May 25, 2018
UTICA, NY - Mohawk Valley Health System (MVHS) is a proud sponsor of the Ride for Missing Children and has several employees participating in the 2018 ride. One in particular, Laura Surman, FNP, has followed the ride for years, especially after learning of the details surrounding the Sara Ann Wood abduction. After joining a spin class for personal fitness reasons, she felt strong enough and made the decision to participate in the ride. She has been training with the RFMC-Training Wheels Group and has been extremely moved by the whole process.
“Honoring missing children and their families is at the heart of all the riders I have become acquainted with,” said Surman. “This ride serves not only local communities, but across New York State and beyond.”
Last year, Surman casually mentioned her interest in the event to her colleague, Ursula Williams, NP, and the two immediately made the decision to take part in the ride together. Williams is also a first-time participant and the cause has a particularly significant meaning to her.
35 years ago, Williams was an 11-year-old girl living in a small town in Connecticut when she was unexpectedly pulled off her bike and dragged into the woods by a stranger. She fought desperately to get away and was fortunate enough to have a witness to the abduction, allowing for her to be rescued quickly and with little physical harm. She was able to return home that day but the incident proved to have a lasting effect on her life; one that drove her to participate in the ride.
When Williams learned about the Ride for Missing Children and the devastating story of Sarah Ann Wood, she recognized how real and widespread this type of situation was and wanted to get involved. Being a victim of an attempted child abduction herself, she knew she had to share her own story in an effort to carry Sarah’s prematurely silenced voice on along with her own.
“The reason I chose to train for and cycle in the ride this year is to help spread a message of hope and healing to anyone touched by the exploitation or abduction of a child,” said Williams. “Thirty five years ago there was no NCMEC, no Amber Alerts and no Watchdog List. We have come such a long way in protecting our children with these important innovations, but of course we still have much to do.”
This year was especially trying for Williams and she made the decision to train and ride because her own son, the eldest of three, turned 11 – the same age she was when she was nearly abducted. Despite her near abduction, she refused to give up riding her bike as she believes it is a symbol of freedom, happiness and a healthy lifestyle. She began riding long distance at the age of 16 after finding out the man who nearly abducted her was released from custody. She has remained an avid cyclist throughout her life. She values what cycling means to her and emphasizes that it has truly helped her to heal and become an advocate for exploited and abducted children.
“We need to show children the power they do have and to teach them how to stay safe while also supporting each and every child that has been subjected to trauma in their life,” said Williams. “For every penny I raise, I am grateful, and for every mile I pedal while training, I am grateful. I experienced a portion of the terror that Sara Ann Wood must have endured, but I was lucky enough to survive to tell my – and to help carry on her – story.”
Williams has forgiven the man that attacked her and she uses her personal experience as strength to advocate for children that can’t speak for themselves. Children are innocent and vulnerable and she knows the ride will be as emotionally draining as it is physical, but will be extremely rewarding.
It is about raising awareness of what can be done to help stop child predators and bring missing kids home safely. It raises needed funds to help distribute posters of missing children and support the mission of NCMEC-NY/MV. Each rider wears a pin, distributed to them the morning of the ride, in honor of a missing child.
“To paraphrase Joni Eareckson Tada, an international advocate for people with disabilities, ‘Sometimes God allows what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves,’ Williams said.
She is ready for the physical and emotional journey this ride will mean for her and she believes NCMEC is an essential ally to children and families in need. She is also honored to support their work by raising funds and spreading hope and healing to children from all walks of life with her dedication and her impactful ride.