By Todd Gleeson
Now the scholarship fund-raiser for students at the University of Colorado Boulder is gearing up for its 10th annual ride. The event has raised $1.6 million and funded more than 730 scholarships for high-performing students who qualify for financial aid.
The Elevations Credit Union Buffalo Bicycle Classic is a success. It increases access to higher education — advancing one of the university’s strategic goals. It helps students feel seen and supported. And it is fun and encourages community involvement.
Getting it off the ground is much easier discussed than done. It came to being this way: In 2002 I joined a CU team that was riding the Courage Classic, an event benefiting The Children’s Hospital. As we traversed the mountain passes between Copper Mountain, Leadville and Vail, Woody Eaton (DistSt’62) and I began musing over a question: If other charitable causes could raise funds with a cycling event, why couldn’t the university?
Snippets of discussion
Woody was a retired dentist, real-estate investor and philanthropist and I was the new dean of the CU College of Arts and Sciences. We needed a larger team. We met with Gail Mock of Mock Realty, a longtime university supporter, and Frank Banta (EPOBio’72) of Banta Construction and the Boulder Valley Velodrome (which is currently in the design, permit and fund-raising stage). The four of us agreed that the idea of a bicycle fundraiser for CU-Boulder had merit. Initially, we considered hiring a professional firm to organize the ride, but it had a prohibitive cost of $30,000.
We sat on that depressing bit of news for a while and then decided that we could probably pull this off with a group of volunteers. We expanded our volunteer group, and many of those people are still at the table a decade later.
In the beginning the university might have viewed our idea as unconventional. As such proposals go, I admit it was goofy. Such an event had no known precedent in higher education fund-raising.
The classic rides
Since then, it’s been a memorable ride. On the road during several Buffalo Bike Classics I’ve passed—or, usually, have been passed by — students who are taken aback by the fact that the dean is out riding. I’ve chatted with them, and and very much enjoyed these interactions.
Even a particularly sinister cloud had a silver lining. The devastating Fourmile Fire in 2011 erupted a week before last year’s ride, forcing its cancellation due to smoke and the threat to Boulder itself. With the generosity of the event’s sponsors and riders — most of whom donated their registration and sponsorship dollars — and Elevations Credit Union, which increased its financial sponsorship, the ride that wasn’t still raised $200,000 for scholarships and we made 80 percent of our goal. We were pleased to find out that most people who rode strongly supported the event’s philanthropic purpose.
I’ve been frequently credited with founding the Buffalo Bicycle Classic and I take a lot of pleasure out of the success of the ride. But that success has many sources, and this is not “Todd’s ride.” Many volunteers have given heart and soul to the ride for years. Many are alums just want to give back to the college. The same is true of our generous sponsors, who fund the cost of the ride so that registration fees go straight to scholarships.
The scholarships are needed now more than ever. We target people who are trying to decide whether, financially, they can come to the university. Essentially we offer them a four-year scholarship. We help people get to the university and we help them realize their higher-education goals.
I’ve heard this from the mouths of beneficiaries. After an annual scholarship reception recognizing that year’s recipients, a parent approached me. He had been laid off of work and had two children in college. He was going to have to choose which one stayed in school and which one left. He told me the Buffalo Bicycle Classic made the difference; it allowed him to keep both kids in school.
This year we are still working to improve the classic to ensure the longevity of the scholarship fund. For the first time we are partnering with the Center for People with Disabilities, which is working to make our event more inclusive (by, for instance, helping provide riders with specialized bikes for the event).
And for our 10th-annual event, we are adding a new course, the Buff Epic century ride. The epic route ascends Boulder Canyon and follows nearly 60 miles of the mountainous route of Stage 6 of the 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
We have come full cycle. Conceived in the mountains, the Buffalo Bicycle Classic has helped hundreds of students. Now the ride itself will finally head up into the mountains. It will be yet another peak experience.
Todd T. Gleeson, a professor of integrative physiology at CU-Boulder, served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 2002 to June 2012. He has been named director of the new Health Professions Residential Academic Program.