Johnston Police Patrolman Phil Viens had an idea 12 years ago that has grown into an extraordinary event, and one of the largest of its kind in New England.
“Phil came to me and said he’d like to do a little something for some Special Olympians,” recalled Johnston Police Chief Richard Tamburini. “Look at what this has grown into. It’s quite a sight; just look at all these people.”
More than 1,000 motorcycles and twice as many people jammed into every nook and cranny of the Metro Collision Center parking lot on Putnam Pike awaiting the start of the annual Rhode Island Special Olympics Motorcycle Run.
In the middle of it all was Viens, whose first experience came in 1999 when he was asked to escort 25 motorcycles to Kingston for the official opening ceremony of the Rhode Island Special Olympics.
A year later, in 2000, Viens was asked to take over the small run and help it grow.
“It gets bigger every year,” said Tamburini, who later conducted a ceremony to honor Viens for his efforts. “The men and women of the Johnston Police Department are proud of what this event has become. We want it to continue to grow; Special Olympics is special to all of us.”
Tamburini presented Viens with a certificate of appreciation for the time he has spent making the Special Olympics ride what it is today.
“His time, effort, generosity and unending dedication have helped Special Olympic athletes to reach beyond their own limits and to feel proud of their achievements,” Tamburini said.
Viens received another proclamation from Special Olympics Executive Director Dennis DeJesus and Director of Event Management Tracy Garabedian. This is Viens’ last year on the force, as he is retiring from the Johnston Police Department in December, but he is confident that the bike run will continue to grow.
“Hopefully my partner, Det. Chris DeCesare, will take over the leadership of this great event. He’s been a huge help to me the past six years. He’s a great partner,” Viens said. “Together, we’re going to keep it going.”
While the gathering of bikers patiently awaited their trek to URI and the night’s official opening ceremony for the 2012 Rhode Island Special Olympic Games; they were entertained by retired Special Olympian Bobby Fleming, who performed some Elvis Presley tunes with the band Running Wild from Glocester.
“They were excellent,” Viens said of the band. “They always donate their time, too.”
Mike Petrucci, who owns and operates Johnston Dressed Beef & Veal on Armento Street, donated hot dogs and hamburgers for the event. Don DePetrillo and Alicia McArthur, who own The Original Italian Bakery on Atwood Avenue, supplied a variety of pizza, calzones and other baked goods.
Joe Vingi, a Providence firefighter who owns Pleasure Sounds, also had a hand in the pre-bike run festivities that were made possible by Domenic Greco of Metro Motor Group.
“I can’t thank Domenic enough,” said Viens. “He spent all day with us Friday helping to set things up. And that was incredible because he got married Saturday.”
Sometime around 7:30 p.m., the roar of motorcycles echoed as more than 1,000 bikes made their way out of the Metro Collision Center parking lot onto Putnam Pike, under heavy police protection from eight different Rhode Island departments, and headed for Route 295. From there, the long line of bikes headed down Route 4 to URI and the Opening Ceremony.
“When we got to URI, I’ve never seen so many athletes,” Viens said. “This was the biggest Special Olympics I’ve ever seen. I love it.”
With Special Olympics growing each year, it was a good thing that Viens and motorcycle ride participants raised at least $30,000, with additional donations trickling in. The run was held in memory of the late Katelyn Adler who had an accident last year on the way home from the bike run.
“Her family was very, very supportive of this year’s run. We can’t thank them enough,” Viens said.