A global event in November saw cyclists around the world come together virtually to raise money for children’s charity Smile Train. We explore the story behind RIDE for Smile Train: Home Edition
As creator of the J METHOD, fitness influencer Jennifer Jacobs had already spent years helping individuals of all ages to reach their fitness goals, improve their movement, find balance, optimise their nutrition and think positively.
But her desire to be an agent of change took her a step further still when she became involved with Smile Train, the world’s largest cleft charity (see ‘The power of a smile’).
When Jacobs heard how children living with a cleft struggle to eat, breathe and speak – and that 90 per cent will die before the age of 19 without treatment – she contacted Smile Train to find out how she could help. In 2019, those conversations led to her travelling to Mexico, where she met with some of the local healthcare workers who provide free cleft treatment and care in their own communities.
“each beautiful smile on those children’s faces changed my life forever” – Jennifer Jacobs
She also met with patients and saw for herself how the care facilitated by Smile Train was capable of changing lives. She explains: “As a mother, I could only imagine a situation where the one you love the most needs help, but you don’t know where to go or what to even ask. You feel absolutely helpless. You feel like there is no hope.
“My trip to Mexico showed me how Smile Train provides that hope. Each beautiful smile on those children’s faces changed my life forever.”
From live to virtual
On her return to the US, Jacobs inspired her 140,000+ social media followers to get involved, and together they raised enough money to fund almost 60 life-saving cleft surgeries. But Jacobs wanted to go further and, at the beginning of 2020, started working with Smile Train to plan the first-ever RIDE for Smile Train – a two-day signature event that was scheduled to take place in Arizona in November.
59,373 people completed the strava challenge, using indoor bikes and cycling on local roads
Then COVID hit. As the pandemic dragged into summer, it was obvious an in-person event was no longer a viable option. RIDE for Smile Train: Home Edition was born.
The fundraising event kicked off with the Miles for Smiles Strava challenge, which took place over the week of 1–7 November 2020. Participants were challenged to record 250 minutes of activity on the fitness platform – alluding to the fact that US$250 can cover the cost of one life-saving cleft surgery – with Jacobs curating daily workouts to motivate those taking part.
The Strava challenge was then followed, on 14 November, by a live broadcast across Smile Train’s social media channels, where Jacobs led participants on a virtual group cycling workout. By harnessing the power of the Zwift platform, cyclists around the world were able to “ride together”.
Reports from Strava showed huge interest in the event, with 93,701 total participants and an impressive 59,373 completing the challenge, both using indoor bikes at home and cycling on roads around their local communities.
“For every one of us, it was such a huge motivation to know we were raising money that would give children a chance to live their best lives,” says Jacobs.
And raise money they certainly did. The grand total? An impressive US$66,800.
To find out more about Smile Train, please visit www.smiletrain.org
The power of a smile
Smile Train is an international children’s charity with a sustainable approach to a single, solvable problem: cleft lip and palate.
Every three minutes, somewhere in the world, a child is born with a cleft. Many of these children will go untreated and live in isolation, suffering severe problems with eating, breathing and speaking.
Smile Train is the largest cleft-focused organisation with a model of true sustainability: it provides training, funding and resources to empower local medical professionals in 70+ countries to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care in their own communities.
To date, Smile Train has supported safe, high-quality cleft care for 1.5+ million children around the world. It will continue to do so “until every child in need with a cleft has access to the care they deserve”.