RIDGWAY – Days after returning home from the French Alps and the new charity road race known as the Trois Etapes, dZi Foundation co-founder Jim Nowak was still spinning.
“It’s all been a bit of a blur, but in a good way,” Nowak said.
Not only did dZi’s two eight-man teams dominate the podium at the bicycle race that has been billed as “the ultimate competitive pro-am cycling experience”, coming in first and second place out of 15 teams; they also succeeded (through prize money, corporate sponsorships and other fundraising efforts) in raising over half-a-million dollars to support the dZi Foundation.
That’s over a third of dZi’s annual $1.3 million budget.
But perhaps most importantly, dZi’s success at the Trois Etapes has shone a European spotlight on the relatively tiny Ridgway-based foundation, thus attracting a whole new constellation of donors and supporters.
“This is just a piece of the puzzle, but it’s a huge deal, obviously,” Nowak said.
The dZi Foundation partners with villagers in the most isolated regions of western Nepal to create sustainable locally driven programs that improve quality of life through advancing education and health while reducing poverty.
This was dZi’s second year to be among the charity organizations represented in the Trois Etapes. Organized by the cycling event company Cosaveli with major financial backing from Goldman Sachs Gives, it’s a grueling, multi-day “fantasy camp” of European road racing that provides a rare opportunity for amateur riders to attack some of the most renowned alpine stages of the Tour de France, ride with the pros and experience cycling like a pro.
Each team registering for the race gets matched with a seasoned professional cyclist who rides alongside them and shows them the ropes.
Champion Systems pro rider Craig Lewis of Boulder, Colo. has ridden with dZi’s Team USA in both years of the event, leading them to a 5th place finish last year, and the top of the podium in 2013. Riding under the banner of Reed Smith, British pro rider Kieran Frend of Post-Chain Reaction rallied dZi’s new UK team to a 2nd Place finish this year.
Lewis is known in the cycling world for his mental toughness and determination, coming back from a serious accident when he was struck by a car during a time trial in 2004 that left his body a bloody, broken mess. He eventually made a full recovery from his injuries – including two punctured lungs and a fractured femur – and is now a lead rider for the Champion System team.
He first got involved with charity riding for Right to Play, an international organization that uses the transformative power of play – playing sports, playing games – to educate and empower millions of children facing adversity around the globe.
When he agreed to ride in the inaugural Trois Etapes last year, he thought he’d be riding for Right to Play once again. But his name was thrown in the pot along with the rest of the pros, and he ended up being matched with the dZi Foundation instead.
It all worked out for the best – the Boulderite was happy to be matched with a Colorado-based organization. Once he met with Nowak and began learning more about dZi’s mission in the Himalaya, he said, he became “super inspired” as the two began talking about how they could best work together.
“We are slowly building a relationship, and I’m excited to see what the future holds,” Lewis said. “I would love to do another event next year. It’s cool because as a pro athlete, I’m basically working to get results for myself and my team, and the effort ends there. But riding in the Trois Etapes, I’m getting results for the dZi Foundation that are carried on to Nepal.”
The Trois Etapes has quickly become a heavyweight in the world of fundraising sports events, following in the footsteps of golf’s PGA Tour. In all, the 15 teams and 120 riders participating in this year’s race raised a combined $2.6 million for their charity partners including The Anne Frank Trust, SHINE, 1001 Fontaines, Shooting Star, CHASE, Prostate Cancer UK, Walking with the Wounded, Right to Play, World Bicycle Relief and dZi.
As big as it already is, the event has the potential to keep on growing –just like the dZi Foundation’s Endless Ascent program, which started three years ago at the Ouray Ice Festival, when Canadian ice-climbing superstar Will Gadd climbed continuously for 24 hours – 189 pitches – as a fundraiser for dZi. The program now encourages potential donors to go out and create their own ‘Endless Ascents’ to raise money for dZi.
“That’s the idea,” Nowak said. “It’s not supposed to get smaller. The idea is to serve as many people as we possibly can. Our budget has never gone down. The idea is to keep the momentum going.”
A one-hour television special about the 2013 Trois d’Etapes aired on Eurosport on Aug. 14, and dZi will post a link to the program on its own website, dzifoundation.org, as soon as it becomes available.
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