No Matter the Reason, Courage Classic Brings Together Diverse Team
by Emma Garrison, Alli Gerkman
he Courage Classic, a three-day road bike tour now in its 23rd year, is one of the most popular of its kind in Colorado. Funds benefit Children’s Hospital Colorado, which sees, treats, and heals more kids than any hospital in the region. Using Copper Mountain as a home base for a challenging ride through the surrounding mountains, thousands of people contribute time, sweat, and money to the cause each year—including lawyers.
Seven years ago, lawyer Heather Purcell Leja had an idea. She wanted to create a Courage Classic team composed of lawyers. The aim was for the Wheels of Justice to be the top fundraising team in the ride. Wheels of Justice now gives all of its funds directly to the hospital’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.
Fundraising is a critical component of the ride—all riders commit to raise at least $300, and many far exceed that—but in the end it’s the people, including our fellow Wheels of Justice team members, who make the ride the type of event you want to return to every year. Meet some of these members here.
Kelsey Bohman: ‘There is such an amazing sense of community.’
When Kelsey Bohman’s mother, Pat, suggested they take on the Courage Classic after Bohman finished cancer treatment more than 10 years ago, Bohman thought she was crazy.
"When I first started training I told myself I couldn’t look to the finish. It was too far to ride," she said. "I concentrated on the road 10 feet in front of me, the beauty around me, and the friends I was riding with. I got where I needed with a smile!"
Ten Courage Classics later, she can’t imagine July without the three-day ride. "I keep coming back because there is such an amazing sense of community at the Courage Classic," she said. "Children’s Hospital saved my life and I absolutely love seeing everyone working so hard for a cause that changed my life."
Bohman joined Wheels of Justice when she learned that its funds went directly to the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders—the clinic where she was treated.
When reflecting on her Courage Classic tours, she remembers one day on Vail Pass that was particularly hot and grueling. Her legs were cramping with each pedal stroke and, like so many riders, she stepped off her bike and started to walk only to realize she couldn’t give up yet. "I was so close to the top and I had been through so much worse in the past," Bohman said. "If I could get through cancer, I could get to the top of Vail Pass."
And there are countless reasons to keep going, including the patients.
"For me, the most inspiring aspect is seeing all the past and present patients out there doing what they can in the ride while everyone else cheers them on," she said. "It just inspires me when I see so many people working so hard for a place that I am so passionate about because of what they did for me, and to know that I am not the only miracle out there. Children’s Hospital creates them daily."
Aaron Bradford: ‘Every hill has a summit. If you keep your legs moving, you will reach it.’
Seven years ago, Heather Purcell Leja approached Aaron Bradford, a civil trial lawyer at Lathrop & Gage in Denver, with an idea to start a bar association team for the Courage Classic. He bought a bike the next week and has been riding ever since.
He quips that the outfits keep bringing him back (and, to be fair, the outfits are great), but it’s safe to say it has more to do with what he calls the metaphor of the whole ride: "Every hill, no matter how daunting, has a summit. If you keep your legs moving, you will reach it."
This isn’t to say he’s never hit a wall. That came on his first ride, while pushing through the infamous Vail Pass. After a false summit, he turned a corner to find the steepest stretch yet. "People were falling off their bikes due to the pitch of the climb," Bradford said. "I made it halfway up before I mentally and physically collapsed to the right of the trail. As I lay there on the side of the path contemplating turning around, a father came around the corner with his 14-year-old daughter on the back."
This was no ordinary 14-year-old. She wore a prosthetic in place of her right leg and it seemed to be her cheers alone that helped her father mount the seemingly insurmountable. "As they summited and passed out of sight, I was inspired to get back on my horse and catch them to find out their story," he said. "They were members of Team Courage and she was a cancer survivor. He said the pain of the climb is transient to the joy they share in completing the ride together."
Bradford experienced another kind of wall in 2011, with the loss of beloved teammate, Dan Hubbard.
"Dan was one of my best friends and a true inspiration," he said. "Simply put, he is everything that is good about the profession and we should all hope to be compared favorably to his skill, intellect, humor, and professionalism. I remember him waiting for me at Echo Lake on Mount Evans with a huge grin on his face, proud that I had made the climb. All that is good about riding was embodied in that smile and my heart aches to see it again. I will continue to ride knowing that I will see it again."
Scott Nixon: ‘You never know until you ask.’
Scott Nixon had been cycling recreationally for many years before riding the Courage Classic for the first time. In 2006, Nixon crashed on his bike, breaking five ribs and an elbow and collapsing a lung. He spent three days in the ICU and missed six weeks of work. Several members of his firm—Pryor Johnson Carney Karr Nixon—had participated in the 2006 ride. Nixon was determined to keep riding, and the 2007 Courage Classic seemed like the perfect opportunity to motivate him to get back in the saddle. He has done the ride ever since.
In his first experience, Nixon was inspired by everyone’s dedication to the cause. "I now look forward to it every year and have developed a loyal network of supporters that has allowed me to be a successful fundraiser for Children's Hospital," Nixon said.
One year a friend stunned him with a $1,000 donation. "I even called to find out if they hit one extra zero on the website, and was told no, it was no mistake!" This friend had recently gone through a medical ordeal with one of his children and was inspired to donate to Children’s Hospital Colorado. "You never know until you ask," Nixon said.
His firm has been a major sponsor of the Wheels of Justice team since 2006. "My firm specializes in the representation of physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers, so the sponsorship was a perfect fit for both our interests and our practice," he said. "Over the years our sponsorship has continued, and staff and attorneys alike have enjoyed the opportunity to both ride and volunteer for the event every year."
