I’d never worn a more colorful, jubilant jersey. Rainbow-themed jellybeans were printed across my white zip-up cycling shirt, marking me as a member of the Jelly Belly for Kids team. Each of our team’s 80 members were sporting the trademarked apparel for the annual Courage Classic, a three-day fundraising event in Colorado that benefits Denver Children’s Hospital.
Close to 2,000 cyclists from around the country registered for the event, which is renowned for its unmatched scenery, family friendliness and plush aid stations. Most importantly, it’s centered around a cause.
I was invited to join the sister squad of the Jelly Belly Sport Beans cycling team— yes, as in the Jelly Belly Candy Company, which also produces sport beans. Funnily (or frighteningly) enough, I’d never really cycled before.
It all began at a barbecue this past April. I became friends with Diana, a 24-year-old Arizona-born Taiwanese attending CU Medical School. We connected over the fact that we both love outdoor adventure—but humorously, she joked about how she hadn’t been very active until moving to Colorado. Then, she heard about the Courage Classic during her first year in school and decided, Why not?
A complete novice, she dove into training with the school’s affiliate team. Her stories of camaraderie and starting out as the rookie were shared with an attitude of, If I can do this, anyone can.
I’d been looking for an alternative to running after stressing my IT Bands in the Steamboat Marathon. I’d even bought a road bike, but had yet to find a community of cyclists to join. Diana’s crew sounded inclusive and noncompetitive, yet goal oriented and driven. As if she had heard my thoughts, she recruited me.
Denver Children’s Hospital
When I realized that the Courage Classic is a fundraiser for Denver Children’s Hospital my motivation for the ride changed. Twenty-four years ago, my brother was born premature and hospitalized at the Children’s Hospital with TEF (tracheoesophageal fistula). If it weren’t for the unwavering care and support of the doctors and nurses, as well as financial assistance, my life would not be what it is today.
I thought about other people in the community who have experienced a similar case. Last year alone, the funding generated by the Courage Classic helped serve 198,564 children and their families. Furthering that purpose resonated deeply for me and my family.
In what seemed like seconds, my two-month window of fundraising and training flew by. There I was at Copper Mountain, the start and end gate of each day’s ride. Every day, the cyclists had several routes to choose from: the standard route, a shorter family-tailored ride, and an “optional” course—which included extra distance and climbs.
Along with my teammates, I decided to register for the greatest distance, which totaled 216 miles and more than 15,300 vertical feet of climbing, reaching elevations of 11,00o feet.
To put that in perspective, the furthest I had previously biked was 40 miles in a day. Once. Ever.
In order to survive it, I earnestly put in the training and hoped my level of commitment would entice donors to support the ride, too.
The first day kicked off with an 80-mile loop from Freemont Pass to Minturn and a final ascent up Vail Pass.
Day two involved an 80-mile lollipop route that took us up and over Ute pass, back to Silverthorne, around Dillon Dam to Swan Mountain Road and up the bike path to Copper.
The final day was a breeze (comparatively), with a 56-mile out-and-back to the top of Hoosier Pass.
Endurance sports typically demand perseverance and grit. So, what drives participants to engage in such physically and mentally stringent experiences?
For me, I’m drawn to the entire package; the personal growth that I realize from the time the goal is set to the moment it’s fulfilled, and the feeling of accomplishment afterwards. But, moreover, I’m left motivated by the connection that’s made with others through that shared experience.
As I pedaled, I was constantly cheered on and rejuvenated by the positivity of my teammates, and every other rider that shared the course. When things got tough—a flat tire, broken chain, dehydration—the nearest volunteer or cyclist would offer a generous hand.
I saw photos of children pinned to riders’ jerseys, who were being remembered or fought for. I was constantly reminded that we were all sharing the challenge of the ride, beyond the pavement under our tires. Throughout the course, I was inspired by the ability of the teams to come together for one common intention: to help others.
Stats for 2014—
To date, the Courage Classic has fundraised $2.9 million. The Jelly Belly for Kids team accomplished its all-time fundraising record, reaching $56,000. My efforts were met with a flood of generosity and support—I gathered more than $3,000 in donations.