How Racing for a Cause Can Actually Make a Difference

A look at how athlete-based fundraising can make a big impact

Racing for charity has become so commonplace that it’s nearly impossible to find an event that’s not associated with a cause.

In fact, many large races partner with a variety of charities, allowing participants to choose which cause they’ll support. For example, according to Runner’s World, in 2012 The Chicago Marathon had a record 190 charity partners and The New York City Marathon saw a 74 percent increase in nonprofit partners from 2010 to 2013 when the number of causes associated with the race grew to 317.

Essentially, raising money and awareness for charities has become an integral part of race culture, and for many nonprofits it’s making a big difference.

One organization in particular that can thank much of its success to a community of athletes: Team PHenomenal Hope. Founded by members of the pulmonary hypertension (PH) medical community, Team PHenomenal Hope uses ultra-endurance sporting events to raise awareness for PH, a lesser-known disease that's commonly misdiagnosed.

“Our team is racing to make a difference in the lives of those who live with PH by illuminating this condition, educating the public, inspiring our communities and raising funds to go toward research for a cure,” says Dr. Patricia George, a pulmonologist and co-founder of Team PH. George will be one of two team members participating in the organization’s upcoming Race Across the West: a 860-mile bike ride from Oceanside, Calif. to Durango, Colo.

Team PH is made up of runners, cyclists and triathletes who participate in races across the U.S. every month. In May, the team was represented in all sorts of events from The Pittsburgh Marathon and the Glacier Ridge Ultra 50-Miler to the Ironman 70.3 in Chattanooga.

George says the organization has become somewhat of a lightning rod; the team’s efforts are getting people charged up about raising awareness and money for the cause.

“People seem to be inspired by stories of grit, struggle, determination and overcoming obstacles, and Team PHenomenal Hope is very much about that,” she said. “From the athletes taking on what many would consider daunting races and executing the planning, training and investment of life to be able to do them, to PH community members who live with a disease that impacts their lives every day, the story of Team PHenomenal Hope is a powerful one.”

One of the most vital parts of raising awareness, George explained, comes from the PH community members who share their stories and experiences in order to help others better understand the disease.

“We also work to tell the story of not only our team, but the PH community, with whom we race,” she said. “This connection that we have is a vital part of what we do. It keeps us grounded and motivated. Our team is definitely larger than just the athletes, and our athletes are often motivated by the PH community members they have met along the way.”

This year, Team PH set out to broaden its reach with more team members participating in events across the country and the world. George said as the organization grows, it will make efforts to strengthen support for athlete-based fundraising.

Through participation in Race Across America (RAAM) last year, Team PH was able to raise $80,000, which was donated to the Pulmonary Hypertension Association for research and patient services.

George is inspired by the team’s effort to raise awareness and funds, but she said what’s surprised and inspired her most is the ripple effect it’s created.

“Team PHenomenal Hope grew to something much greater than what we expected,” she said. "[It’s] inspired other people to get out and rally for the PH community, to host their own events, to run or organize a race, and to make a difference in the fight against PH. So it has organically become a lot about putting out this positive energy, and seeing it ripple through communities.”

And that’s exactly how, no matter what sport you’re competing in, racing for a cause can make a real difference. 

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