This sense of camaraderie is what keeps many people coming back to the ride each year. Nixon and Dan Hubbard, who passed away unexpectedly last fall, had been friends since their associate attorney days. "I am not alone in saying that he is one of the most genuine, unpretentious, good humored people I have ever known—a true friend," Nixon said. The two rode together on the last day of the 2011 Courage Classic. On a whim, Nixon asked someone to snap a photo of them at the finish. "That photo will always be a special reminder of our friendship," he said.
Scotty Rolfs: ‘Children’s Hospital saved my daughter’s life.’
Scotty Rolfs first learned about the Courage Classic from a nurse at Children’s Hospital Colorado when his daughter, Ellie, was undergoing chemotherapy. In April 2008, days before her third birthday, Ellie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Wilms’ tumor, a kidney cancer typical in children, which historically has a survival rate of less than a one-in-three. Ellie received treatment at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, where she endured six surgeries, over 90 nights of hospital stays, more than 40 blood transfusions, 14 months of chemotherapy, and full-body cavity high-dose radiation treatments.
"Children’s Hospital saved my daughter’s life," Rolfs said. A month and a half after Ellie was declared in remission, Rolfs pulled out a road bike he purchased shortly before Ellie’s diagnosis and pulled some friends together to create "Team Ellie."
"I am forever grateful and, while I never wish any child and family to ever have to walk the childhood cancer journey, the reality is that there are and will be," said Rolfs, IT director with IHS. "I want to do what I can to give those families every opportunity to survive, and this is one way I can help."
Team Ellie is one of several smaller teams that have joined the Wheels of Justice in recent years. Teams that raise $50,000 or more are able to direct all their funds to a particular center within Children’s Hospital Colorado, and the Wheels of Justice directs its donations to the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders each year.
Team Ellie joined the Wheels of Justice three years ago because it allows their fundraising to go directly to the CCBD while still allowing them to keep their small team identity. "Team Ellie has a pretty special vibe and we make it a true family event where all of the riders’ families come up and we share all of our meals together every morning and night," Rolfs said. "The fact that WOJ gives us the best of both worlds is fantastic."
The first year Team Ellie rode with Wheels of Justice, the team dedicated the ride to Ellie.
Find out more about Team Ellie and their efforts to help families struggling with childhood cancer at teamellie.org.
Tom Smith: ‘You will leave inspired to do more.’
Tom Smith rides the Courage Classic to exercise, improve his cycling skills, enjoy the mountains, and bond with fellow riders. He also rides to support his life’s work—Smith is a doctor at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
"The mission of CCBD is to improve the care of children and adolescents with cancer by making improvements in treatment, research, and education," Smith said. "This is such an exciting time in childhood cancer, with improvements being made almost monthly. The new techniques in molecular biology have greatly improved our ability to study and treat cancer."
"I am lucky to see success stories almost daily," he added.
He recently attended a "10 years off therapy" party for a patient he met when she was a junior in high school. Two days before the prom, she suddenly became paralyzed from the waist down. She was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma and spent prom night in a hospital bed recovering from surgery. Her date even came to the hospital wearing his tuxedo. After radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, she was able to attend her senior prom, without evidence of cancer. She danced the night away with her boyfriend and classmates. "Now, 10 years later, she is a pediatric oncology nurse in Chicago and last I heard was training for a triathlon," he said.
Smith enjoys the camaraderie of the Wheels of Justice teammates, as well as their enthusiasm and deep commitment to the cause.
"I stayed with it because of the enthusiasm and good will of the Wheels of Justice leadership," Smith said. "It is a great cause that truly helps other people. You will leave inspired to do more."
Chuck Turner: ‘Children's Hospital, what more do you need to know?’
Chuck Turner has been biking for more years that he can count—"it’s been a long, long time"—but he’s relatively new to the Courage Classic. He participated in the one-day family ride three years ago and did the whole ride in 2011.
Like so many, he was won over by the cause. "It is, of course, a very worthwhile event; I mean, Children's Hospital, what more do you need to know?" said Turner, the executive director of the Denver and Colorado Bar Associations.
Turner and his wife raised three boys, so they have relied on the services and resources offered by Children’s Hospital Colorado on more than one occasion. His oldest son, Brian, is also a researcher at the Anschutz complex, doing work in the area of leukemia. "So, we have good feelings in our hearts for the place and what it does," he said.
Turner has enjoyed the challenge of the ride, the camaraderie of all the riders, and the encouragement of the ride’s support teams. It’s not a bad workout, either.
"Even though I have self-selected the name ‘On your left,’ I feel good about the physical workout I'm getting during the training and ride itself," he said.
The camaraderie doesn’t start and end at the ride itself. Turner highly recommends the Wheels of Justice training rides—not least of all to help you through Vail Pass, where he almost crashed last year as he rode into a sea of people who had already dismounted during a segment of Vail Pass that all riders know too well: "There is a slight downhill under the highway and then a very sharp left turn to begin a crunching uphill segment. Because one can’t keep up any speed, it’s a grind."
The support of the Wheels of Justice team carries through the ride. For Turner, there’s something about seeing your fellow teammates at the beginning of each day, all ready to "get after it." D
Emma Garrison is an associate at the litigation firm Featherstone Petrie DeSisto LLP and serves on the Executive Council for the CBA Young Lawyers Division. Alli Gerkman is online content manager at IAALS - Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.
The authors both rode the Courage Classic with the Wheels of Justice team for the first time in 2011 and will participate again this year.