Iron Horse kicks up for charities big and small

Lance Armstrong’s shame turns into Durango’s gain

Eric Hjermstad will be raising money during his first Iron Horse Classic for the Durango 100 Club, riding in memory of former Durangoans Mike and Linda Dunaway, who died last year in a helicopter crash. Mike Dunaway was a firefighter. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Eric Hjermstad will be raising money during his first Iron Horse Classic for the Durango 100 Club, riding in memory of former Durangoans Mike and Linda Dunaway, who died last year in a helicopter crash. Mike Dunaway was a firefighter.

Jeff Garvey, who replaced the disgraced Lance Armstrong as chairman of his cancer-fighting charity last fall, bought a home in Durango earlier this year, joining Dennis Cavner as the second Livestrong Foundation board member to live part-time in Durango.

“We feel right at home (in Durango),” said Cavner, who also lives in Austin, Texas, and is a past board chairman of the organization formerly known as the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

So much so that the Livestrong Foundation has set up a special fund with the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado this year to benefit local cancer survivors. The fund will receive half of Livestrong’s net proceeds raised from the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. Iron Horse Director Gaige Sippy anticipated Livestrong could raise about $50,000 for local cancer-fighting efforts.

From his Iron Horse participation, Eric Hjermstad, a native of Durango who had never ridden a road bike until March, is on pace to raise more than $1,000 for the Durango 100 Club, riding in memory of Mike Dunaway, a former Durango fire chief, and his wife, Linda Dunaway, a former executive director of the La Plata Humane Society. The Dunaways died last year in a helicopter crash.

The annual ride up the mountain to Silverton has become a rally for those raising money for their favorite causes, whether it be Iron Horse-endorsed multimillion-dollar charities or the many individuals pedaling karma their own way.

“We have organized efforts and the unorganized, meaning those efforts that take place that we may or may not be aware of,” Sippy said. “Provided the person is registered, so be it.

“They are people who have a friend that is sick. They ride in spirit of, in care of. They raise money by the mile, by completion (of the ride),” Sippy said. “There’s probably more of those going on than I have any idea of.”

Hjermstad, who was unaware he had to stand in line at Mountain Bike Specialists to get a much-sought-after spot in the Iron Horse ride, bought his registration through a donation to benefit the Fort Lewis College Road Scholars fund.

“So in a way, I am supporting two charities,” Hjermstad said.

His other charity, the Durango 100 Club, supports the families of local public-safety officers and firefighters in the event of tragedy. Hjermstad said he considers the Dunaways his second family because their son Jason was his childhood friend.

Inspiration for the ride came from another big bicycle event.

“I was watching the (USA) Pro (Cycling) Challenge. The gust of wind hit me in the face after all the racers went zooming by,” Hjermstad said.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Hjermstad said. “It hit me that I should do something like that. I (also) thought I should really do something and ride the Iron Horse because I knew the Dunaways were into the community,” with Linda Dunaway serving the Humane Society and Mike Dunaway a firefighter.

“As of yet, I hadn’t (served the community) except for helping out at the (Humane Society) Thrift Store with Jason now and then,” he said.

Riding for charity is a great motivator, Hjermstad said.

“There are times when you’re riding, and I’m thinking, ‘What am I doing this for?’” he said.

“Never having ridden a road bike and this amount of mileage in one day, it’s a little bit of pressure,” Hjermstad said. “Then you remember what you’re doing it for, and it helps push you over. I don’t want to let anyone down, especially myself.”

Hjermstad has set up a 360 Durango website – http://bit.ly/17GAJAc – to raise money for the cause.

In addition to various individual efforts like Hjermstad’s, the Iron Horse has raised about $400,000 since 2001 for various local charities, including the Mercy Health Foundation, Durango Public Library, Durango Devo mountain-bike organization and emergency-equipment purchases for local public-safety agencies, Sippy said.

For the last five years, Iron Horse also has set aside a block of registrations for Livestrong’s fundraising efforts.

“They sell those. Each person has to raise so much money,” Sippy said.

After the news broke last year of Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs and bullying behavior, Sippy said Iron Horse decided it was still “fully committed to the cause” of fighting cancer even if it was “not fully committed to Lance.”

Cavner also acknowledged that Livestrong’s “board and organization was terribly disappointed.”

“We acted very quickly,” Cavner said. “Lance was the chairman of the board and a board member. He resigned those positions last fall. He’s not formally connected with the organization anymore.”

“It was hard to do, painful to do, but our mission is to serve people affected by cancer. We have to put them first,” Cavner said. “There are so many in Durango and all around the country affected by this disease. It’s absolutely essential we continue to do our work.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com