My Story of Becoming a Professional Volunteer


My name is Katie Bolling and my official title at World Bicycle Relief is Grassroots Development Manager – but I really see myself as a Professional Volunteer (with the best job in the world). At World Bicycle Relief, I work with people who donate their most precious asset: time. They turn their “passion into action” by organizing fundraising and awareness campaigns in their communities.

In celebration of National Bike Month, I want to share my story and invite you to become a part of our amazing network of volunteers. If you accept my invite, I would be pleased to send you our new and amazing toolkit, which will help you to spread the word and start a fundraiser in your community. Here is my story of how I learned to “Pedal it Forward.” I hope it inspires you to do the same…

In 2003, I started racing triathlons at a fairly high level as an age group competitor. I enjoyed the races and the challenge of setting goals and achieving them. I loved the thrill of competition and to be honest, I liked the satisfaction of walking away from the races with hardware. In 2004, I competed in my first Ironman and “got hooked.” My focus shifted to the longer races and to “me.” It was my training, my meals, my sleep, my gear…it was all mine, mine, mine. I was fine with that – after all, I was competing in a fairly exclusive sport that came with bragging rights. It felt great.

Then, in 2005, life changed as I welcomed a baby in the world. At that time, I saw a Dateline show that shifted some of my thoughts away from the “world of me” and into the world of a group of children in Uganda known as the ‘Night Commuters.’ These children, some as young as five, spend a good portion of their evenings and mornings walking from their villages to safe havens to ensure they are not abducted into the life of a child soldier. “How terrible,” I thought, “to not only be living a life of extreme poverty but also one of constant fear”. I thought of that group and wished I could make a trip to Uganda to visit the field and lend a hand. But life had me busy with parenting, training, coaching and racing, and I simply did not have time for a field visit.

Then on a training ride along Chicago’s North Shore, I had an epiphany – I realized the triathlon was “my field” and I decided I was going to use my own expertise to spread the word about the Night Commuters and make an impact through a fundraising and awareness campaign. I did just that – on a cold September day in Wisconsin, I raced the Ironman in honor of the Night Commuters, raised thousands of dollars for the cause and, most importantly, persevered through the rain and exhaustion for 11 hours, aware that my race would soon end but the daily race for those children would not. My race was simply putting one foot in front of another – a lot easier than fighting poverty and war. As I rode across the last few feet, I was proud that my “world of me” had evolved into a “world with me as part of the change.” I vowed that I would go on to do something bigger and better at my next race for the Ironman World Championship.

When I went home from Wisconsin with my husband, we started the conversation about how we can do something important to both of us. After thinking about it frequently over the next weeks, one afternoon, while trying to get bikes out of my basement storage (a real obstacle course!) and shuffling my tri bike, road bikes, cross bikes and the three little bikes we had set aside for our then only one year old son, I thought, “This is it – I want to give back via the bicycle! If we have this many bikes to fulfill our recreational hobbies, then we can afford..and should…give back through this love.”

I dashed upstairs, made my way to Google and started researching various organizations that were providing bicycles for humanitarian initiatives worldwide. There were several out there but the model, mission and leaders of World Bicycle Relief were perfect for me. So once again, I moved forward with training, racing and fundraising for a cause. My world of “me” was shrinking. I spent hours spreading the word about World Bicycle Relief to my cycling community. That year, I again realized how much I had and how much I could afford to give back despite a year of difficult family health issues. By the time I reached the starting line in Kona in 2007, the “world of me” had completely dissolved, and the only thing on my mind was competing with the goal of representing World Bicycle Relief recipients and raising one bicycle per mile for a total of 140.6 miles.

Like that cold, rainy day in Wisconsin in 2006, I kept a positive and grateful attitude through the whole race, stress fracture and all. I was fortunate enough to own five of my own bicycles for sport and recreation, but these World Bicycle Relief bicycles had life-changing purposes. That day, I changed the world via The Power of Bicycles and I knew I was just getting started.

Upon completion of the race, it was no longer about the Ironman for me – it was about giving back (see the full video of my Kona fundraiser). I approached World Bicycle Relief with the confidence that there were more people like me who wanted to use their passion to give back, and so I wanted to help grow World Bicycle Relief’s grassroots network. In 2008, I officially became a Professional Volunteer and started recruiting cyclists, students, bakers, anyone and everyone to join me. Several of you accepted my invitation and now, as we head into National Bike Month, I officially share that with you and this amazing network of 10,000 volunteers, we have so far this year raised over $800,000 for our programs and distributed over 6,000 bikes to students and caregivers. That is YOU in action, changing the world through The Power of Bicycles.

As we head into National Bike Month, I invite you to join me and “pedal it forward.” If you are student, cyclist, book reader, baker, knitter, gardener…you are welcome. We have tools to help you influence your community to give back via The Power of Bicycles.

Throughout National Bike Month, we will be sharing ideas, stories and tips on how you can start spreading the work of World Bicycle Relief. I hope you are inspired by The Power of Bicycles:

“Faith, Love, Freedom? Is this too much to ascribe to a simple machine on which we are both engine and fuel (as well as passenger and pilot)? Can there be so much that’s so elemental in something most exquisitely designed to zoom down hills? The answer is right there, in your bike right now. Put a leg over one, and you can instantly see across that bridge from adult to child. There are about 1.1 billion bicycles making that trip right now. A billion people are pedaling with freedom and joy and innocence on the grandest, noblest toy in all the world.”

– Bicycling Magazine, “The Noblest Invention”


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