The Genesis of Take That Hill Fundraising Cycling Event.
I was watching a YouTube channel called “Worst Retirement Ever” created by former pro cyclist Phil Gaimon, and something struck me. It was the beginning of the COVID pandemic. The lockdowns were in full force; life changed overnight for people all over the world. We collectively experienced this as a human race.
The work world changed and at Purple Heart Homes we were trying to figure out how in the world we were going to continue to fuel our mission without the tried-and-true fundraising events that had been a staple of our efforts. No longer could we gather people in a large room, have a dinner, and share this amazing story of improving Veteran’s lives one home and a time. The golf tournaments were canceled. There were no more 5Ks, skeet shoots, or silent auctions. We were worried.
That’s when I saw Phil, riding his bike up a hill over and over again. He was alone and did much of the filming himself along with a friend. The task was simple, to ride his bike up a short section of road repeatedly until he reached the elevation gain of Mount Everest, which is 29,032 ft up – that’s over five miles high. In the cycling world it’s called “Everesting,” and it is not for the faint of heart. It took Phil, an elite athlete, a little over seven hours to complete, and, at the time, it was a world record. It is a mind numbing mentally and physically demanding event. Some might even call it completely stupid. But Phil took something completely stupid and made it not utterly pointless.
Phil decided to raise support for a charity that he loves called No Kid Hungry, not stupid at all. I was astonished to hear that Phil, by himself mind you, had raised over $100,000 for that charity simply by letting his social media followers know what he was doing, and it was an incredible success. I also am an avid cyclist. I’m no elite level athlete, but I might be above average. At the time, I was a 54-year-old Army Veteran. So, I began to think about doing something like this to raise awareness and support for Purple Heart Homes. I thought I could ride my bike up a hill, maybe not as much as Phil did, because he’s 20 years younger than I am and obviously a genetic freak.
Being familiar with the roads in our area of N.C., I selected Barrett Mountain, a great location in Alexander County. It’s a two-mile dead-end road, lightly traveled. It has about 700 ft of elevation gain in those two miles. I thought long and hard about what metric I’d use as a goal. The round figure of 10,000 ft seemed not only doable, but significant since folks I served with fought on mountains that size in Afghanistan.
To achieve 10,000 ft, it would take 16 trips up and down the mountain. So, my wife and I drove out there with my bike in the back of the truck. She followed me up as I found out that the climbing was hard. It took me about 16 minutes to get to the top for one lap. I started thinking about doing 16 of those and thought to myself, this is stupid.
I think it would be stupid just to do it to prove a point, but I thought that if I do this and we get the word out and raise a few thousand dollars, it’ll still be stupid, but it won’t be pointless, not at all pointless. I began to tell folks what I was doing, and I was surprised when many of my cycling friends said, “Hey, can I ride that with you?” That number grew to where we had a team of 15.
At the time I didn’t know what to call this event, but I knew it needed a catchy title. I had a lot of names and titles running through my mind. Then one day just on a quick walk through our warehouse the inspiration struck me.
In the Army, the most advantageous ground is the high ground. These are coveted spots to gain an advantage over your adversary. Many soldiers have heard the order given, “Take That Hill!” So, that’s what we called it, and the name has stuck. It embodies everything we do at Purple Heart Homes for our Veterans.
To register for Take That Hill click here.
To become a sponsor of Take That Hill click here.
We try our best to solve complex housing issues for disabled Veterans by using our influence and know how to improve their lives when they don’t have the capacity to do so. It seems like a mountain too big to climb for them, and they need someone to do it on their behalf. I just felt like the name of the event fit perfectly with what we were trying to accomplish.
Then through a Google search of “Veterans cycling,” I got connected with another Veteran nonprofit called Project Echelon. I called the co-founder, Eric Hill, who’s been a professional cyclist for the last 12 years, and he was all over this event. They sponsored the event, and to my surprise, sent four professional cyclists to join us. It was amazing.
We embedded another unique aspect to Take That Hill − American flags. We made flags available for sponsorship in honor or memory of Veterans. Each cyclist carried flags up and down the mountain to signify the struggle to overcome that Veterans engage in both in and out of service. Then those flags were mailed to the Veterans, families, or their friends after the event. It was a massive success.
Additionally, our friends from the Woody and Wilcox show on 106.5 FM and iHeart radio got involved. Woody agreed to ride the event, even though he’s a mountain bike guy. They helped us spread the good news and eventually we were able to have a much wider footprint.
So, in 2021 we decided to do it again. We assembled the same crew with a few additions. We had amateur riders, veterans, and Project Echelon professional cyclists, and Woody joined us once more! And again, we carried flags to honor Veterans. We welcomed a new sponsor, Hardcore Hammers, a unique tool company out of Illinois.
We expanded the reach of the event by bringing in a virtual component where cyclists from all over the world could participate through an online platform called RGT. Our friends from Project Echelon facilitated this relationship, and it was awesome. A digital version of Barrett Mountain was created, and we had people from all over the US and even Europe compete. We even had a live internet broadcast! And, true to form, the event exceeded expectations; we raised nearly $55,000 for the mission of Purple Heart Homes. It went over so well that our board of directors said, “Great job! Now do it better!”
So, here we are in 2022. We have made some changes. What stays the same is that we are still climbing Barrett Mountain, we are still carrying flags, we will still have Veterans riding for Veterans, local amateur cyclists, Project Echelon professional cyclists, and of course, Woody.
But, in 2020 and 2021 we were limited on how many folks could participate due to the logistics of Barrett Mountain. We needed to establish a base where more folks could be involved but keep the same spirit of the event. So, this year we are starting and ending Take That Hill from Southern Distilling Company at their amazing event venue. It’s located here in Statesville NC, and they are an amazing partner for us.
Instead of doing laps up Barrett Mountain, we will ride from the distillery, do a time trial up Barrett and then back to the venue. We have three different distances. There’s an 80-mile route with mixed surfaces (paved and dirt roads), 60-mile all paved, and a 35-mile loop around Statesville.
Each participant will receive an American flag with their registration and will carry that flag in honor of a Veteran they know and love. There will also be a virtual side again on RGT to bring in national and international riders that might not be able to be on site. Hardcore Hammers has agreed to be our title sponsor, and we couldn’t be more excited.
And this year we are paying it forward. We are also making Project Echelon a beneficiary of the event because of their parallel mission in the Veterans space. They have been with us since the beginning, and we value this friendship deeply.
We have also partnered with Jones Racing to facilitate event management because they’re the best in the business. The day will have a festival feel, with food trucks, live music, bicycles, fire trucks, Veterans, folks from around the community, there’s a rumor about miniature donkeys and a hot air balloon as well, and of course Woody!
We will have awesome prizes for folks that Take That Hill the fastest and folks that go above and beyond in peer-to-peer fundraising. We have Veteran riders coming from as far as Alaska to participate. We are hoping that the 2022 Take That Hill powered by Hardcore Hammers event will once again fulfill the mission of being Completely Stupid but Not Utterly Pointless.
We hope that Veterans will be honored, and through the funds raised, Veterans’ lives will be changed one home at a time and one bike at a time!
Brad Borders is VP of Community Outreach and an avid cyclist.