Saturday, March 29, 2008

Most Wonderful Time of the Year

So, DC may have its problems, but even I love the cherry blossoms. Welcome to spring in Washington! I thought it would be fun to post a few photos of what I get to see these days when I'm out for a run or a ride. It doesn't get much more beautiful than this -- especially when we locals can get out there to enjoy it before all the tourists take over.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stupidity on Wheels

Warning, my friends: I'm about to rant.

I just returned from a five-mile hill workout, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I may have lost some speed since the Philadelphia Marathon, but I'm almost certain I've gained some strength since triathlon training began. It's a fair trade, I suppose.

On my way back down to my apartment, it started pouring rain. Apparently it's not supposed to stop until tomorrow, which is a shame because it's also 67 degrees outside. When you're battling Spring Fever and nature has made it impossible to take advantage of such a lovely temperature, it hardly seems, well, fair.

Anyway...all of this is really not the point. I was stopped at a red light a few blocks away when I saw something that struck me as absurd. In the middle of the usual busy, rainy-day traffic jamming the streets of our dear Nation's Capital, a woman was weaving in and out of the cars riding a bike. Wearing fashionable knee-high leather boots. With no helmet. Holding an umbrella over her head.

Ok, there are several things wrong with this scenario, none of which I probably need to point out, but I will anyway.

1. I'm all for people commuting on bikes and I truly don't care what they're wearing. I was just trying to set the scene with my snarky boots comment. Really, I'd take a gazillion people wearing inappropriate clothing to ride their bikes if it meant there would be no more silly SUVs polluting our world anymore.

2. However, there is never, ever any excuse for not wearing a helmet. I don't understand why anybody would get on a bike without wearing one. It's among the dumbest things anybody can do. Do I think that every state should enforce laws making people wear helmets? No. I don't believing in legislating common sense. But I have a really hard time feeling sorry for somebody who crack their skull in what should have otherwise been a minor bike accident. Helmets have saved lives...and if that doesn't strike a chord, they also save money. In fact, according to the Helmet Safety Institute, direct costs of cyclists' injuries due to not using helmets are estimated at $81-million each year. Indirect costs of cyclists' injuries due to not wearing helmets are estimated at $2.3-billion.

3. So back to this woman I saw earlier today. Really? You're going to protect yourself from the rain by trying to balance an umbrella over your head, while your steering your bike through rush-hour city traffic with one hand? I bet you're going to happy you stayed so nice and dry when you end up face down on the concrete with the paramedics assessing the extent of your head and body injuries.

I could go on and on all day here. But, really, what is so hard about putting a helmet on? I'm imagining that these people are the same ones who can't seem to exert the energy to put their seat belts on in the car either. Is it laziness? Just trying to look cool (whatever that is)? What is the issue? Can anybody help me out here? I mean, if it's a cost issue, there are nonprofit organizations all over the place that give the damn things out for free.

And don't even get me started about all the people in this city who ride their bikes on the sidewalk. I think I better just save that rant for another day.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Giving Big Isn't Always Easy

I watched Oprah's Big Give last night. Me and approximately 16 million other people. Oprah told me I'd be "inspired" to give big myself. She promised America that giving big is "easy."

That's when Oprah lost me.

Making a positive difference in the life of another person doesn't have to be hard and it doesn't always have to cost money. With that, I agree. But watching 10 people handpicked by Oprah's lackeys, running around unknown cities, raising thousands of dollars during the course of just a couple of days for causes already screened by television producers, makes real philanthropy look deceivingly simple. Not to mention that corporate sponsors are, of course, going to pony up with a single phone call when they've got Oprah's platform to tout their good deeds.

In real life, philanthropy doesn't work that way. It's full of rejection and disappointment, just as often as it is filled with utter joy and fulfillment. The average charity--often run by people with deep knowledge, unrelenting passion, and pure hearts--doesn't have the most powerful woman in America backing its endeavor to do good in this world. Cold calling corporations for sponsorships and approaching donors and foundations for crucial funds is hard. Plain and takes a ridiculous amount of time, energy, and tenacity to build support for a cause, no matter how much it may help the world's neediest people.

Maybe I'm a little touchy right now. I'm part of a committee that's deciding where to invest all the donations we collected during our first season of Race with Purpose. Our team raised almost $90,000 when all was said and done, and we put that money in a separate Race with Purpose fund at a private foundation. The investment committee of five team members has been devoted since October to finding the charities most closely aligned with our mission to help under-served children lead healthy, active lives.

To be blunt, the process has been exhausting. We have been rigorous in our research to ensure that our money is going to organizations that have the best shot at being successful and using our funds to have measurable, meaningful impact on the kids they serve. We created our grant-making process from scratch, writing an application, inviting our list of 20 possible grantees, getting in touch with all of them, reading through each application, and finally narrowing our choices down to four groups, all of which we then interviewed on the phone.

During the course of this experience, it was astounding to me how many charities are out there doing so many compelling things. Our "final four" is presenting us with a difficult decision, because all of them are deserving of our support. I guess the upside is that there doesn't seem to be a "wrong" decision. In the end, there are some kids out there who will inevitably live better because of the money our team raised. There is something unbelievably satisfying about that.

I don't fault Oprah for giving this reality show a whirl. The less cynical side of me truly believes that anything that can get more people to be selfless, to care about those in need, to live for something bigger than themselves, is a fantastic idea. I hope it works and I do hope that people are moved to do more good in their communities, or at the very least reach out to a friend could use support and do what you can to help. God knows you don't have to look too far to find somebody who could benefit from your kindness and concern.

My inspiration comes from the amazing committee of Race with Purpose members who have given their time, intelligence, and work ethic to help underprivileged kids--and the organizations that are doing the real work to make it happen.

And I am continually in awe of and grateful to the organization that set me on this path to begin with: Penn State Dance Marathon (Thon), the largest student-run philanthropy in the nation. Once again this year, thousands of Penn State students dedicated themselves to helping the families of children battling cancer at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Those students just raised a record $6,615,318.04 for the Four Diamonds Fund last weekend, meeting the challenge with the same spirit and enthusiasm they bring to the biggest Nittany Lion football games. As our beloved JoePa says of Thon, "This is what they mean when they say, 'We are Penn State.'"

Watch this snippet on CBS from my senior year of college...and be inspired.