The spring in the Lake Michigan city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin can bring varying weather, to say the least; some days require a jacket and winter gloves, while others are summer-like.
In early May, on one of those sunny days with clear skies, Steve Wojciechowski, head men’s basketball coach for Marquette University—a private Jesuit research school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—was joined on a 34-mile bike ride by Marquette University President Michael Lovell, as well as other Marquette coaches. It was day 2 of a month-long challenge in the name of fitness and to raise money for hunger relief.
At the beginning of May, Wojciechowski committed to participate in the Calendar Club Challenge to raise money for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, an organization that serves 400,000 people in 35 counties, including 124,000 children and 41,000 seniors. Each day of the month, he completed either a 31-mile bike ride, a 6.2-mile run, or a combination 15.5-mile ride and 3.1-mile run.
“Feeding America is an organization that my family and I are passionate about, especially given the [COVID-19] circumstances that we’re living in,” Wojciechowski said. “We wanted to do something that would, number one, impact the organization locally, and number two, do something in a way that would feel good—by getting outside and exercising.”
Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin began in 1982 when Milton J. Huber, a professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, started thinking about how to get excess food to people facing hunger. He set out to help reduce food waste and connect food resources to those who needed them, and partnered with Feeding America—the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization. It’s also dedicated to help develop innovative solutions to solve hunger.
Wojciechowski got the idea for the Calendar Club from a friend who had done something similar with running, and he decided to create his own version of the physical challenge. During his challenge, Wojciechowski and his wife, Lindsay, donated $100 for anyone who joined them, up to $5,000. They also encouraged others to do the same.
After playing point guard for Duke University from 1994 to ’98, Wojciechowski served as associate head coach at Duke before taking a position at Marquette. Throughout his coaching years, he’s stayed in shape with running and biking.
“I’m more of a biker,” Wojciechowski told Bicycling. “My knees can’t handle that much running because of my [basketball] playing days. So I wanted to give people the idea and the option of getting on a bike to complete the challenge.”
Still, the Calendar Club Challenge was a lot for Wojciechowski, who dedicates much of his time to his students, his players, and his family. He saw the whole thing as a team effort—something he couldn’t have done without help from his community.
Initially, he said, it felt like something he had to do each day, but by the end he was looking forward to his runs and rides. And Wojciechowski never lost sight of the fact that he was doing it for a good cause.
“I had just gotten a new road bike before I started the challenge, so this really encouraged me to make use of it,” he said. “It went from feeling like an obligation to feeling like an opportunity.”
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Wojciechowski’s decision to run or ride each day depended largely on his daily schedule, and on that unpredictable Wisconsin spring weather. If he had to go out several times from the office, it was easier to pack running shoes than all of his biking equipment.
“I usually decided what I was going to do the night before. I asked myself, ‘What do I have time for? What are the conditions like outside?’ Some days I was able to do all 31 miles at once, and some days I had to break it into two or three different rides or runs at different times of the day.”
Sometimes Wojciechowski biked and ran alone, and sometimes friends and family joined him. He also had a lot of encouragement from the online community—he has a large following on social media, and that audience really stepped up when it came to support.
“I put it out on social media, and I had people join in by doing their own challenge. Throughout the month, I had a lot of contact with people I knew and people I didn’t know, who were doing different versions of the challenge along with me or just cheering me on,” he said.
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Wojciechowski set his initial fundraising target at $5,000 because it felt like a reasonable goal, but because of generous donors, he was able to raise much more.
“Wojciechowski’s fundraising efforts came at a critical time for our organization and the community we serve,” Stephanie Harte, digital content coordinator at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, told Bicycling. “Thanks to the generosity of Steve and his network, we will be able to provide $50,000 in groceries to local families with the dollars raised.”
Wojciechowski said he really just wanted to do something that would help people right in his community.
“It was really cool to see how people used this opportunity to participate and to give,” Wojciechowski said. “I was really pleased with the response, especially in these times when the headlines talk about and emphasize divisions. Through this Calendar Club Challenge, I recognized the goodness in people—how people want to come together and they want to help. People want to have a connection and be part of something positive.”
The advice he has for others who are looking to help and looking to do something positive in their own community is: Just do it.
“The more you help others, the more you help yourself. There’s only good that can come from it,” Wojciechowski said. “Being on the bike always challenges me physically, but there’s also an absolute peace for me that comes with being outside and riding, either alone or with friends.”
The coach in him also added: “While you’re taking on a physical challenge, I would also encourage you to stretch.”
In partnership with Feeding America, Bicycling and Hearst Magazines are committed to putting an end to hunger. To help food banks feed families in need, please donate at FeedingAmerica.org.
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