A bike for her birthday

At 90, Washington County woman fulfills need for speed with a motorcycle ride

At 90, Washington County woman fulfills need for speed with a motorcycle ride

September 30, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

At an age when many people slow down, Hazel Marie Leatherman sped up.

She chose to celebrate her 90th birthday with a motorcycle ride - her first in about 75 years, she said.

"I don't want to go slow. I want to go fast," said Leatherman, who was born in the Sharpsburg area on Sept. 26, 1912, and still lives near Antietam National Battlefield. "I think I feel about 40."

About 100 of Leatherman's friends and family members gathered Saturday at the Fairplay home of her granddaughter, Barbara Warrenfeltz, and Warrenfeltz's husband, Tim, to celebrate Leatherman's birthday and watch their "Nan" fulfill her need for speed.

"My heart's a-beatin' because you're going on that motorcycle," friend Earl Miller said as Leatherman donned her helmet and leather jacket for the ride on the new Kawasaki Vulcan motorcycle on loan from Twigg Cycles of Hagerstown. "You hold on tight, now."


With a little help, Leatherman mounted the motorcycle behind her grandson-in-law, Tim Warrenfeltz.

Nervous onlookers shouted advice over the rumble of the motorcycle's muffler - "Hold tight!" "Keep your fingers locked!" "Keep your leg away from the hot pipe!" - as Leatherman and Warrenfeltz sped away for a back roads ride that lasted about eight minutes.

"I don't know where all we went but it was good," Leatherman said on her return. "That's what I was looking for. That was my birthday gift."

Warrenfeltz said he limited his speed to about 45 mph because he "didn't want (Leatherman) falling off."

She dismissed family members concerns that she might be too shaky to dismount the motorcycle right away.

"Shaky? No. My lands, no," Leatherman said.

She had been looking forward to the ride since about her 86th birthday, when Leatherman told her children - Sharon Coulter, Jane Sirbaugh, Nancy Smith, Bette Hess, Rodney Leatherman and Allen Leatherman Jr. - that she wanted a motorcycle ride to mark her 90th birthday, she said.

"When I was a girl, I rode a motorcycle with my oldest brother from Sharpsburg to State Line (Pa.) And I did love it. Oh, how I would lean going around those turns. It was wonderful," Leatherman said.

For her safety and comfort, family members had arranged for Leatherman to ride in a motorcycle sidecar, Coulter said. But Leatherman nixed those plans as soon as she learned about them.

"I didn't want to ride in no sidecar. How exciting is that?" Leatherman asked.

Some of her friends and family members - including six children, 18 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren - praised Leatherman's zest for life, endurance and positive attitude.

She has maintained her home with little outside help since her husband died in 1983 and only stopped mowing her own grass about four years ago, Coulter said.

Leatherman flexed a bulging bicep to demonstrate the strength she cultivated from milking cows and hauling 5-gallon buckets filled with rocks to build flower gardens at her home. She hosts her entire family for gatherings each Memorial Day and Thanksgiving, writes poems and submits them for publication and remains the oldest active member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg, Leatherman said.

"This lady can out-work anybody you know," neighbor Jean Rohr said. "She's something else."

Leatherman might consider a bungee jump for her next birthday, she said.

"And I would like to take a ride in an airplane before I pass on."

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