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Cycling for a Cause—a Case for Sports Philanthropy

Woman Mountain Biking In Evening

Like many people, I want to give to others, but I don’t have a lot of time and I don’t have a lot of money. Fortunately, I love athleticism and I have found that nearly all races are tied to a charity. I learned about this connection at an important juncture in my life and I want to share my story with you because it is this connection that allows me to make a real and positive difference in people’s lives.


Just getting started

I’ve been cycling for a cause since about 2002, the year my kids turned twelve and fourteen respectively and I started to reclaim my time. I had always been an active person, but didn’t have much experience on a bike, so I decided to try it out. I wasn’t going to do it alone, though, so I convinced my sister, Jan, to buy a cheap trail bike. After getting used to the new bikes, we started to do some long trips from Montpelier to Burlington together. I loved cycling and, on the advice of a work friend, upgraded to a road bike, which made it even more fun.

I became such an enthusiast that I talked a group of my colleagues into buying new bikes. We were all starting at the same time and were blown away that we could ride 15 miles. It seemed like such a huge accomplishment, but it didn’t take long before some of us were covering 50 to 75 miles in a ride.


The origin of my passion

It was around that time that my favorite aunt, Doris, was diagnosed with leukemia. It was also around that time that I updated my bike and, in the process, got a subscription to Bicycle Magazine. I didn’t know anything about sports philanthropy at that time, so when I ran across a flyer, in my new magazine, for a training program designed to raise funds in support of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), I took an interest.

Coincidentally, I had been diagnosed with skin cancer a year earlier. In my research about the training program—Team in Training—I discovered that the research projects supported by LLS are considered the most promising areas, which meant to me that they were having a real impact. And the impact of their research doesn’t just benefit people with blood cancers. It also benefits people like me—people with skin and other types of cancer. In fact, since 2002, about 40% of new FDA-approved cancer therapies were first approved for a blood cancer.


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Teaming up to fight disease

I learned that Team in Training was holding an informational meeting in Burlington. At that point, I had not done much traveling, but one of the events offered by Team in Training was in Tucson, Arizona, where my brother lived. I was nervous about the trip, but decided the cause was worth it.

For Team in Training, I had to raise a minimum of $5,500, which covered the costs of the trip (air fare, shipping my bike, room, and board!) and supplied much needed funds to support leukemia research. This was 2002, so we didn’t use social media to raise funds. We did it the old-fashioned way, printing and mailing letter by hand. I handed them out to all my colleagues at VSECU and to friends, family, and businesses—everyone I could think of.

Two weeks into process, a classmate and teammate of my son’s was diagnosed with leukemia. I talked with my colleagues and asked them to work as a team with me to support this young boy and my aunt through their donations. I was touched by the response I got and quickly surpassed the minimum fundraising goal.

Team in Training makes sure you have a partner or team to train with. Though there weren’t any teams in Vermont, I was able to connect with the New York team. However, I was given a local man as a trainer. This new friend convinced me that it would be a good idea to do a century race before the Tucson trip, so we signed up for a ride in Waitsfield that supports a children’s program at the Waitsfield library. He ended up dropping out at 70 miles, but I was able to finish and to raise money for a good cause. I was glad to have a good cycling experience under my belt before Tucson.


My takeaways

The Tucson race itself was a great experience. I enjoyed the trip and heard stories about people who raised more than $100,000. Some do it every year, raising that kind of capital for research that continues to save countless lives. As for me, I didn’t do Team in Training again (I still don’t travel much), but I had become passionate about and fond of the Waitsfield library cause, so I raised money and rode in that race for another five years. I then started riding the Point to Point with my sister. I rode that every year up until last year.

I shifted my focus to volunteering last year, when my employer (VSECU) took leadership of the Point to Point, which raises funds for the Vermont Foodbank. I will continue to ride and raise funds for worthy causes, but I and my family are passionate supporters of the Vermont Foodbank, so for now, that is where my energy will go in August.

The thing I love about sports philanthropy is that it is open to all. You don’t need to have money to make a difference in the lives of people who are facing dire need. All you need is the desire to help, enough passion to share your story with others, the understanding that others want to give as well, and a little bit of time. If you’re up to the challenge, I can assure you there are few better ways to spend your time.


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About Kathy Town

Kathy has worked for VSECU since 1991 and currently processes secured loans for Credit Union Direct Lending (CUDL) program. Kathy enjoys helping members and dealers as well as her community. Kathy not only enjoys biking, but loves CrossFit, running marathons, triathlons, hiking, and spending time with her husband, children, grandchildren, her new Newfoundland Buford and her Goldendoodle Tater.
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