Charity events can get inspired any number of ways: Consider the case of two D.C. kids needing to join friends at the beach to celebrate their high school graduations.
Ben Dally and Joey Schmitz were determined to get to the beach, more than 100 miles away.
“They didn’t have a ride. So, they decided to ride on their bicycles,” said Kevin Rapp, a Bike to the Beach founder now serving as its director of partnerships. “After that year, there was a lot of buzz, and in each year following, some of their brothers and friends and other individuals began to join the ride.”
Eventually deciding to dedicate the event to a cause to do something positive and contribute to society, Rapp said out of eight individuals in the room, five had someone in their family on the autism spectrum.
“It was clear as day that autism awareness (and) funding outreach was not in a place that it needed to be,” he said. “Fast forward 15 years, and the fact we’re raising $2 million a year to support autism outreach and awareness — I could never have fathomed.”
Now there are seven rides from cities to beaches around the nation that include the Bay area, the Florida Keys and Delaware. Each ride has legs of 25, 50 and 100 miles.
“If you’ve never ridden a bike 10 miles, 15 miles or 20 miles, you can still do it, do a little bit of training and you’ll have support,” Rapp said.
There are rest stops every 10 to 15 miles where riders can get water, Gatorade, snacks and suntan lotion, for example.
“You name it, it’s taken care of,” Rapp said. “Typically, if you’re at an endurance event, and you have a flat tire, you’re flat out of luck, unless you’re able to change that tire on your own. At our event, you have support, and that tire will be changed within five to 15 minutes, almost undoubtedly.”
Jenn Lynn, 51, of Germantown, has received the tire change courtesy. She is a two-year veteran of the ride, raised $13K last year and rides with the UCR Rockets team from Upcounty Community Resources, a private nonprofit based in Germantown that works to empower adults who have developmental differences.
“I did the 50 (miles) two times. This year, I think I’m doing the 25,” she said with a laugh. “I am not a cyclist in any stretch of the imagination. And it’s a hard day for me. But, the benefits of doing it for our nonprofit and for the families far outweighs how sore I am after the ride.”
Lynn’s son Jake, 19, is on the spectrum and did the ride even before his mom.
“He plans on riding again. And getting back on his bike because he was training weekly with Matt, the bike coach up at All American Bike Center in Damascus,” she said.
Jake is currently at a residential school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore called the Benedictine School, which is a new partner with Bike to the Beach. He was placed there in 2019 due to self-harming behaviors and safety issues in his family’s home.
“He needed 24/7 awake, staff support. And now he’s thriving. He’s doing very well. He’ll graduate from Benedictine in 2024,” Lynn said. “He’s doing wonderfully.”
Locally, the ride is on Friday, July 29, beginning at 6 a.m. from D.C. to Dewey Beach, Delaware. Riders finish at the beach between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and have the entire weekend to celebrate.
People raising money through the event can designate specific recipients for the proceeds.
“Initially, the funds that Bike to the Beach raised went toward Autism Speaks,” Rapp said. “Our model has now developed in a way that Bike to the Beach acts as somewhat of an event planner for these local nonprofit organizations that need the help to raise funds.”
The percentage of children diagnosed with autism has more than tripled since 2002, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.