Lisa Campbell has pastured her trusty steed in favor of a King.
“I used to ride a horse, now I ride horsepower,” Campbell said just after maneuvering her Suzuki King Quad ATV over the finish line at the Ninth Annual Justice McNeeley Poker Run held Sept. 28 in Pine.
Campbell, who identified herself as a retired law enforcement officer and a full-time resident of Pine for about 10 months, was one of about 120 riders who participated in the annual benefit that over the years has morphed into one of the most popular events in the tiny mountain hamlet.
Campbell confesses she loved riding horses, but the ballooning cost of hay and health care for the animals forced her to turn to riding an ATV.
“All I have to pay for is gas and a tune-up every six months,” she said.
While Campbell might not have been aboard a four-legged mount during the poker run, she dressed the equestrian part by donning cowboy boots and hat and custom western belt.
She and fellow riders gathered about 8 a.m. at Sidewinders Saloon in Pine for morning coffee before taking off on the ride that tipped off an hour later and wrapped up at 1 p.m. at the original starting line.
On the 30-mile journey on old logging roads and Jeep trails northwest of Pine and Strawberry, riders made five pit stops to pick up the five playing cards that would make up their “hand.”
At the end of the ride, the entrant clutching the best draw poker hand pocketed the prize money.
Following the excursion, riders adjourned to the packed Pine watering hole to play games of Texas Hold ’em and on the outside patio grounds, horseshoes.
A live auction and several spirited raffles also highlighted the afternoon’s activities.
Most importantly for organizers, including McNeeley Foundation Fund Chairman Chuck Collins, the money earned from the day’s events benefit the Rim Country’s needy children.
“Dental, hearing, glasses, orthotics — anything they need, we try to provide,” said Collins. “That is the mission of the foundation and we are a 501c3 nonprofit organization in which all our employees are non-paid volunteers.”
While all previous nine benefits have been hits, Collins is predicting the 2013 ride might have been the most successful.
“We were very busy, I know we did well,” he said. “We, however, have not yet counted the proceeds; that will be done this week.”
The annual benefit dates back to the summer of 2004 when friends of Justice McNeeley, then a 5-year-old Pine Strawberry School kindergartner, banded together to purchase him a specialized wheelchair called a Go-Bot.
After much brainstorming, the friends settled on a benefit poker run and other accompanying festivities to earn the money for the Go-Bot.
The boy suffers from spinal muscular atrophy — a form of muscular dystrophy — and the Go-Bot was designed to greatly improve Justice’s mobility over the standard wheelchair he then had.
Justice eventually got his Go-Bot and the overwhelming success of the first benefit prompted organizers, including Justice’s mother Katie Parks, to found the Justice McNeeley Foundation.
With money earned at the poker rides and annual casino nights, the foundation has been able to provide financial help to hundreds of needy boys and girls in Payson, Pine and Strawberry.