Giving back: how members of the pro cycling community are helping others

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In a sport as demanding as cycling, extreme focus and a tunnel-vision approach are crucial to success. The riders spend many days away from home, are sheltered and looked after by their teams and then thrash it out through wind and rain, over cobbles and high mountains.

Real life seldom intrudes; instead, the existence is necessarily one-dimensional. As two professionals told CyclingTips, it is also a selfish one. But some within the sport use their time off to address that, using their energy, influence and abilities to try to make things better for others.

We spoke to four of those within cycling about the diverse ways they are working to make a difference in the real world.

Ted King and the Krempels Centre:

Ted King has been one of the most popular US riders for several years. During that time he competed for the Priority Health, Cervélo Test Team, Liquigas-Cannondale and Cannondale-Garmin squads, and was a medallist in the US national road race championships in 2011.

He retired from cycling at the end of the 2015 season.

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My father had a stroke 13 years ago and that has been incredibly life changing. He was the pillar of our family, pillar of our community, an orthopaedic surgeon. It changed everything. It tore a huge facet of his life away.

In effect when you have a brain injury, you might appear normal, you might go through all the rehabilitation that you are going to get at the hospital or a rehabilitation centre, but then you are sent out to the world. It is suddenly very isolating.

Dad needed a sense of community and then we found the Krempels Centre, which has been invaluable for his socialisation, becoming a normal person again.

The centre was started by this guy David Krempels, who himself had a brain injury about 30 years ago.

I wanted to create an event. I had wanted to do that for a while, but it is difficult when you are living overseas. Then an acquaintance of mine – who has turned into a very good friend in the meantime – reached out, and said hey, I have an event planning business. He had come from a running background but he helped me put together the first Krempels King of the Road challenge five years ago.

We have had five iterations since then, raising about 100,000 dollars each year, so are zeroing on half a million dollars raised in just five years.

Like I am saying, it is everything good about the sport of cycling. It is just a good, fun, big community. It is a one-day event, there are three disciplines for basically any and all abilities. There is a ten mile, a 30 mile and a 62 mile.

There is a big expo at the beginning, a huge expo at the finish, a massive beer garden. Tons of food, great people. It is just…community. It is the good friends I grew up with, its family, it is my neighbours, it is the guy who owned the first bike shop I ever visited. It is basically 400 of my best friends all out for a ride for a great purpose.

For the future, it would be great if it can grow. We want to keep doing it, we want to make it better. If we went from 400 to 4000 people I would be ecstatic.

The whole day is incredibly uplifting. You feel very welcome, you feel immediately that you are a member of this group and community.

We come from a very selfish sport. If you want to have success in the sport of cycling, you need to focus very much on yourself. You need to dedicate hours to yourself and ignore a lot of the other things that are spinning around. Basically, you ignore reality if want to have success. And, you know, reality is not always sugar and spice and everything nice. There is a lot of conflict and problems in the world and sickness and illness.

Giving back is so important. That’s something that has been instilled to me by my parents. You hit a certain age and you feel better when you are giving gifts than trying to receive the latest and greatest, whatever the heck it is.

Also see: The Krempels Centre

Taylor Phinney and the Davis Phinney Foundation:

Taylor Phinney is one of the best-known riders in pro cycling. He’s a former track world champion and multiple national champion, and has also taken stages in the Giro d’Italia, Tour de Pologne, USA Pro Challenge and Tour of California, as well as the overall in the 2014 Tour of Qatar.

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2000, and started his foundation a couple of years later. Ever since I turned pro I try to do something each year for my dad’s foundation, whether it is just donating my own money or doing some sort of fundraising thing.

This year we held an auction in partnership with Silka, the pump manufacturer. They do these artist series pumps and had some pretty cool people design some for them in the past. They approached me and asked me if I wanted to paint a couple of their pumps. They thought it would be a good idea to auction them off for my dad’s foundation.

I thought, why not? It seemed like a fun project. And it was a lot of fun.

Part of the reason for that is because I’ve got a big interest in art. After I was injured [he had a huge crash in the 2014 US national road race championships – ed.], I got into it in my recovery period. It was something I became very passionate about.

It wasn’t with the idea of trying to sell it, it was more of a therapeutic thing. I figured if I was going to try to sell anything or auction anything off that it should benefit my dad’s foundation. So this fitted well.

Silka wanted me to work on some pumps, after which they would be auctioned off. I used an acrylic paint and then I used a couple of acrylic markers to complete the design.

Things had to be relatively portable as I was working on them at races, doing the painting in hotel rooms while I was trying to race the US Pro Challenge and train for the team time trial and race in the Tour of Britain.

I actually finished them in the week of the world championships, and we had a little showing there in Richmond.

It was just kind of fun. It was a different side to the art that I have done. I have never done any art with a deadline or anything really in mind. That meant it was a little bit daunting at first. But once you get into it and spend that much time with those things, I ended up developing a pretty solid bond with them.

It was just an artist thing, but I had to let them go. I was going to auction anything off, I was really happy the funds went 100% to my dad’s foundation.

It’s obviously a foundation near and dear to my heart, my dad being my dad. So it was cool to be able to do that.

Also see: Davis Phinney foundation

Brian Hodes and Invisible Dreams:

Brian Hodes is one of the best photographers in cycling and in the course of his work regularly travels to races in the US and around the globe. During the season he works on major events such as the Tour de France. In the offseason his emphasis shifts and he tries to help the homeless through his website Invisible Dreams.

