Gifford Healthcare,Gifford Medical Center’s sixth annual Last Mile Ride held on Saturday, Aug. 20, attracted a record 219 motorcyclists, 23 cyclists and raised $48,000 for end-of-life care.The charity motorcycle ride was the Randolph hospital’s sixth annual. Since it’s start in 2006, rider numbers and money raised have climbed significantly. That first year just 74 riders turned out and $7,000 was raised.The leap in participation is due to word of mouth and support for the cause, according to hospital organizers. Gifford offers special care in a garden-side suite for patients at the end-of-life. The ride supports extra services for these patients and their families and also helps patients in advanced illness or choosing to die at home with special needs and last wishes.The steady climb in dollars raised for the cause is due to the support of sponsors, including many area businesses, and riders’ fund raising efforts. Riders who raise the most win prizes.This year rider Larry Richburg of Randolph took the top prize of a $300 gift card to Wilkins Harley-Davidson in South Barre after he collected more than $2,000 for the cause.‘I’m in the Rotary Club. I hit up everybody at Rotary. I think just about everybody in Rotary donated something. I also put a little something in the church bulletin at Bethany Church. I got a lot from people at the church. I sent an e-mail to my wife’s contact list for family and friends,’ says Richburg of how he was able to raise so much.There were also people who sought out Richburg. ‘I can’t believe the number of people who just call and say ‘I have a check for you.’ It kind of goes to show what kind of fund-raiser and project this is. You don’t find that very often.’Coming in second was Frank Drown of Northfield, who raised more than $1,700, and won a leather motorcycle jacket from Frank’s Motorcycle Sales and Service in Essex Junction.Drown’s daughter Naomi spent her final days in the Garden Room at Gifford before dying at home in 2008 at the age of 25. She had a rare cancer.Since, the tight-knit Drown family has made the Last Mile Ride an annual event. This year Frank rode with daughter Alicia, daughter Olivia drove a second bike and wife Sandra rode with a friend.For Sandra, the ride is a time of reflection and healing. ‘I just love it,’ she says.For Frank, who strives to be the first one registered for the ride each year and is relentless in his fund raising efforts, the ride, in part, is a chance to help other families as his was helped.‘The benefits received by the patients and families by this fund are not replaceable by words,’ he says, using his own experience as an example. ‘We have our memories. We have our conversations. But watching the CD of the photos set to music (the family received following their stay in the Garden Room), there’s nothing that can replace that. We have that forever. Not only that, but the people involved in the Garden Room, it’s a genuine care that this fund-raiser puts forth to the families and to the patients. It’s just overwhelming.‘My personal experiences with what this program gave me drive me. I could do this every year and never replace what I got out of it.’Ride founder Lynda McDermott of Randolph, a Gifford inpatient nurse, was also once again a top fund-raiser.‘I just feel a personal responsibility,’ McDermott says. ‘When a family goes through the death of a loved one, that creates a long-term memory. These memories never go away. It’s a memory that I want to be as positive as possible. Even though it’s a sad moment, there can be a joy in this. I’m trying to help these families cherish these last times with their loved ones.’Not all participants have had an experience with the Garden Room, of course. Participants this year came from as far away as Colorado, Connecticut and Maine. For the ride, the motorcyclists traveled 112 miles around central Vermont, assisted by a group of combat veterans, who served as road guards, and Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak, who led the ride.Cyclists were also a part of this year’s ride. Last year, Gifford nurse Marci White did a 38.4 mile loop from Gifford to Northfield and back. This year, other cyclists were invited to join her on the same route and Green Mountain Bike Patrol helped cyclists along the route.The ride also included a Harley raffle again this year and the winner of the 2011 Iron 883 was Rochester’s Jay McGill-O’Rourke. A long-time motorcycle enthusiast, McGill-O’Rourke was clearly thrilled to win the new Harley.‘It’s the first thing I’ve won since I was in Cub Scouts, so that was 48 years ago,’ he said.McGill-O’Rourke has been riding since he was 15 and is into collectibles. The bike he rode in Saturday’s ride was a 1974 BMW. His newest bike is 1983 Honda. ‘This will put me back in the main stream,’ he says of the new Harley he’ll soon collect from Wilkins.A quilt made by Gifford staff went to Janet Whitacker of Stockbridge, who couldn’t ride this year but stopped Saturday to make a donation and buy raffle tickets.Organizers marveled at the outpouring of support from participants and non-participants alike.‘It always amazes me the amount of support we receive for our event. To know that so many people contribute their time, resources and energy to help others who they will probably never even meet is a humbling experience,’ said Ashley Lincoln, director of development, marketing and public relations at Gifford.Photo by Robin Palmer: Motorcyclists leave Gifford Medical Center in Randolph on Saturday for the start of the Last Mile Ride.Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, Vt., is a community hospital with family health centers in Bethel, Chelsea, Rochester and Sharon and specialty services throughout central Vermont. Gifford is a full-service hospital with a 24-hour emergency department, inpatient and rehabilitation units, a day care, an adult day care and a 30-bed nursing home, the Menig Extended Care Facility, which opened in 1998 on the main campus. The Birthing Center, established in 1977, was the first in Vermont to offer an alternative to the traditional hospital-based deliveries and continues to be a leader in midwifery and family-centered care.The hospital’s mission is to improve individuals’ and community health by providing and assuring access to affordable and high-quality health care in Gifford’s service area.Next year’s ride will be held on Aug. 18.