sanford. He invited the public to come the the ceremony or to cheer on the long line of bikes as they go by.

Clifford said he was beyond grateful to everyone involved, from the motorcycle clubs to the repair shop and even Red Hill PFWB Church in Coats, which sent a prayer shawl that Kruger said Joshua has slept with every night since he got it. Clifford said Joshua is grateful, too — although that’s not much of a change.

“I asked him one day why he’s always so happy,” Clifford said, sipping out of a coffee mug with his son’s grinning face printed on one side. “And I’m being serious, he said, ‘Daddy, every day is Friday for me.’ Even with all he’s gone through, every day is Friday.”