Some people just can’t wait for the first snowfall of the season to hop on their Ski-Doos, Arctic Cats and Polarises and take off across the landscape.
On Saturday, the 307 Riders Snowmobile Club hosted its fourth annual Grass Drags and Swap meet at Cam-Plex.
More than 50 riders showed up with all different types of snowmobiles — large and small, expensive and cheap, stock and modified, some with metal spikes in the tracks to make for the best traction on the grass surface. They raced two at a time and waited for the light on the Christmas tree to turn green. The light flashes on and the two riders open up their throttles to speed down a 300-foot stretch of turf, reaching speeds of 80 mph to display who has the fastest machine and quickest reaction time.
One of the competitors in the grass drag races was 13-year-old Jesse Graham, who goes by the nickname JR. It was his first time racing. He rode on a snowmobile that the 307 Riders supplied. It was painted lime green, the color of the cancer he’s been fighting.
Graham, from Newcastle, is a new member of the area’s snowmobile riding community and a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks the body’s immune system.
Graham almost died from the cancer over a year ago when his body started shutting down during treatment. They found the cancer at Stage 3. He stayed at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver for about six months because Wyoming doesn’t have a child cancer center. Graham underwent chemotherapy and other treatments to eradicate the cancer.
“Oh, it was hard, but you got to do what you got to do, I guess,” JR said, shrugging off his fight with cancer and the burning, stinging chemotherapy as just another fact of life he had to deal with, like putting his shoes on or going to school.
Graham had been in a life-threatening situation earlier in his life when he was in a head-on car crash at age 3 that left him with a cracked skull and a chunk of his frontal lobe gone.
When JR was going through his cancer treatment, Graham’s father, George Graham, got into a cycle for those six months. He worked for six days in Newcastle and then drove to Denver to see JR at the hospital for eight days so he could keep money coming in.
“It was draining, mentally and physically, on the whole family,” George said. “I was always worried about him when I was at work.”
The doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado declared JR cancer free Oct. 1, 2018, but he still needs to get blood work and other tests done to make sure he stays free of the disease.
After he was declared cancer free, JR got involved in snowmobiling. His friend owned a snowmobile and the two would ride it around together last year, switching off driving the machine. But his friend’s snowmobile broke down and Graham couldn’t ride anymore.
Graham would pester his father about helping him fix up the sled to get him back out with his buddy.
“He’s been on me all winter, through the rest of the winter and through the summer about getting a sled. Of course, with finances after his treatment and everything, we just couldn’t afford it,” George said.
The cancer treatment cost about $1.25 million in total for JR’s six months at the hospital, George said.
Then, about a month ago, George asked co-worker Ryan Koch, an avid snowmobile rider, if he could help him get the broken snowmobile up and running.
Koch and Kelly Weeks, the head of the 307 Riders Snowmobile Club, started talking about JR’s situation, and from that interaction and Facebook, they started gaining momentum.
“I just put a post on (Facebook) looking for parts for his old Arctic Cat,” Koch said. “Another guy said, ‘Why fix that up? I’ll give you another sled if you can get it out to Wyoming.’”
By Saturday, there had been four sleds donated to the family: two for riding and the other two for parts.
Destination X donated a new helmet, Action Motorsports Inc. donated new boots, and others donated a riding jacket, riding pants and more equipment to keep JR warm on the trails.
“It just kind of blew up,” Koch said. “(Others) donated a bunch of time, parts and guided trips. It went from just a local thing, all the way up and around. We’ve got guys from Minnesota out to Michigan to Alaska. They’re donating time, parts, sled gear — everything to get him out on the snow.”
Half of the donations from Saturday’s event went to JR as well.
After Boyd’s Outdoor Powersports in Gillette fixes Graham’s snowmobile for free, JR will be able to tear up the powder again.
“That’s what we all hoped for in the sled world, was just to get (JR) into what we have a passion for,” Koch said.