RICHMOND, Va. -- The 13th annual Bike Ride for Sickle Cell brings together hundreds of bikers to raise awareness and support sickle cell survivors.
"I am a biker. But to be honest, I've been doing this before I was riding," Sitrena Kelly Woodson, a sickle cell survivor, said.
Woodson is a big supporter of the annual ride.
"I've only missed one year now, it was because I had a sickle cell crisis. So out of 13 years, I've done it 12 years. I've only been riding for 10 years," Woodson said.
In 2007 at the age of 42, Woodson was diagnosed with sickle cell. The news was devastating for the single mother.
"So the hematologist recognized that it was sickle thalassemia, which is full-blown sickle disease. Sickle disease is an inherited disorder of the red blood cells attacking the organs. African Americans, Hispanics and other people of color are usually affected," Woodson said. "So I've had my hip replaced twice, my bones break very easily. And now I'm in the middle of osteoporosis because they think my thigh bone is about to crack. I get dehydrated easily. My bones are brittle. My kidneys are tenuous at times."
Despite these challenges, she loves riding. It would become her saving grace.
"I decided I was going to do something I had been wanting to do since I was a teenager and I learned to ride a motorcycle," Woodson said.
She would quickly become her own advocate.
"I have to make sure that I'm taking care of myself. I have to stay hydrated, I have to get rest. You know, I have to watch what I eat. And when I'm tired, I just have to say not today. But I can live with sickle cell," Woodson said.
For her, bike riding is a healing outlet.
"If I've been sick for a while and it's a nice day and I can just get out and ride, just some music and fresh air, it will change your whole perspective on things," Woodson said.
Woodson rides to Tennessee, Daytona and North Carolina. Sometimes she rides by herself and other times, she tags along with a motorcycle club.
"I'm a member of the Wolf Spiders," Woodson said.
Woodson has named her three-wheeler bike Charlotte.
"So I've equipped it with a phone holder. I can get my GoPro, I have my cupholders because I have to drink lots of water for my sickle cell. I have a comfortable seat," Woodson said.
Woodson's bike also has a seat for her granddaughter.
"She's been riding with me since she was five. She's 16 now and learning to drive," Woodson said.
The bike is also adorned beautifully with lights and spider designs by racer Michael Hall.
"For Charlotte's Web because Charlotte was a good friend to the other animals at the farm and that's me. I just always, I'm always looking for friends and good people," Woodson said.
Her beloved bike gives her the freedom to enjoy life and put sickle cell aside.
"It rides just like a car," Woodson.
She gives back by supporting the Unity Ride.
"I have benefited from the donations of the Sickle Cell Foundation, MCV Foundation," Woodson said.
The foundation offers medical and financial resources and the ride raises funds and creates awareness.
Woodson's life has been tested by more than just her sickle cell diagnosis.
"She had seizures disorder from infancy, like three months, she started having seizures. She passed away in February 2021 from a massive heart attack," Woodson said.
Her daughter was just 37 when she died.
"I always say, my granddaughter and I are peanut butter and jelly and I think that's because me and her mom were peanut butter and jelly. We were mother and daughter but I kind of grew up with her," Woodson said. "I said, I feel like I'm grieving like somebody close to me has passed away. I said, can you come and spend some time with me. And the next day, we got the word that she had passed away," Woodson said.
Through her pain, Woodson is comforted with a special part of her daughter.
"Now she's not here and I have a granddaughter but I miss her," Woodson said. "This is in honor of my daughter. She loves butterflies. And this is her birthday, 10-16-83 to 2-15-21. And I have faith that I will see her again. But until then, my heart is broken."
The 13th annual Unity Ride for Sickle Cell starts in Petersburg at Zion Baptist Church then rides up Route 301 to Second Baptist Church on Broadrock boulevard.