Riding for relief

Gavin Hlady
Courtesy of Gavin Hlady
On a 10-day ride, teens Keegan Pelton, from left, Charles Rausch and Gavin Hlady raised money for the World Health Organization COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Local teens Keegan Pelton, Gavin Hlady and Charles Rausch climbed more than 140,000 feet during their 10-day bicycle ride to raise money for the World Health Organization COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. They joined 132,701 other cyclists as part of the larger Climb for COVID Relief (#climbforcovidrelief) challenge last month.

Professional mountain biker Kate Courtney partnered with athletic activity tracker Strava to challenge cyclists to climb 10,000 feet in 10 days, or log their activities for 10 consecutive days while striving for maximum elevation gain. Challenge participants raise money by asking friends, family and other bikers to sponsor them by elevation gain, similar to a walkathon. They can also compete with other teams and individuals to raise the most

Pelton, Hlady and Rausch raised more than $2,600. Collectively, the event generated more than $57,000.

The challenge lasted June 5-14; cyclists logged their fundraising progress on the United Nations Foundation website alongside their climbing progress on the Strava website.

On her fundraising page, Courtney emphasizes how the challenge aims to “harness the bright energy of the cycling community to make a real difference in the lives of those most impacted by COVID-19.” Mountain View High School graduate Pelton (Class of 2020) and Homestead rising seniors Hlady and Rausch echoed the sentiment.

“It’s not only helping a really good cause, but it’s doing so through means that we’re passionate about,” Pelton said.

The three met via their high school mountain bike team, Black Mountain Composite, and are members of the Los Gatos Bicycle Racing Club. The level of commitment and time the cyclists put into the sport make it seem more like a part-time or full-time job than a hobby, Rausch said. They said they joined the Climb for COVID Relief challenge as a team to test their physical and mental limits.

“Even though this is not a competition, like a race, it’s still getting at the heart of (cycling), where you want to just push your body to its absolute limit and see what you can do to overcome the mental barrier and physical barrier that it takes,” Pelton said.

All three balanced biking an average of seven hours a day with part-time jobs at local bike shops. When recalling a typical work day, the cyclists described getting up at about 5 a.m. to meet for a three-hour ride before work in the local hills, reconvening straight after work to ride for another three to four hours, sleeping as soon as they got home and repeating. On their last day of riding, they rode for more than 12 hours.

The cyclists finished off their 10 days with what’s known as an “Everesting” challenge, which usually means climbing 29,029 feet on the same hill – the height of Mount Everest. These bikers, however, decided to climb about 32,000 feet; which required riding up the same hill 141 times.

“It’s one thing to do an Everesting challenge … but doing an Everest after you’re already so, so deep(ly) overtrained, after nine days of averaging seven hours a day of cycling and just rallying yourself on too little sleep at 5 in the morning to climb for 13 more hours, (is different),” Pelton said. “The amount of toll that (it) takes on your body – having to work your muscles and joints so hard to make it up those hills – made the last two hours just painfully brutal. But having friends along to help with that was really what got me through it.”

The other cyclists shared the same sentiment, noting that their camaraderie and community support kept them going through the tougher moments. Supporters from local cities used the challenge to start conversations, while other members of their racing club came out to cheer the cyclists on.

“People I hadn’t met before were talking to me about the COVID relief and biking in general, (while) people who I wouldn’t have thought of … donated. They ended up reaching out, and I got to meet a couple of new friends along the way,” Hlady said.

Along with raising money, the local team hope they have inspired others to take on similar challenge-based fundraisers.

“The efforts of one person are never going to be as much as the efforts of one person rallying a whole community of people,” Pelton said. “(We’ve contributed) not just the individual donations we made through this one challenge, but hopefully the longer-term effects of inspiring more people to go out and challenge themselves and then also do it for a good cause.”

Through the experience, the cyclists learned that challenges are mental as much as physical.

“You never know what you can do unless you believe in yourself. … I never would’ve thought I could do that much riding and climb that many feet in the span of 10 days. … (You’ve) got to tell yourself that you can do it,” Hlady said.

The trio encouraged others to challenge themselves similarly. Hlady said he hopes people who have taken on cycling during quarantine continue the sport even after the lockdown ends.

“(Now’s) a great time to go out and look inward (to) see what you can push yourself to,” Pelton said. “Go out alone or with a few friends and see what you can accomplish.”

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