By Kale Watkins
Growing up on High Rock Lake near Denton, NC was a great childhood because I have always loved adventure and being outdoors. That love carried through to adulthood, so I moved out west to live in the mountains at Lake Tahoe, CA where I could ski, cycle, kayak, fish and be outdoors on an epic level.
On February 3, 2000, I broke my neck while skiing and my life was changed forever. Being paralyzed at age 30 was not in my plans, and for the first time I was scared about my future. Then my amazing friends, family and the overall community of Denton stepped up in a big way. In just four short months they organized the first annual Tour De Kale as a benefit for me, but also as a tribute to my love for cycling and the outdoors.
After the accident, I was in intensive care for 45 days, followed immediately by three months of spinal cord rehab. Needless to say, I was quite consumed mentally and physically trying to learn a new way of life. Little did I know that my hometown community was just as busy donating their time, money and expertise to building what is now one of the premiere cycling events in NC, if not the entire Southeast.
I flew back to NC on June 15 and woke up in the house I grew up in the next morning to the most memorable day of my life. Almost every person I had known growing up was there. They were cooking BBQ chicken or registering cyclists. They were making signs to point the cyclists in the right direction. They were directing traffic or parking cars. Everything was so well organized it was hard to believe this had come together in such a short time. All that was going on was overwhelming. Words cannot describe the pride and love I felt for these people.
Incredibly, that first day has parlayed into a truly amazing event. Even though it was a tremendous success, each year the Tour De Kale has evolved to become even better. Each aspect has become more finely tuned and has always been organized with three things in mind: 1) to raise money for someone in need; 2) to establish an unforgettable experience for everyone and 3), to do it all safely.
The TDK organizers realized that even though I was fortunate enough to have medical insurance, the medical expenses quickly got completely out of control. The proceeds from the TDK gave me financial hope. We all try to keep this in mind each year when we choose one individual (two at the most) to receive all of the proceeds from the event. We have 100% volunteer staff so after we pay our expenses, every single penny that is raised goes directly to benefit that person.
After a couple of years, we added a running/walking event to get non-cyclists involved. Even though we conduct both events on one day each year (the third weekend in June), the organization goes on behind the scenes virtually year round. Securing sponsors, implementing policies, establishing leadership and shaping volunteer groups all develop behind the scenes. There are so many segments to forming a successful event that few people can appreciate.
I always say, “We need feet on the ground; that is what makes us successful. If you know someone who wants to donate time or give financial support, we have something for them to do.” This is something that people will not only enjoy, but that will also instill in them a sense of pride and ownership that is difficult to find elsewhere. When those hundreds of cyclists, runners and volunteers roll through the small streets of Denton, there is a feeling of accomplishment that is addicting, not to mention how great it feels to know this is all done to try and make someone’s life better.
I have the great fortune to be involved with this event and we encourage everyone to join us. As it turns out, the benefit is not only for those who are in financial need, but it helps us all to be better neighbors, friends and human beings. But then, of course, I’m biased.
Join us for the Tour de Kale on June 21st. Register online for our Walk, Run or Ride to help support this great cause at TourdeKale.com.