Courage Classic ride is all about the kids

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Cyclists from Evergreen, all across the country devote time, effort to raise funds for hospital

By Michael Hicks

Michael Elmquist was looking for a team. For two years the Houston, Texas, resident had ridden in the Courage Classic, a three-day, 157-mile bike ride through Summit County to raise funds for Children’s Hospital Colorado. But he was looking to join a group. A specific team — the Slalom Gates Rubber Duckies.
Elmquist e-mailed ride organizers to get him on the team, but team captain Robert Meek never received the notification. Elmquist figured he would come up to Colorado and visit his sister’s in-laws. He would fly it by ear in his quest to find a team.
“I would just see what was there once I got up here,” Elmquist said.
Then, as luck would have it, Meek, a massage therapist, was working on the mother-in-law of Elmquist’s sister the day before the ride commenced.
“I got connected by happenstance,” Elmquist said. “That was four years ago.”
He rode in his sixth Courage Classic this past week, a three-day ride that starts daily in Leadville and takes riders over Genessee Pass, around Turquoise Lake, over Freemont Pass to Copper Pass and so forth.
The ride is Children’s Hospital’s top fundraiser. Annually, more than $2 million is raised for resources at the facility that otherwise wouldn’t be readily available, said John Sladek, captain for Team Ahec. Teams raised anywhere from $125 for a two-person squad to more than $225,000 by the Wheels of Justice team. And online donations are still ongoing at www.couragetours.com.
“The whole purpose of doing the ride is to raise money for the hospital,” Elmquist said. “This ride, unfortunately, isn’t my big ride, but I’ve gotten some support. I’m not a very good fundraiser, but I try to do a little bit better. A little bit over the minimum.”
Meek started riding in the classic 21 years ago.
“I basically got a flier in the mail 21 years ago talking about the ride. I thought it was enough of a challenge to be interesting. I thought I would try it,” Meek said.
Meek’s team, which got its name from the Gates Rubber Company in Denver, isn’t plentiful — there were only seven riders — but they came from all over. Two from Colorado Springs, one — Elmquist — from Houston, Texas, one from Denver and three from Evergreen.
“That’s kind of how it happened. I was not looking for them,” Meek said.
Sladek doesn’t have any problem with finding team members. Team Ahec has 85 members, some from as far away as Milwaukee, Wis., and Grand Fork, N.D. The team was put together specifically to raise funds for Children’s Hospital.
“(Dr.) Jack (Westfall) formed it with 20 cyclists and each year it keeps getting bigger,” Sladek said. “Last year, I was asked to be captain and we did a lot of recruiting. We had 55 riders last year. This year, we have 85.”
And the team raised quite a bit. Boy did they ever.
Using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter it was nothing for individual riders to raise more than $1,500 for the cause.
“It’s the highlight of my year every year. I look forward to it,” said Sladek, who hosts a training ride every weekend, the majority of them in Evergreen.
But nothing compares to reaching the finish line on Monday afternoon. The scene is heart-warming to say the least.
“One of the main things is the finish line,” Elmquist said. “There are patients and former patients who hand out the medals. That’s an emotional thing for me. You try to put a smile on the kids’ faces.”
 “There is no way to cross the finish line without tears in your eyes. It’s a great feeling. It’s all about the kids,” Sladek said.