Mr. Charlie takes shop on the road to aid cyclists in ‘Tour for Cure’

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 5, 1998

By ANNA MONICA / L’Observateur / October 5, 1998

Don’t look for Charles Watkins this weekend. He is where he usually is andhas been for the past 14 years on the first weekend in October – working the annual Multiple Sclerosis “Tour for Cure” two-day bike ride and major fund-raiser.

One year, Charlie, the “Mr. Charlie” of “Charlie’s Bicycle Garage” inLaPlace, and his son, Chuck, actually rode the 150-mile course which takes place in two days. From that time until now, having been madekeenly aware of the need for volunteer bicycle mechanics, Charlie has been a man consumed with a desire to help the M.S. Society using hisexpertise in bicycle knowledge and repair.

The “M.S. Tour for Cure” takes place each year as the major fund-raiserfor the organization. Any cyclist may take part and is required to pay aregistration fee as well as raise $150 in sponsor money. Cyclists (thesedays, over 1,000 of them) are pampered along the way with refreshments almost every 10 miles, sag support and mechanic support. They leave fromSoutheastern Louisiana University on Saturday morning, cycle to Percy Quinn State Park in Mississippi, where there is a big party that night, and at 8 a.m. Sunday start the 75 miles back to Southeastern. The route isextremely hilly and grueling but also exhilarating (I made the trek for 10 years myself.) Volunteers are crucial to the success of the M.S. ride.It isn’t hard to find Charlie among the bicycle mechanics – just look for the largest group gathered around a red trailer. Ever and increasinglypopular because of his ability, concern and total enjoyment of the riders as well as other people, Charlie works tirelessly to help riders get the most out of their ride without concern for their bicycles. The trailer hepulls, loaded with necessities for cyclists which can be purchased, is home-made by Charlie. It’s always red in color and sits behind two largeAmerican flags affixed to Charlie’s pick-up truck. This year, the trailer is”new,” made from a former pop-up camper and customized as only Charlie can. The American flags are part of his identity, too, and cyclists areoften relieved to see them “flying” down the road, knowing Charlie and help are near. The trailer is used several times a year when Charliesupports other training rides.

Why does Charlie Watkins have such a passion for the M.S. cause?”There are a lot of people who come up there and expect you to be there,” he said. He gets a special enjoyment out of seeing people he has met on theride throughout the year. Especially, though he is inspired just knowingwhat the M.S. is.Charlie said he adopted the M.S. as his special charity after being inspiredby the work Annette Funicello is doing because of her battle with the disease.

There is more to Charlie’s volunteerism than enjoying people and repairing bicycles. He puts in considerable energy in soliciting sponsorship moneyfor young people who want to ride but lack the ability to raise $150.

Charlie only requires that they raise $50 on their own and he does the rest. Young people are very comfortable with him, largely because of histolerance of them and concern for them, but especially because he is so much fun to be around.

Everyone at the M.S. office in Metairie knows Charlie well as he maintainsa year-round relationship with the group and stays in touch with tour director Darby Berthelot, a St. Charles native. He works for Delta Airlines and spends whatever other time he has at “Mr.

Charlie’s Bicycle Garage” at the home he shares with his wife, Carolyn, and his daughter, Charlene, a college student.

For at least 14 of the 15 years of its existence, Charles Watkins, his red trailer and American flags have been a staple of the “M.S. Tour for Cure.”There are no signs that this relationship will end any time soon.

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