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Biker ‘Divas’ raise funds, not hell, on cycle run

Daniela Caride
Biker ‘Divas’ raise funds, not hell, on cycle run
(From left): Divas for a Cure Aj Coffee, Elaine Thomas, Jan Emanuel-Costley, Cynthia Marcy and Michelle Hampton rode into Boston Harley-Davidson on Revere Beach Parkway in Everett last Friday. The pit stop and fundraising visit was part the riders’ 6,300-mile road trip promoting their organization’s cause: finding a cure for breast cancer. (Photo: Daniela Caride)

  Jan Emanuel-Costley (left) and Elaine Thomas park their motorcycles in the parking lot of Boston Harley-Davidson in Everett. Their stop, a fundraising event for their nonprofit organization Divas for a Cure, is intended to promote breast cancer awareness in Greater Boston. The riders expect to raise $100,000 for research during their third annual cross-country bike trip, wrapping up Aug. 4. (Daniela Caride photo)

The noise of heavy traffic on Revere Beach Parkway in Everett suddenly gave way to the rumble and roar of dozens of motorcycles. Five women rode their bikes into the Boston Harley-Davidson parking lot, surrounded by a group of bikers clad in black and yellow jackets with “BUFFALO SOLDIERS” emblazoned on the backs. The lot quickly filled with leather, chains and attitude.

Onlookers might have thought the whole scene rolled straight out of “Easy Rider” if it weren’t for one thing: Instead of chasing the bikers, Boston and Everett police escorted them.

Flanked by boys in blue and men in black, the five “Divas for a Cure” made a stop in Greater Boston last Friday. The parking lot visit was part of a 6,300-mile road trip to promote their cause — finding a cure for breast cancer.

“We are simply ordinary women trying to do extraordinary things to impact the lives of women in our community,” says Jan Emanuel-Costley, “and change the image of women in motorcycling.”

Emanuel-Costley, a.k.a. “Sunny The Diva,” is the founder and president of Divas for a Cure. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting early detection, education and screenings, as well as supporting continued research. The motorcycle run is the organization’s key fundraiser.

This year’s third annual trip started when the divas departed from Atlanta on July 16, hitting the road toward North Carolina. The trip took them to Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan, with a stop in Canada, before arriving in Massachusetts. Following their Everett stop, the riders set out for New Jersey and to the National Bikers Roundup in Greensburg, Pa. They are scheduled to return to Atlanta on Aug. 4.

Throughout the motorcycle run, the divas stop at Harley Davidson dealerships to host events where people can make donations or register to ride with the group to the next city. At the events, Emanuel-Costley says, the women raise cancer awareness by advising participants to get regular screenings, sharing their personal experiences with the illness and asking for contributions for breast cancer research.

Emanuel-Costley also matches women diagnosed with breast cancer to volunteers who have gone through the battle to bring these women emotional support.

“Our mission is simple,” says Emanuel-Costley. “Breast cancer awareness and early detection are key to survival. I am living proof.”

Now in her 25th year as a cancer survivor, Emanuel-Costley first had a brain tumor at 16. Then, at 22, she found a lump on one of her breasts and says she had to convince the doctors that it could be malignant. Three months later, she had it extracted.

“They kept saying, ‘It’s probably nothing,’” she remembers. “Had I not insisted, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Years later, in 1998, Emanuel-Costley was again haunted by cancer. This time, the victim was her aunt, Mary Elizabeth Clemons, who helped raise her. Before Clemons’ death two years later, Emanuel-Costley promised her she would give back to the community. One day in 2005, when someone dared her to go on a cross-country ride, she decided to found Divas for a Cure.

In the ride’s first year, the divas traveled from San Francisco to Florida, up to New York, and back. They raised $25,000. Last year, they went from Los Angeles to Maryland and back, raising $50,000. Each time, the group donated the money to breast cancer research at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

As they reached Massachusetts last Friday, the divas had already raised $44,000. They said they expect to raise around $100,000 this year.

The rewards, they noted, are not only financial.

“This journey has been a treasure of knowledge and growth,” says diva Cynthia Marcy, a.k.a. “Chicago,” a retired former employee of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “People embrace us everywhere we go.”

“It’s been a blast,” adds rider Michelle Hampton, who runs a travel agency and a truck company in Atlanta, Ga.

Emanuel-Costley, Marcy and Hampton, as well as divas Aj Coffee (“Suga Soldier”) and Elaine Thomas (“Hunter”) are enjoying the trip so much that they say they are already committed to rolling together again next year.

“In the motorcycle community, sometimes we are not as proactive about our health because we are living on the edge,” says Emanuel-Costley. “But the earlier the stage, the better your chances. Ninety-five percent of all breast cancer … is curable.”

For more information on the ride and the group’s fundraising efforts, visit www.divasforacure.org.