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I’ve always been intrigued by people, and also been intrigued by the less fortunate and giving back. I don’t know when that started, but it got more emphasised during my recovery from drugs and alcohol. I became clean in June 1993; next year it will be 23 years.

I chose to talk about it rather than shy away from it. Talking about it lets people know there is a place to go. I have had people in our industry come up to me and ask for help, as they know what I went through. There are people who are abusing alcohol, abusing drugs in this industry. Not necessarily riders, it could be those behind the scenes too. But there are places to go to get help, and it’s important they know that.

After my recovery, I initially got very involved with HIV/AIDS charities. I’m not affected by the disease personally; in fact, at the time I didn’t know anybody affected by it, although I do now. But doing something was important.

I find that as I travel the world sitting on the back of motorbike taking pictures, I notice things…I notice people who are less fortunate than myself and others.

I am grateful for what I have, even if it is not a lot. But I’d see these homeless people, especially here in southern California, where there is a massive population. Nobody stops to talk to them.

So I sit and talk to them. I carry water and some food in the back of the car, and for the past God knows how many Thanksgivings I have gone down to Skid Row here in Los Angeles.

Last year I took it one step further. I was talking to them, recording it with my phone and taking photos of them with my camera. I’ll sit and talk to them for an hour or two, and the stories are incredible. I record those stories and put them on a website I set up, Invisible Dreams.

Yes, there are alcoholics and drug addicts amongst them, but for the most part these are all relatively highly intelligent people down on their luck. People take life for granted, but this could happen to me or you tomorrow.

The fact is, I personally lost everything when I got sober. I lost a marriage, I lost a home, I lost a business.

I was lucky, I was able to recover. The people who helped me did so not wanting anything in return; I found that very, very cool.

What I feel I have to do is help another human being. It’s irrelevant whether I was in recovery or not; it’s mankind, it’s about being human. There are a lot of lonely people, especially during this time of the year, and they need to be remembered.

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For the most part, 98% of them are all receptive to it and their stories are incredible. So that’s how Invisible Dreams started. It’s a site where I tell their stories, and I hope that it will encourage others to also get involved and to help. To do what they can.

What I’d say is that it’s important to remember that this really could happen to anybody. I have met people who are professors, highly intelligent people. People from Dow Jones companies who are now on the street. Every walk of life – white, black, gays, straight, everything. A lot of veterans too…the United States government isn’t doing very much to help these veterans.

Whatever their background, they all need help. I’d encourage anybody to do what they can. Do something more than ride your bike. Do something more than take pictures. Do something more than be a mechanic.

Give back, extend a hand, say hello to somebody. It is self-gratifying to know that you helped another human being. Even in a small way. Do something to make a difference.

Also see:

Marvyn’s story:
Sheri’s story:

Chad Haga and Hope Sports:

Chad Haga is a 27-year-old rider from McKinney, Texas. Winner of the Joe Martin stage race and the prologue of the Tour of Elk Grove in 2013, he secured a contract for the following season with Giant-Alpecin and has competed with the team since then.

Chad Haga, Ben King, Guy East and Jesse Anthony on the roof of a house during a Hope Sports build.
Chad Haga, Ben King, Guy East and Jesse Anthony on the roof of a house during a Hope Sports build.

This year was my third trip to Tijuana, Mexico, to build houses as part of a charity organisation, Hope Sports. It is organised by a former professional cyclist Guy East, and he brings in a bunch of professional athletes for the weekend.

I first got involved after Guy approached me about it. Todd Henriksen is a cycling chaplain for professional cyclists, and had been going as well. And I heard from other friends who had been there and it just sounded like a really cool experience, something I wanted to be a part of.

Traditionally there are a lot of cyclists on this particular build because it was organised that way right in the middle of our off-season, so that it doesn’t conflict with our racing or our training.

There are a regular group of us that go. There’s Giddeon Massie, a track cyclist. Also, Ben King from Cannondale-Garmin, Jesse Anthony of Optum Pro Cycling and I. We are consistently there each year, and then there are dozens of others who rotate in and out.

The organisation Homes of Hope and Hope Sports pick out the family through an application process and get everything set up for us, so that we just need to show up and do the work.

It works out as a two-day build. It is just a small house with electricity, not even running water. But a door that locks, windows that lock, and a roof with shingles is a big step up for these families.

The structure is constructed from wood as the climate in Tijuana is very mild and stable throughout the year. It is not complicated – 20 people working two seven-hour days gets it done – but it has a big effect on the family.

For us, logistically, it is a very easy way to do a charitable act. It is a very satisfying thing to do, because the whole year is spent focussing on ourselves and our own performances.

Cycling is a very fun lifestyle, but it is also a very selfish lifestyle. So that is why it is satisfying to do something for a family that really, really needs help.

How does it change things for us? Doing this does a good job of putting everything in perspective. It helps me to realise that it is a tough job, but I am being paid pretty well to race my bike for a living. It kind of takes the pressure off.

There is still the pressure to perform, but you also realise how good a situation it really is when you can see the struggles of others. It shows us the bigger picture.

Also see: Hope Sports

Note: Team Novo Nordisk was also involved in a Hope Sports house-building project in the off season. You can watch a video here:

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