Add Meaning to Your Exertion – Sign Up for a Charity Event

By Maria Vitulli

Photo courtesy of Team in Training

Maybe you’re looking for a way to step up your training goals. Maybe you want to do something tangible for a cause that has struck a chord in you. Maybe you want to train with a new group of people or try a totally new activity.

Whatever the reason, participating in an event for a cause greater than your own performance can be a remarkably powerful and satisfying experience. Even traditionally singular sports such as running and cycling can take on a whole new tenor when everyone has a bigger goal in mind.

By virtue of the temperate climate and the philanthropic temperament of its residents, Northern California has a huge array of fundraising sports events for all kinds of worthy causes. You can choose from a fun 10-mile bike ride, to a challenging triathlon, to a weeklong mountaineering adventure.

Below are some highlights of the diverse events and organizations that allow you to help others through the simple act of moving your body.

Tour De Cure

Tour De Cure is actually over 80 separate cycling events that take place across the U.S. to benefit the American Diabetes Association’s mission to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes.The organizers take pains to point out “it’s a ride, not a race,” with course options that can accommodate everyone from a weekend rider to a hardcore century veteran. You can ride by yourself or with a friend, or form your own team with five or more riders. Every rider pays a nominal registration fee and sets a fundraising goal, alone or with a team. In Northern California, there are Tour de Cure events in Sacramento, Silicon Valley and Napa Valley.

The picturesque Napa Valley ride is actually the largest event in the country with more than 2100 participants raising over $1 million last year. “Most people who participate have someone with diabetes inspiring their ride,” notes director Tom Hall, of the riders who range in age from “kids to the elderly.” The staging site of the ride is in Yountville with rides of 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles, to easily accommodate riders of all skill levels. This year’s event is on May 6 and will also feature live music, a silent auction, and fittingly, wine tasting.

Team In Training

Team In Training is a fundraising program for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to raise money and awareness for people with blood cancers. They have a truly unique, smorgasbord approach of not staging one specific event, but training and sending teams to more than 60 established endurance sports events all over the world, including many in California. You can choose to run or walk a whole or half-marathon, do a triathlon, ride in a century or even complete a cross-country ski race anywhere from Hawaii to Rome to Alaska.

Here’s how it works: You sign up for a “season” with Team In Training, typically 3 to 5 months prior to the event you want to compete in, and they then set you up with a regional team, training schedule, and a certified coach. When your event approaches, your airfare, accommodations, support and entry fees are paid for. All you have to do is raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (the fundraising commitment varies depending on the event), train, and show up. It’s an ideal set up if you always wanted to do an event in an exotic location, but felt overwhelmed by the training and logistics of it. Plus, you get the added benefit of camaraderie from a being on a team you’ve trained with for months, and knowing that you’ve raised funds and awareness for a worthy cause.

There are extremely active Team In Training chapters in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. “There are a lot of participants in the Bay Area,” says Team In Training’s Barb McDowell. “We live in a very philanthropic area, and we’re lucky the weather allows us to train all year round.”

Climbing For Kids

Climbing for Kids is a program of Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT), under the Earth Island Institute, to introduce at-risk youth from urban areas to the outdoors and the impact a relationship with the wilderness can make on their lives. Using a unique “multiplier-model” approach, BAWT teaches adult leaders of existing youth groups skills in backpacking, camping and team-building. It then gives them access to a huge “gear library,” everything from sleeping bags to stoves to hats, which can outfit up to 150 people at a time.

Instead of a one-time trip, this innovative approach enables leaders who already have a relationship with the kids to go out into nature with them again and again. “The people who train with us are really interested in instilling a love of wilderness and environmental ethic in youth,” says Cliff Agocs, coordinator of Climbing for Kids.

Climbing for Kids raises funds to support BAWT through six separate fundraising climbs on Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta, and Mount Whitney. Participants in these climbs agree to meet various fundraising goals, depending on the mountain, and are then supplied with more than $1500 worth of free gear and food, and a certified professional guide. Organized hikes to help prepare for the climb are offered and technical training with ice axes and crampons takes place on the mountain before and during the climb. “Many of the climbers are at the beginner to intermediate level,” says Agocs. “It’s a great way for someone to promote what they love.”

The Coolest 24

Participating in a local, homegrown event for a cause can be a great way to help your town or athletic community give to a cause. Such is the case with the second annual Coolest 24 Hour Mountain Bike Challenge in Cool, in the Sierra foothills south of Auburn, the so-called “Endurance Capital of the World.” When organizer Jim Northey lost two friends to cancer within two weeks of each other, he decided to put his experience putting on mountain biking events to use to benefit the UC Davis Cancer Center. “Ninety-nine percent of us have been touched by cancer in some way,” he notes.

The Coolest 24 is the only 100 percent non-profit mountain bike race in North America, with some of the lowest race entry fees on the West Coast. Teams and solo riders race the 9.1-mile course loop for a full 24 hours. Northey makes it a festive atmosphere with a camp city, stuff hanging from the trees, and bands playing. He also notes with a chuckle that he has “a friend in a Sasquatch outfit roaming around the woods of the course. The sense of humor is extended to the awards, with a Liberace-worthy trophy and special “sandbagger awards” (a dumpster full of garbage), for pros who enter as amateurs.

The good mojo is contagious, Northey says. “Most of the winners gave the prize money back to the cause last year.”

Climb Against the Odds

For 12 years, the Breast Cancer Fund has enhanced its mission of identifying and eliminating environmental causes of breast cancer by literally summiting a mountain.  Last year’s team of 40 dedicated climbers, comprised of breast cancer survivors, family members and friends, climbed Mount Shasta and raised over half a million dollars for the cause. But as climb coordinator Connie George observes, “It’s not about the summit.”

Described as a “bonding experience” where climbers are literally roped together, Climb Against the Odds’ participants do not need to be experienced climbers. However, they are asked to commit to a six-month training schedule that includes one hike a month with a regional training team and a mountaineering class. They also receive $1500 worth of top-of-the-line gear. “Last year, we had people on the team from age 18 to 68,” George notes.

In addition to a fee to cover the costs of their climb, each climber is required to fundraise, with most going well over the minimum. As added incentive, participants who meet their fundraising goal by April get half of their climbing fee waived. This year’s climb will again be on Mount Shasta in July, and since there are a limited number of spots, sign up is done by application.


Now in its sixth year, the AIDS/LifeCycle is a seven-day 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in June, with proceeds going to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. Virtually a traveling city, more than 2,200 participants raised over $8 million for HIV/AIDS-related services last year, more than any other event in the country.

In exchange for their fundraising, cyclists receive ride support from hundreds of volunteer “roadies” who set up tents, feed and hydrate them, and provide bike repair and first aid. Though the physical challenge is significant, the AIDS/Lifecycle community encourages anyone with the will to participate—like the group of cyclists living with HIV, known as the “Positive Pedalers.” The ride is a truly unique way to experience the California coastline with an incredibly dedicated and committed group of people.

It’s Not (Just) About You

The above events are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sports events for causes.  If you are lucky enough to be healthy and able to participate in a sport, think about doing it for someone who might not be as fortunate — and don’t let a fundraising requirement intimidate you. Almost all events that require fundraising have a ton of support and training to help you raise money, everything from workshops to personal web pages to mentors to give advice.  It is easier to raise funds for a cause than most people think, and if the thought of asking for money makes you uncomfortable, keep in mind: It’s not about you. You’re asking, and moving, to help someone else.