It took a rough-looking guy named Dozer to convince Nancy Huston that a partnership between the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Harley-Davidson would work.

It was 1987 and Nancy, then the local MDA coordinator, had organized Joplin's first Ride for Life. Working with Cycle Connection, the local Harley dealer, Nancy persuaded 35 bikers to take part in that first MDA Harley-Davidson fund-raiser.

When I use the word bikers, I don't mean a group of yuppies out for a Saturday spin on their motorcycles. I mean bikers in the "lock-the-doors" sense.

To say that some of the guys that day in 1987 were intimidating is like saying rappers talk fast.

But after the ride, Nancy saw something she'll never forget. She saw Dozer, a mountain of a man who was at least 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 350 pounds, talking to the family of a little girl who had muscular dystrophy.

"He was scary looking," Nancy said. "But then I saw this huge, burly guy get down on his knee to talk to the family's little girl in her wheelchair, and there were tears in his eyes."

That first fund-raiser with local bikers kicked off a relationship with Harley-Davidson that, for Nancy, started out as professional and then quite unexpectedly took a deeply personal turn.

Nancy, by the way, is now the owner of Cycle Connection in Joplin. Last month, her Harley-Davidson dealership was recognized as one of the top 10 MDA fund-raising dealerships in the country for 2004.

That is really not big news, at least to Nancy, since her dealership routinely finishes in the top 10, if not in the top five in the nation.

So, how did Nancy go from being the director of a local MDA chapter to becoming the owner of what is now a huge motorcycle operation?

To paraphrase blues singer Bonnie Raitt: Let me tell you 'bout the thing called love.

That early partnership between the MDA and Harley-Davidson brought Nancy into contact with Cycle Connection owner Ronnie Mills. What started out as a partnership to raise money for the MDA gradually turned into something else. By 1990, Nancy and Ronnie were dating. In 1991, Nancy left the MDA to work with Ronnie at Cycle Connection. In 1994, Nancy and Ronnie married. It was a marriage based on their love for each other but also based on a love for those battling with muscular dystrophy. Nancy and Ronnie continued their work with the MDA, and the partnership between the local chapter and Cycle Connection continued to grow.

Unfortunately, Ronnie and Nancy's life together was short-lived. In 1996, Ronnie died after suffering a sudden heart attack.

That first MDA Labor Day Telethon after Ronnie's death was tough, but Nancy kept working. Driven in part by her desire to carry on for Ronnie, she pushed on. She took what was a relatively small Harley-Davidson dealership and turned it into the expansive operation it is now. More importantly, she continued raising money for the MDA.

That first Ride for Life? The one with 35 motorcycle riders? Now, that annual ride routinely features 500 cyclists and raises anywhere from $130,000 to $150,000. And every year Nancy, who had never been on a motorcycle until she met Ronnie, takes part in the ride. Every year, she said, she gets goose bumps when the ride gets under way.

"There is nothing like being among a group of motorcycles in such a large number, and seeing nothing but headlights behind you and not being able to see beyond the riders in front," she said. "To see that many people all doing something for a good cause and to all be on the same page is amazing."

Nancy, who has since remarried, said she and her husband, Scott, remain as committed as ever to the MDA.

"We both have such a burning desire to help," she said. "We're very involved with the kids. We have a passion, and we try to pass that passion and desire to help on to everyone else."

Oh, and as for finishing among the top 10 Harley-Davidson MDA fund-raising dealerships: Nancy said she and Scott have something up their sleeves this year.

"We're going to be back in the top five," she said. "We've got something cooking, so watch out in 2005."

Hey, I believe her. You see, it's hard to argue 'bout that thing called love.

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