To her classmates and teaching staff, Lara Kroepsch is another student, regularly assisting in heart surgery during elective rotations as part of her physician assistant training at the Yale University School of Medicine.
To fans of competitive cycling, Kroepsch is a former Olympic hopeful whose racing career, which spanned most of the last decade, included stints with T-Mobile and Lipton.
But to a group of women in Uganda, Kroepsch and her boyfriend Corey Collier — a former pro with HealthNet-Maxxis and Bahati Foundation — are foreign benefactors, the providers of new bicycles, via World Bicycle Relief, the organization formed by SRAM and Trek in 2005 that supplies durable bikes across Africa.
In September Kroepsch traveled to Uganda for a medical rotation, working at a referral hospital treating infectious disease.
Before leaving she reached out to World Bicycle Relief’s development coordinator Rebecca Much, a former T-Mobile teammate, and arranged a bicycle demo day in Uganda to introduce WBR and Light Gives Heat, a non-profit based in Grand Junction, Colorado, which employs 115 Ugandan women, focusing on encouraging sustainability through commerce.
Collier is a Grand Junction native and longtime friend of Dave and Morgan Hansow, who started Light Gives Heat after they moved to Uganda to adopt a child. Light Gives Heat sells necklaces and bags online made by the Ugandan women.
More than 50 of the Ugandan women that work with Light Gives Heat attended the demo day; several pedaled a bike for the first time. Kroepsch said the experience was life changing.
“To see how much fun, these women were having riding a bicycle, to see 60-year-old women laughing and riding a bike for the first time, it was really inspiring,” Kroepsch said. “All of a sudden felt like most important thing in my life.”
Upon returning to the States, Kroepsch and Collier set out to provide bicycles for each of the 115 women employed by Light Gives Heat, with a price tag of $150 per bike. They arranged to micro-finance the bikes with the Ugandan women splitting the cost — the women will paying for their half with monthly pay check deductions coming from their LGH salaries.
“The bikes will factor in their lives in so many ways, from getting back and forth for employment, to taking their kids to school, to getting water at a well,” Kroepsch said. “Bikes are shared and used in the community there — they’re as good as gold.”
Collier is currently competing in the seven-day, 362-mile Brazil Ride mountain-bike stage race. Hoping to raise money for the program, he’s seeking donations — either a nominal amount for each mile he races, or a full $150 to cover a WBR bicycle.
Updates from Collier’s ride can be found on the Light Gives Heat blog.
Collier and Kroepsch are also racing cyclocross this fall to promote WBR and Light Gives Heat, riding bamboo fames made by former Jamis-Sutter Home pro Nick Frey. In December Boo Bicycles will donate and auction off a custom bamboo frame — all proceeds will go to purchasing bikes for the Ugandan women,
With more than $10,000 to raise, they are seeking help from the racing community.
“While I was there it became apparent that, while people donate big chunks of money to Africa, they minute they pull out, everything disappears,” Kroepsch said. “It has to be about sustainability — you have to empower people to empower themselves.”