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It was raining pretty hard on Aug. 22 when Pfc. C.J. Wolfert of the Fairfax County Police Motor Squad got on his Harley and attempted to navigate the Mid-Atlantic Police Motorcycle Rodeo Challenge Ride in the parking lot of the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, but he paid little mind to the elements.

“I’ve been riding in the rain for 17 years,” he said. “Our motor squad rides in downpours and 5-degree weather. We’re used to it. It actually gives us an advantage because some of the smaller police departments that compete here are given both cars and motorcycles, so they aren’t always out in the weather on motorcycles like we are. Motorcycles are all we ride, all year long.”

Celebrating its 35th year, the Mid-Atlantic Police Motorcycle Rodeo was originally the brainchild of Cpl. A.D. Johnson, a motorcycle police officer with the Prince George’s (Md.) County Police Department.

Organizers say that in 1979, the first rodeo was held to enhance the skills and working relationships of the motorcycle officers in the Washington Metropolitan Area, including the Fairfax County Police Department. Ironically in 1982, Cpl. Johnson was killed in an on-duty motorcycle accident, but in his memory, the organization continues the competition annually.

“We have competed all over the Mid-Atlantic region,” said Wolfert. “We are back in our home turf this year.”

The competition continues to attract new competitive riders, with 86 actively participating this year.

“It is now the oldest, longest running police motorcycle safety competition in the nation,” said FCPD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell. “And it is always free and open to the public.”

According to Caldwell the rodeos have been able to continue through the efforts of many dedicated volunteers—mostly police officers, but also many civilians--whose help has made it possible to become an international event.

“As the rodeo grew, it became apparent that the committee would need to grow as well, to handle the increasing demands placed upon it,” she said. “Many new agencies became interested in participating, and the committee was asked to assist with establishing other training events in the United States and Canada. The committee was incorporated in 1988 as The Mid-Atlantic Police Motorcycle Riding Committee, Inc. with its emphasis on increasing the ‘safe’ operation of police motorcycles and enhancing the skills of individual officers.”

In 1998, the committee voted to take on COPS (Concerns of Police Survivors, Inc.) as the focus of its charitable fundraising. Funds raised from local vendors attending the event helped organizers to raise more than $255,000 to COPS. In 2013, organizers adopted the Make-A-Wish Foundation as its fundraising focus, so far raising $5,000 for the charity. Caldwell said the committee continues to also be dedicated to increasing “inter-departmental” communications between various police agencies.

“It is the commitee’s desire to provide better service to the public, not only through encouraging safer motorcycle operation, but also with providing an avenue through which officers would have personal contacts with other officers in various areas, providing an invaluable investigative resource,” said Caldwell.

“It’s always fun and challenging,” said Wolfert, who wound up taking second place in the Challenge Ride. “It’s a great way to both network and compete with fellow officers, and all for a great cause.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com