It’s almost time.
Since August, Dalton’s Derek “Koz” Kozlowski’s training has been all-consuming— ride, work, sleep, repeat. Indeed, he’s logged more than 15,000 miles and 800 hours on his bike saddle. And on June 10, all eyes will be on Kozlowski’s as he lines up alongside 50 other solo endurance cyclists to compete in the world-acclaimed Race Across America (RAAM) — a brutal 3,000-mile bicycle race from Oceanside, Calif. to Annapolis, Md. He plans to complete his journey in 10 days, which averages to about 300 miles per day.
Kozlowski isn’t punishing himself for his own benefit.
“I’m racing for the kids at the local Boys & Girls Club,” he said. “I love spending time with the kids there, and so I decided to use the race as a teaching moment — an example of setting a goal and working toward it. I’m also using the RAAM as a forum to raise money and awareness for the organization — specifically their mountain biking program.”
Kozlowski and the cycling gang at Bear Creek Bikes have spent countless volunteer hours teaching the kids at the Boys & Girls Club how to safely ride mountain bikes, how to perform simple bicycle maintenance and how to be kind to and care for others.
“So many kids today have to deal with unstable home environments and grown up concerns, but the Boys & Girls Club is a safe, stable place they can go and just be kids,” Kozlowski said. “When we started working with them, a lot of the kids had never ridden a bike, which was simply unheard of for me. I mean, I can’t ever remember not having a bike. So giving them access to bikes and trails is giving them access to a positive activity they can enjoy while getting fit. It doesn’t matter how old you are, when you get on a bike, you’re a kid again.”
As the race nears, the kids at Boys & Girls Club are growing more and more excited.
“We’ll be following him during the race,” said Jason Finnell, director of development. “Our kids love him. They are his biggest fans, and so we will follow him online every day. In fact, the kids plan to send Koz encouragement videos during his ride. They know he has done all of this for them, and that means a lot.”
Known in the elite cycling community as the “world’s toughest bicycle race,” the RAAM crosses 12 states and climbs more than 170,000 vertical feet. Cyclists brave the extreme altitudes of the mountains and the unpredictability of Mother Nature while riding to the brink of utter exhaustion. Indeed, Kozlowski knows going into the race that he won’t sleep more than a couple of hours each night, but he’s willing to do what it takes to reach his goal.
“I believe that I can do it in 10 days,” he says. “I’ve trained like crazy, and I’ve got a great support team around me.”
A team of 11 cyclists and friends will accompany Koz along his cross-country journey. Geared with food and supplies, they’ll follow him in the “RAAM Van” and other support vehicles, blasting motivational music and messages through two gigantic speakers. Each hour of the race, his crew will assess his physical and mental condition and evaluate whether Koz is fit to continue his journey.
His training has been intense and challenging.
“Training for this type of race is hard on a body,” the 44-year-old said. “Plus, unlike a lot of the other RAAM competitors, I work a full-time job, so, I’ve been going nonstop — fitting in the training when I could. I’ve had to add regular massages, trips to the chiropractor and lots of ibuprofen to my life, just to keep going. It’s been difficult, but again, I’m doing this for the kids.”
To assist with his fundraising efforts, Koz established Koz for Kids (www.KozforKids.com). He and the staff at the Boys & Girls Club set an initial fundraising goal of $100,000 with the balance of the donations above RAAM expenses going to support the local club, but they have not met their goal yet.
“Donations have been a little sluggish,” he said. “I really want to make a statement with my ride, and so again, I’m asking the community to consider making a donation to Koz for Kids. Donors can also contribute directly to the Boys & Girls Club and write RAAM on the check. That way it will be directed to the biking program.”
Kozlowski admits that there have been a lot of out-of-pocket expenses so far, and there are more to come. The average overall cost to race the RAAM is in the ballpark of $25,000 which includes entry fees, gas, lodging, food, supplies, etc. for each entrant and their support team.
“I’m hoping that one or more local companies will consider sponsoring me and my team,” he says. “I hope. It’s a great cause.”
To make a tax deductible donation, go to www.DonatetoKoz.com and make a tax deductible donation. There’s also a Facebook page (Koz for Kids) devoted to Kozlowski’s journey.
“I’ll take care of the hard part,” Kozlowski said. “I ask the community for prayers, encouragement, and lots of positive thoughts.”
Local man competing in the 3,000-mile bike race
It’s almost time.
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