Typically, raising awareness for a cause consists of creating a website where donors can click on a link to contribute. Few would devote two and a half years to an awareness project, obliterate their life’s savings, and move cross-country in the process. Joel Walendowski would — and did. Inspired by his younger cousin’s struggle with autism, the father of three began working on a custom-built chopper motorcycle three years ago in Phoenix. His first custom motorcycle build, he says, was well-worth the financial and mental strain he endured during the lengthy project. “I wanted to take autism awareness to a new level,” he says. “[The bike] is for Devon, and the whole autistic community.”
An accomplished fabricator, Walendowski decided that a chopper-style motorcycle would be an effective tool for raising awareness because they’re “popular, eye-catching, and they strike a big age group.”
After completing the bike last fall, Walendowski and his chopper, which sports a jigsaw-puzzle piece design, joined the efforts of the Ted Lindsay Foundation. The organization, named for its co-founder (the Red Wing great) is dedicated to elevating autism awareness nationwide. Fellow co-founder John Czarnecki has a son with autism.
Since joining forces with Lindsay’s group, Walendowski and the chopper have been making appearances at various Detroit events, including the North American International Auto Show and Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. On Sept. 17, the bike will be signed by several Detroit Red Wings and other Detroit celebrities at the Foundation’s 12th Annual Celebrity Golf Outing. Those autographs will join those of Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidström, Ted Lindsay, and Gordie Howe, who have already autographed the cycle.
Lew LaPaugh, Ted Lindsay Foundation president, says the bike is an attention grabber. “If I had a nickel for everyone that’s taken a picture with the bike — well, I’d be pretty rich.” The chopper has “given us exposure to a different group of people,” he says. “We weren’t necessarily reaching bikers before.”
LaPaugh says the Foundation plans to keep working with Walendowski on custom builds after their first chopper is auctioned off Jan. 13. at Barrett-Jackson’s largest event. “More bikes means more awareness,” LaPaugh says. “That’s what’s important.”