“It’s great to see so many familiar faces here,” Copeland said. “This is my first trip back to West Georgia and I’m just thrilled to be here. I have a lot of friends here and I’m sure there will be many more trips back.”
Copeland, a 24-year-old University of West Georgia graduate psychology student, contracted necrotizing fasciitis on May 1 when she cut her left leg in a fall from a homemade zipline into the Little Tallapoosa River near Carrollton. Doctors had to amputate both hands, her left leg and her right foot to save her life. She was hospitalized nearly four months, first at Doctor’s Hospital in Augusta and in rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
The Aimee Copeland Benefit Ride and Musicfest started early Saturday, when more than 1,400 motorcyclists roared out of Villa Rica at 10 a.m., on a 63-mile jaunt through Whitesburg, McIntosh Reserve, Roopville and back to Villa Rica. Bikers paid $20 each, an extra $10 for riders, with all the proceeds going to help Copeland.
“I’m just overwhelmed with the response,” Ronnie Capes, who organized the event, said. “It’s just awesome.”
Capes, who lives in New Georgia, had never met Copeland before Saturday, but said he got the idea for the event after hearing her story. He also knows adversity, having been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and given only three to eight years to live.
A lot of other volunteers joined in the planning. Villa Rica Main Street Manager Kimberly Stovall had already been planning a concert for the date, when Capes called to inquire about using The Mill amphitheater for the Copeland event.
The concert was temporarily halted as Copeland was wheeled out on the stage about 5 p.m. to thunderous applause from the crowd.
“The cities of West Georgia, Carrollton and Villa Rica, have been so supportive of me in everything I’ve done,” she said. “I’m not from here, but it seems like a second family to me here. Everybody is so close.”
Copeland said she still has challenges and every day is “really hard.”
“I don’t want to come out here and tell you everything’s great,” she said. “There’s challenges, but I’m so thankful for all the support I have. I know everything is going to be up from here.”
She is working with an occupational therapist and learning how to do things without her limbs and with the help of prostheses.
“Every day is a big learning process,” she said.
Copeland thanked the people for their support, saying that “every penny” helps in her endeavor.
“I really thank you guys so much for being here and helping out,” she said. “I know it’s hard times for everybody, so thank you a lot.”
Several people came on the stage to hug Copeland and share some of their own experiences.
One of them was Ashley Warner, a former resident of Douglasville, who now lives in Woodstock. She nearly died from a flesh-eating disease and said she had a 10-year battle and 68 surgeries.
“I really have so much to say and I’ve waited so long to meet you,” Warner said, her voice breaking into sobs. “I wish you the best.”
Warner said she is back to normal now, left with a long scar on her right arm and one on her body.
“This time nine years ago, I was in a coma,” she said. “I’m doing wonderful now. I’m very happy and very healthy, and very recently engaged.”
“Thank you, you look wonderful,” Copeland told Warner.
Cade Keller, a 12-year-old from Temple, has been making bracelets and necklaces to benefit Copeland and has raised nearly $1,000. He presented Copeland with a necklace as a tribute to her.
“It has what Aimee said to her father when he told her about her amputations,” Cade said. “On the back, it has your name.”
He presented the necklace to her and gave her a hug.
Jeff Reese, Villa Rica’s assistant city manager, shared a story which he said was special to him.
“I got a call from a lady in Dawsonville,” Reese said. “Her 21-year-old daughter was in a car wreck and paralyzed from the waist down. She wasn’t going to do any rehab until she saw Aimee’s story on Katie Couric’s show. She told her mom, ‘If Aimee can do it, I can do it too.’”
“This is the kind of day that makes you glad to be a part of the great things going on in Villa Rica,” Mayor J. Collins said. “So many people worked so hard to make this a great event. I’m just humbled about the crowd that came out today and those volunteers who worked so tirelessly. It’s been a great day for Villa Rica. Those bikers deserve so much credit. They got up early this morning for their ride. It was so nice to be able to stand in my parking lot and see all those bikers coming down Carrollton Road. Hats off to all the people who volunteered. We’re blessed with people in Villa Rica who want to do good things.”
Crystal Arrington and her husband Rocky participated in the ride.
“Aimee is just such an inspiration,” she said. “It was awesome to come out and ride for such a good cause.”
Pearl Rowe, a volunteer who said she’d been working since 9 in the morning, was happy to help out.
“I love it,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here. She’s (Aimee) is a big inspiration for everybody.”
After her stage appearance, Copeland was wheeled down front, where she sat and greeted a long line of people who waited to talk with her.
“I have so many to thank for my time here in West Georgia,” Copeland said. “I’ve learned so much from my peers, teachers, my customers when I was a bartender and server. They taught me so much. One thing I value about this area is that it’s like a big family, a community. Everybody’s so real and genuine. I’ve never been to a more genuine place. You guys are awesome. I love all you guys so much.”