To say that I love globes and maps is a real understatement. When I was in third grade, my teacher went on a trip to Australia and I remember listening to his stories and being completely mesmerized. That is when my love for traveling was born and I can say that my fascination with seeing the world carried me through my early 20s.
As it does, life happens and I found myself in Chicago and decided to get “a real job”. I worked as a controller for a luxury adventure travel company. The CFO who hired me had just returned from South Africa where she had done the Ironman. I told her about my background in swimming and running and she invited me to join her at an upcoming event. I did just that and, naturally, walked away completely hooked. The short of that experience was this: for the next several years I dedicated myself to triathlon and gravitated towards the longer events.
On the midwest scene one could say I excelled and I was able to spend a lot of time on the podium. I loved the swimming and the running but kind of fought my way through the bike portion. Those who know me can validate that I’m somewhat clumsy so I always found it to be somewhat of a miracle that I made it through the majority of the biking legs unscathed and able to hop off my bike and just run. While I did love those years and the competition, I wasn’t completely satisfied. For me talking about gear, plans, watts, and results was all a bit empty. It felt inconsequential to me and I knew I needed more depth so I started to ask “why” more. That is when I made what was a really pivotal choice in my life to start fundraising for international development organizations as part of my life in triathlon. Soon after that decision I was fortunate to have earned a spot at the Ironman World Championship and wanted to choose an organization that might resonate with my peers.
I decided to focus on the bicycle as a tool in development and that is when I learned about World Bicycle Relief, a new Chicago-based non-profit that was born from SRAM and was transferring its knowledge on manufacturing high end components to design and distribute bicycles into areas where bicycles could be significant tools in breaking down the barrier of distance to achieve basic needs. It was a life-changing experience and, after the event in Kona, I asked the organization for a job to grow a community of supporters. Since then, I have not looked back. Nearly a decade has passed and I’m so proud of our work and how we do it. We have a clear mission and purpose and we have an amazing community around us helping to make it possible.
As many of you who will be reading this know, inGamba and World Bicycle Relief have an awesome partnership. Among other initiatives, inGamba donates 2% of all trip sales to the organization. This foundation of giving has provided the platform for other initiatives and the inGamba community has now raised over $275,000 for WBR, which is remarkable. Part of this growing impact has been WBR/inGamba trips in both 2015 and 2016, which began back in 2015, at our annual ride with João in Mill Valley, when Stan Day (SRAM President and WBR Board Member) joined us. After learning a bit more about the inGamba trips, Stan suggested we do an annual inGamba/WBR Ride so in October 2015 we had our inaugural partner trip to Lecchi and I was fortunate to be part of it. We had an amazing group and the generosity and commitment of the members to World Bicycle Relief was really extraordinary. I think, for a lot of people on that first trip, it added a real valuable “why” into their purpose for traveling with inGamba and it was amazing to be part of.
I personally think it’s the “why” to life that makes it extraordinary. Most of the people reading this, I’m guessing, have the gift of having choices in life. For many people in life it’s not that case. At World Bicycle Relief, we are providing much needed transportation in the form of simple, reliable bicycles so more students can get to school, more healthcare workers can get to patients and more farmers can access markets. I’m asking you to put a “why” behind your choice of cycling travel.
Which brings me to a bet I had with João last year. We decided to race up a hill in Portugal, and the loser would make a donation of 10 bikes in honor of the winner. If I’m going to do something, I always try to do it well so the story is that I beat him – but I didn’t win. The real winners were the recipients of 500 bikes we ended up funding. You see, after the climb was done and dusted, one of our fellow travelers approached me and shared that he would match all donations to WBR in honor of the race. That night we shared his generous offer with the group and what ensued was again, just like magic. One generous offer led to another and soon the group had become so generous that the final tally raised was 500 bikes – that’s an incredible $76,000.
Like the quality of the routes, the cared-for equipment, the attention to the hotel choices and the selection of the coffee shops, that remarkable outcome would be almost impossible to imagine with another tour company, but at the same time it was typically inGamba. And I’m writing this to invite you to experience that unique spirit for yourself. This year, we’ll be going to Portugal in October. I hope you can join us.
Katie Bolling is Business Development Director at World Bicycle Relief