by Katharine Erwin
Randy Mamola is undoubtedly one of the greatest racers to never actually win a world championship. A crowd-pleasing racer with a heart of gold, Mamola's best known moment was in 1985 with Moto Grand Prix's most epic save.
Mamola hails from San Jose, California, and in 1976 at just 16 years old, he was not only a known racer, but was also already a giver. "I come from a very average family," Mamola explains. "My parents always taught me be grateful for the things that we have. I became successful—winning a lot of trophies—and I got the notion really young of, 'Why me? Why do I get to do all this?'" That year Mamola donated 600 trophies—of which 400 were first place—to the local track San Jose Mile. He also took the money he earned from races and donated it to the Crippled Children Society of Santa Clara, California, where, to this day, there is a therapy room named after him.
"It is kind of nice if you are famous enough to get the attention, to help conduct certain things. From '79 to '92, I became very famous." It was with this fame that he was able to help create Riders for Health. "Riders for Health started in the middle of the '80s. I gave some money to Save the Children, and Princess Anne (the organization's president) asked me to go to Africa in 1988. We went to Somalia and Kenya for programs that Save the Children was working on. What we saw were things that organizations were using; motorcycles, but no-one had expertise to look after them, so there were warehouses full of broken down bikes. The infrastructure wasn't there."
Thus Riders for Health was born. "The most important thing in Africa is reliable transportation and a reliable medical staff with the ability to visit the villages. Riders for Health is a people-to-people charity. It's a bit unprecedented but highly logical and effectually empowering the African people involved.
"If you're a registered nurse or doctor and maybe your farthest village is 20 or 30 miles, we'll teach you how ride a motorcycle and maintain it every day. Then every month or 1,000 km, we do a full service. So, basically we have zero breakdowns," Mamola says. "We have roughly 400 technicians, drivers and logistics experts working in seven countries. Local people take care of the motorcycles that we run in our program. We have the most reliable transportation system using the most appropriate vehicles and maintaining them the right way. We found we can show that for every four-wheeled vehicle, we can run many more motorcycles that go in every direction."
The program is ever-growing and has now partnered with the Elton John Aids Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With a new study currently underway by Stanford University, Riders for Health will be able to truly show the effectiveness of the program. The concept is simple, and those who ride understand the freedom that motorcycles bring. And for those who understand that what Africa needs most is communication, transportation and education, Riders for Health is certainly a step in the right direction. Mamola, who can be found at most Moto GPs, still has an undying love for motorcycles, but he has nobly reminded us that this is about more than that: "This is about saving lives."
Track images courtesy of Katharine Erwin, Africa images courtesy of Riders for Health