On Wednesday, May 24, after completing a four-day, 400-mile ride from Boston to New York, 25 cyclists wearing red noses will roll into Times Square for the ringing of the Nasdaq Market Bell. The Red Nose Ride coincides with Red Nose Day on May 25, which raises awareness and money to help end child poverty in the United States and around the world.
Walgreens, which sponsors Red Nose Day, and People for Bikes, a non-profit that raises funds to make cycling better and safer nationwide, joined forces to organize two Red Nose Rides. The first left Santa Barbara, Calif., on April 30 and ended in Las Vegas on May 3. The Boston route will go west through the Berkshires, into Saratoga Springs, N.Y., then south along the Hudson River Valley and into New York City.
"Anyone can pop into one of over 8,000 Walgreens stores in the country and buy a red nose and support Red Nose Day to try and end child poverty, but the folks on the ride are going much deeper," says Tim Johnson of People for Bikes. "Not only are they saying, I'm going to commit my time to do the ride, they are also doing the fundraising on top of it and wearing the red nose badge on their shoulders for those four days and for as long as they tell their story."
While Johnson is a former professional cyclist and six-time national champion, most of the Red Nose riders are not. Boston-to-New York riders include retired NHL player Andrew Ference, who won the 2011 Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins, and award-winning celebrity chef Seamus Mullen.
Ference grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and has been cycling all of his life. He believes cycling helped jumpstart his hockey career.
"I remember the first time I was allowed to bike beyond my neighborhood more than I can remember getting my drivers license," Ference says. "To me, that was freedom. When I started taking hockey more seriously, biking became one of my best forms of training. I was able to stand out with all my fitness scores when I went to training camp and it really gave me an edge on making the NHL."
While playing hockey in Boston, Ference met Johnson, a Bruins fan from the Northeast, and the two became fast friends. Now, Ference rides as much as he can and often does mountain bike, cyclecross and road races. Ference is looking forward to riding through the hilly Berkshires region in preparation for a road race in Colorado, and also doing good by doing something he loves.
"For me, it fits right in with helping some great charities and biking," Ference says. "I love the companionship of the cycling community and the social aspect of it and type of people that sport attracts."
Mullen, who grew up in Vermont, has also been riding since he was a boy. He raced competitively into his 20s before being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Through diet and exercise, Mullen turned his health around and has once again become active in the cycling community.
"I have been riding bikes my whole life and I've been working in the food industry for all of my adult life and I have been really trying to bring the worlds of cycling and food together," says Mullen. "As we are becoming more aware of the disparity of wealth and of access to resources in the world, there is an opportunity with cycling and food to contribute what we have."
Mullen also participates in Chefs Cycle rides organized by No Kid Hungry, an organization focused on ending childhood hunger in the United States.
"I can give time and resources," Mullen explains. "I can't go into impoverished nations and administer vaccines, but I can do everything I can here in the U.S. to raise funds to be able to support organizations that do do that and I feel a social obligation to do so. This is really a dovetail of things that are important to me: food, cycling and social responsibility."
Red Nose riders agree to raise a minimum of $5,000 to support Red Nose Day's mission to end child poverty, but the bigger goal is to raise awareness of Red Nose Day in the United States.
Red Nose Day, which launched in the United Kingdom in 1988, has raised more than $1 billion to help children in need worldwide. The event launched in the U.S. in 2015 with goals of similarly successful fundraising. In the U.S., Red Nose Day 2016 netted $31.5 Million and benefited children in all 50 states and in 25 countries internationally. The 2017 goal is $43 million, which will be given to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Feeding America, The Global Fund, Children's Health Fund, charity:water, the Vaccine Alliance and Covenant House, as well as other charities.
"I love the idea of having people who aren't exactly the epitome of someone who just rides their bikes all day long on these rides," Johnson says. "Bikes fit into the busy lives of chefs like Seamus or former pro athletes like Andrew, and that's where I want bikes to live. If the busiest executive can find time to fit bikes into his life with his family and his job, that's the conversation I want to have. When those people talk about how bikes make their lives better and they're willing to leverage that to raise money for a good cause, to me, that means bikes are winning."