Hunched over his bike with cars whizzing past, Luis Diaz and six other members of the University of Washington’s Theta Chi fraternity came across a thick bank of smoke. And they had to make a decision: continue their fundraising ride, or call it quits?
When they set out to ride from Seattle to San Francisco, the cyclists weren’t expecting to encounter the deadliest, most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California. Rather than calling off the ride, they modified their plans, hopping in a car and driving 30 miles south, avoiding the worst of the smoke.
In the end, undeterred by distance and natural disasters, the bicycling brothers reached their goal: the city by the bay. And in the process, they raised more than $15,000 for the Kyle Charvat Foundation, which partners with UW Medical Center to help young adults with cancer.
A friend in need
“Kyle was one of those people who had a genuinely outgoing and inclusive personality,” says CJ Bowles, Charvat’s friend and Theta Chi alumnus. Today, Bowles serves as vice president and director of the Kyle Charvat Foundation.
In December 2002, during finals week of his very first quarter at school, Charvat started to feel sick. Soon after, he discovered he had a brain tumor. The typical treatment options weren‘t working, but there was another option — an experimental treatment in Houston that cost $10,000 per month for 10 months, an expense he couldn‘t afford.
That’s when Bowles and his other fraternity brothers got organized, selling wristbands to friends and family and across campus. “Within a year, we had grossed more than $100,000 — enough to fully cover Kyle‘s treatments costs,” says Bowles.
Though the treatment extended Charvat’s life, he died in 2006. To honor their friend and to continue to have a positive effect on other young adults battling cancer, the brothers formed the Kyle Charvat Foundation. To date, the foundation has given more than $150,000 to more than 40 recipients, including UW Medical Center.
The spirit lives on
At first, fraternity members raised money for the Kyle Charvat Foundation with an annual golf tournament. As people graduated and their lives filled with other commitments, the tournaments were put on hold.
Then, in 2016, Bowles was contacted by three UW Theta Chi members. They heard of the foundation, and they wanted to help. However, instead of golfing, they wanted to bicycle — from Seattle to Boston.
After 40 days of extensive biking, battling thunderstorms, mountain passes and bike malfunctions, they finally made it. This inaugural “Cycle for Charvat” more than doubled the riders’ goal.
“That‘s something we never would’ve expected,” said Bowles. “First of all: that they could do that long a bike ride. And second: that there would be such an outpouring of support from friends, family and people who‘ve never heard of the foundation or got to meet Kyle. They really believe in our mission.”
The cycle of giving
The fraternity has gone on four bike rides thus far. And they’ve found a natural partner in UW Medical Center, providing the hospital’s social work program with a gift to help young cancer patients pay their bills.
These bike rides were one of Diaz’s inspirations in joining Theta Chi. “Cancer impacts everyone,” he says, “whether you‘ve had a personal brush with cancer or whether you’ve known someone who has.”
So far, Diaz has joined several of the bicycle trips. Biking for 10 to 11 hours a day is exhausting, he says, but at the end of the day, as the riders review how much they raised, their spirits lift.
“Once we get to the camp, and I tell everyone the numbers, there‘s just a sigh of relief‘,” says Diaz. “It’s totally worth it.”