The Tour de Turtle

The Tour de Turtle

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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  1. Ted Culotta

    I couldn’t feel more strongly about this than you do. I have down the Angel Ride for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp on several occasions. The camp was Paul Newman’s first effort at providing a summer camp experience for kids with life threatening illnesses. While you can project your son’s potential involvement into the future, I was able to experience the camp as a rider after having experienced it as a parent. The work these places do is otherworldly and the staff are simply incredible. The inspiration that comes from participating is beyond rewarding. The best part is our event is a two-day ride so we get to stay at the camp for an evening. Special doesn’t begin to describe it. Thanks for sharing, Padraig.

    P.S. To learn ore about Paul’s (and his partner Hotchner’s) journey to create these camps, read the book “In Pursuit of the Common Good.” It’s brief and a fun ride.


  2. Michael

    My daughter has epilepsy and got to go to a week-long camp for kids with epilepsy in our state twice before she aged out of it. We had never heard of the camp and no one had ever mentioned it to us or she’d have gone for more years. Something that meant a lot to our daughter was that this was the first time she met other kids with epilepsy (she doesn’t know any kids with epilepsy in our town, although she knows a couple of adults who she adores). I can’t overstate the importance of this to her – just to know that there are many others out there like her. I expect a huge part of the emotional impact on the kids and their families of the Painted Turtle Camp stems from that – just meeting and sharing with others who are similar. Getting to ride horses or go swimming without people freaking out over the possibility of her having a seizure was important too, of course.

  3. Andy

    I’ve come to believe there are places like this all over the country – not all as successful, not all connected to famous or wealthy people – but earnest and fun for the kids nonetheless. In Casco Maine there’s a similar camp, Camp Sunshine, also for kids with serious medical conditions. My grandson has been there several times for Brain Tumor weeks and for General Oncology weeks. He and his siblings love it! So do their parents (but they come home exhausted). There are other organizations and caring individuals who underwrite the cost so the kids and their families can just go and relax for a week with other kids like themselves.

    Friends of our family have turned several marathons, Spartan events & local bike rides not affiliated with any charity into fund raisers for children’s charities through Facebook pages. Sometimes 2 or 3 people will form a team and join forces to raise money and awareness.

    When a tragedy strikes or a serious illness affects your family, you get it. When you know someone whose life is forever changed by trauma, cancer, or other serious illness, or a friend has MS, CP, Downs, whatever, your perspective changes quite understandably.

    My favorites, though, are the people who understand without experience, who hear the story and join the team, do the ride, run the 10k. They do this not because it’s part of the training schedule but because it’s a way to help the research, to provide a service, and to make things better for people they don’t know. Thank God there are a lot of those folks!

    I’ll keep doing these rides as often as I can and when I can’t, I’ll shift to the other side of the table and be the guy who gives you your T-shirt. These events show me the best of the human spirit and sometimes the rest of the world makes a refresher course really important.

  4. Heath

    Thanks again Patrick for sharing the day to support the cause and spreading the word on their amazing work. Also, for not sharing the fact that you selflessly dragged my arse up the last 5 miles.

  5. David

    Although I have always been kind of skeptical about charity rides (why not just give the money to the charity?), ones like this are, I think, different, for all of the reasons that Patrick and others have pointed out.

    I’ve ridden the Alyn Hospital Wheels of Love ride twice. It is a 5 day supported ride with multiple options (road, road “challenge”- 130-150km/d with 2000m climbing/day, off road) in support of Alyn Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem, the only pediatric rehabilitation hospital in the entire Middle East. The patients are incredibly diverse (Jewish, Arab, Druze, from all over, including places that Israel is still at war with), and the quality and sophistication of care is amazing, including apartments for families to live in so they can learn to transition their kids to home care. The ride is great, and alternates starting in the north and south and always finishes on the last day with a climb to the hospital (some hills with 10- 20% grades) where riders are greeted by the patients and their families. The ride, which is now in its 14th year, has inspired the patients as well as riders- some now ride as participants, both on conventional bikes as well as hand cycles.

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