United Way duo to ride their way to donations

MIDDLEBURY — The United Way of Addison County’s Kate McGowan and Nancy Luke have gone to great lengths each year visiting area businesses and organizing events to raise money to benefit local charitable organizations.
Now the two women are ready to go the extra mile — actually, 420 miles, as they prepare to climb aboard their bicycles to participate in the “Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI),” an annual seven-day cycling odyssey through which the pair hope to raise $25,000 to support Addison County programs that battle opiate addiction.
“I think we’re ready; our bikes have already left (for Iowa),” said Luke, the UWAC’s development and marketing manager. The non-competitive event this year begins on July 20 and ends on July 26. It is organized by theDes Moines Register newspaper and follows a route west to east across Iowa from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. It draws recreational riders from across the U.S. and the world. Created in 1973, RAGBRAI is the oldest and largest bike-touring event in the world, with some participants making the ride in colorful costume, on tandem bikes and even by unicycle.
“If you’re going to do something fun and crazy, why not make it beneficial for someone?” Luke said of the fundraising angle to the ride.
Why go all the way to Iowa for a benefit ride, you ask? McGowan and Luke are doing it to honor last year’s UWAC fundraising campaign chair people Brian and Eve McDonough, who are originally from Iowa. One of the McDonoughs’ children is also riding in this year’s RAGBRAI.
McGowan, executive director of the UWAC, explained that she and Luke will be soliciting pledges for their trek. Money raised will be placed into a special fund that will be tapped by a variety of local nonprofits seeking to improve recovery services for Addison County residents who are addicted to opiate-based drugs.
The Addison Independent earlier this month reported a collaboration between Porter Medical Center and the Counseling Service of Addison County to gradually ramp up a Suboxone program at Bristol Internal Medicine. Suboxone is a drug that helps wean people off of opiates. Bristol Internal Medicine currently prescribes Suboxone to around 20 patients; the new program will allow that practice to eventually provide services to 80-90 patients, thereby allowing them to seek help closer to home rather than having to access such services in Rutland or Burlington.
McGowan noted these patients need additional support services to make them healthy and self-sufficient. For example, she said, 11 of the 21 opiate-addicted patients currently being served in Bristol face transportation challenges — such as lack of a vehicle or not being on the Addison County Transit Resources bus route.
“How do you stay in recovery if you don’t have the other parts of your life that are important?” McGowan said.
So funds raised through the bike ride will be used by local human services agencies to help addicts with transportation, employment and counseling issues. It will also help some patients access yoga, acupuncture and other natural therapies that might not be covered under Medicaid or conventional insurance plans.
Plans call for the United Way to meet with local nonprofits in August to work out a strategy for spending the funds in the most efficient way possible.
McGowan and Luke acknowledged on Thursday that those funds were still many miles away. But they have been training for the race for the better part of a year, riding to work, riding after work, with the goal of putting in 1,000 miles to make sure they have the endurance to tackle the RAGBRAI. They will chronicle their progress on Facebook, through online blogging and on Twitter to keep supporters apprised of their progress during the marathon event.
Anyone interested in contributing to McGowan’s and Luke’s RAGBRAI trip can do so by logging onto www.unitedwayaddisoncounty.org and clicking onto the related link.
McGowan sees many winners on the long bike ride ahead.
“It adds a layer of responsibility,” McGowan said. “It also seems appropriate, since this is a health initiative, to try and bring some health regimen into my own life for this kind of fundraising effort.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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