RIDGWAY – Cycling enthusiasts throughout the region are invited to celebrate the memory of young Axel Charrette by joining “Team Axel” in the upcoming Pedal the Plains bicycle tour, Sept. 20-22.
The first 15 people who sign up will get a free cycling jersey – a $100 value – donated by retired pro rider George Hincapie, and emblazoned with both the Hincapie and Team Axel logos.
A portion of each registration fee will go to the Axel Project, a fledgling organization that gives away Strider bikes to charitable organizations and distributes the pedal-less bikes-for-tots at cost through sales at cycling events.
The Axel Project was launched in June by avid Ridgway cyclists Jen and Randy Charrette as a way of memorializing their toddler, Axel, who was murdered in Mexico last spring while the family was on a cycling and experiential learning adventure. Axel, an energetic and free-spirited boy, was a master of his own beloved Strider bike, and the Charrettes could think of no better way of keeping their son’s spirit alive than through giving other young children the freedom and independence that comes with having a bicycle of their own.
THE ‘PEDAL THE PLAINS’ CONNECTION
“Team Axel” is the brainchild of Darcy Thomas, a Ridgway resident and good friend to the Charrette family who earlier this summer arranged for 7-year-old Kalden Charrette (Axel’s big brother) to meet his idol, George Hincapie, while he was cycling through the area on a charity ride associated with Ride the Rockies. Not only did the two meet, they also pedaled all the way from Ridgway to Ouray together.
Thomas was able to arrange the encounter through her connection with Ride the Rockies, where she has volunteered as a water truck driver for the event for the past three years.
“I felt so bad” she said, of Axel’s death, “but I had no idea what I could do to help; the family has enough meals for a couple of years.”
Initially, “I wanted to get [pro cycling superstar] Tejay van Garderen here for Kalden’s birthday party,” she said. But Tejay was training in Europe and she quickly realized, “That ain’t gonna happen.”
But she knew that Hincapie, regarded as the premier American classics rider of his generation, was scheduled to come through town with the Ride the Rockies, so she contacted RTR Tour Director Chandler Smith for help organizing a meeting between Kalden and “Big George.”
“You do what you can,” she said.
When Thomas and her husband Michael, a local dentist and keen cyclist, decided to do Pedal the Plains together on a tandem bicycle this fall, the idea for “Team Axel” came together as a logical next step for supporting the Charrettes and their Axel Project. Thomas approached Hincapie about providing jerseys for Team Axel; he instantly agreed.
The second annual Pedal The Plains bicycle tour, Sept. 20-22, is a kid sister to the well-known week-long Ride the Rockies annual cycling tour that winds through mountainous regions of Colorado each June. Pedal The Plains participants roam the vast grasslands of southeastern Colorado on a fully supported three-day bicycle tour that highlights the unique history and heritage of Colorado’s plains. The tour this year will stop in Eads, Lamar and La Junta. The relatively flat topography and shorter duration of the ride makes it more accessible and less daunting than its mountainous counterpart.
Like Ride the Rockies, Pedal the Plains is sponsored by The Denver Post, showcasing the state’s unique scenery, history and culture while boosting local economies and promoting the sport of cycling. Philanthropy is woven into the fabric of the event; most proceeds go to The Denver Post Community Foundation, but event organizers have also created a way for other nonprofit groups, such as the Axel Project, to benefit, by allowing them to organize their own teams for the tour, funneling a portion of members’ registration fees to the charity for which they are riding.
So far, Team Axel has six members – four from Ridgway – said Thomas. There’s still plenty of time for more.
“I would love to see 25 people sign up,” Thomas said. Those who sign up with Team Axel need not actually ride together during the Pedal the Plains event, or even know the Charrette family, Thomas said. “Someone from California could sign up to do it,” she said.
Non-cyclists who would like to support the cause can also donate directly to the Axel Project at its website, axelproject.com.
AXEL PROJECT SHIFTS INTO HIGH GEAR
As Thomas’s efforts to organize Team Axel roll along, Jen and Randy Charrette are preparing to travel with the third annual US Pro Challenge bicycle tour from Aug. 19-25, running the Strider Adventure Zone in each host community (an area where young children can play with Strider bikes) while building awareness for the Axel Project. Among other things, they plan to auction off a Strider bike signed by stage winners in each host community.
The Axel Project has also had a major presence locally, over the past two months. The Charrettes had a booth at all of Ridgway’s “Concerts in the Park” during the month of July, as well as at the RAT Fest (a Ridgway bicycle festival held in June). Awareness of the organization and its mission seems to be spreading far and wide. So far, the Charrettes have given away 16 Strider bikes.
“People have been hearing about us all over the country,” said Randy. “We just received an application from a small school in Ohio,” to which they will be sending 10 bikes, “and we recently received an inquiry from a woman in England.”
“But we are looking for western Colorado organizations that would like bike donations, too,” said Jen. “We will certainly welcome more applications.”
Right now, the focus of the organization is on distributing Striders (for toddlers and preschoolers) and Super Striders (5-8 year olds), and the Charrettes may expand to older age groups in the future.
LIFE SPINS ON
As the days and weeks peel by since Axel’s untimely death, the simple act of cycling has proven to be a healing balm to all members of the Charrette family.
Kalden seems to fall more and more deeply in love with the sport by the minute, and has spent much of his summer in the saddle. After his encounter with “Big George” in July, the famous cyclist mailed Kalden a full Hincapie kit.
Randy wrote about the incident in Jen’s blog, VeloMom: “It was a pretty emotional day.... No matter how hard we wish, pray, hope, it doesn’t matter – Axel is never coming back. All we can do is help Kalden live twice the life, for him and his brother.”
Jen and Randy, meanwhile, are training to compete as a co-ed duo team in the upcoming Breck Epic, a six-stage mountain bike race held each year near Breckenridge.
“It’s kind of crazy,” said Randy. “There’s 37,000 feet of climb in six days. We are going to be hurtin’.”
They were training for the race three years ago when Jen got pregnant with Axel, and had to drop out, so participating in the race is bittersweet. The race organizer is donating the first two entry fees of this year’s race to the Axel Project.
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REGISTER FOR TEAM AXEL
Registrations for Pedal The Plains are due by the end of August. Visit the Pedal the Plains website, and register using “Team Axel” as the sign-in. The password, aptly, is “borntoride.” Ten percent of each registration fee comes back to the Axel Project. For more information, contact Darcy Thomas at 970/626-4423 or 970/318-8640.