I’ve ridden in my fair share of charity events over the years. From the original AIDS Ride to rides for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and a couple of MS150s, I’ve participated in all manner of feel-good events. The recent discussion here regarding charity events overlapped with my effort to pull together a post on a ride I did a few weeks ago with friends.
Called the Tour de Turtle, the ride was meant to raise funds for a charity called the Painted Turtle. I was struggling with the post because initially, I wasn’t clear on just why I felt so compelled to write about it. It couldn’t boast the prettiest course. Or the most difficult course. Or even the most fun.
The ride began in Lake Elizabeth at the far northern reach of Los Angeles County. It’s easily a half hour from LA’s most northern suburbs. The roads out there aren’t terrific, and last year a fire passed within 100 yards of the facility, burning acre upon acre of scrub, chaparral and trees. Imagine leafless wrought iron trees on the moon and you’ll have the general idea.
It is also impossible to argue that there was anything more inherently rewarding about helping this charity as opposed to any other. All it takes is meeting one person with cystic fibrosis, juvenile diabetes or multiple sclerosis to be moved by impact these rides can have. Sure, there have been plenty of examples exposed of so-called charity rides that delivered more profit to the organizer than it did assistance to charities—Palotta Teamworks, the organization behind the AIDS Rides, suffered terribly when it was revealed that only a few percent of what riders raised went to the benefitting charities—but on the whole, rides tend to be more transparent in the work they do these days.
The Painted Turtle is unusual among charities I’ve encountered in that it is a summer camp for kids who are too ill to attend traditional summer camps. They have the ability to look after the medical needs of kids with 30 different life-threatening conditions while giving them a pretty normal summer camp experience.
When some friends asked me to join them for the ride, one of the first things a buddy of mine said to me was that the camp was started, in part, by Paul Newman, Lou Adler and Herb Alpert. Famous people aside, I’ve always respected the things Paul Newman has lent his name. It didn’t take long for me to decide I’d join in.
What made the ride so different wasn’t the fact that they served us breakfast, though the fruit and oatmeal were terrific. It wasn’t that the post-ride lunch was even more delicious than the breakfast. It wasn’t the crazily dressed and upbeat volunteers at the rest stops.
What made the Tour de Turtle so different was the simple fact that we started and finished at the facility. We got to see where the kids play. We got to see the musical instruments donated by families, sometimes showing a plaque in memory of a former camper.
Maybe I’m just a sap, but it was pretty easy for me to project my son’s circumstance 10 years into the future, supposing for a moment that he’d spent that time bedridden and too developmentally stunted to go to a traditional summer camp.
The poignancy of the freedom that children and their families must feel while there was palpable to me. Thinking about the relief that would come from leaving the hospital behind if for only a week took me back to our time in the NICU. The Deuce’s stay was only 37 days. These kids have been in and out of hospitals their whole lives.
Prior to the beginning of the ride, we watched a brief video that showed the camp in action. It became clear that for the staff, this isn’t a job, but a calling.
I began to appreciate that this was a vacation not just for the kids, but for the whole family. I only wished we could have gotten to meet some of the kids, see them enjoy themselves.
There’s a value and connection for me that came from seeing the actual place where the fundraising would benefit. While I didn’t need to feel satisfaction, rolling back into the camp at the end of the ride gave me a very tangible reminder of just what the ride was about and who would benefit.
For more information, visit The Painted Turtle.