More than a fundraiser: Annual Agony Ride changes lives | TheUnion.com

More than a fundraiser: Annual Agony Ride changes lives

Submitted by Jennifer Palmer

How far would you go to demonstrate love to somebody you'd never met?

On Friday, more than 85 people will answer that question.

Despite gusty wind, blistering heat and the promise of aching muscles, they'll climb on their bicycles, committed to pedaling as far as they can in 24 hours.

Their aim? To show hurting young men and women that their lives have value.

“During my first Agony Ride experience, I was amazed that complete strangers, who didn’t know me or the other students, would put themselves through complete, well, agony, in order to make sure we could experience the healing we needed and could feel the love of Christ from community.”

—Mikenna KossowFormer Christian Encounter Ministries resident

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The cyclists are participating in Christian Encounter Ministries' 36th annual Agony Ride, an aptly-named fundraiser held in the Sierra Valley on the last Friday and Saturday of July. Riders will start in Loyalton, and cover a 38-mile loop as many times as possible throughout the course of the event. Three aid stations, staffed by a few hundred volunteers known as saggers (short for support and gear), provide food, water, and a place to rest and recuperate.

Sharon MacLean, who came to Christian Encounter Ministries eight years ago as an intern and now serves as assistant director of operations and accountant for the ministry, will be riding in her fourth Agony Ride this year.

"The Agony is more than a bike ride. It's more than a fundraiser," she said. "It's hard to understand unless you've been there, but the Agony Ride plays an incredible role in the restoration of our students' lives."

Former Christian Encounter Ministries resident Mikenna Kossow, who will also be riding for the fourth time this year, agrees.

"I struggled with feeling loved, seen, and important when I came to Christian Encounter as a student," she said. "During my first Agony Ride experience, I was amazed that complete strangers, who didn't know me or the other students, would put themselves through complete, well, agony, in order to make sure we could experience the healing we needed and could feel the love of Christ from community. I ride to show current students that they are not alone, that someone cares about their healing, and that they are deeply loved."

The Agony Ride got its start in 1982, when six cyclists started in the heat of Death Valley and pedaled as far up into the sleet of Mt. Whitney as they could in 24 hours.

Since then, the event has morphed into Christian Encounter Ministries primary fundraiser: over the past 35 years, it has raised more than $3 million for the ministry. Last year, 77 participants rode a total of 16,446 miles and brought in nearly $195,000, a record number. This year, Christian Encounter Ministries hopes to break that record again by topping $200,000 for the first time.

Christian Encounter Ministries puts all those funds to good use in young people's lives by overcoming cycles of brokenness, one story at a time.

Residents ages 16-25 come to the 86-acre property on Retrac Way in Grass Valley to receive counseling, schooling, spiritual guidance, love, and an opportunity to recover from the wounds inflicted by society, family situations, and their own poor choices. They come to find healing, restoration and hope. As a non-profit that receives no government funding, Christian Encounter Ministries relies on the generous support of donors, much of which comes through the Agony Ride.

But, as both MacLean and Kossow emphasized, the Agony Ride is much more than a fundraiser. Christian Encounter Ministries residents, who assist as saggers throughout the event, witness the physical and mental pain and exhaustion the cyclists are willing to endure on their behalf, and their lives are changed as a result.

"Many of our residents have wrestled their whole lives with a haunting question: does anyone actually care about me?" said Nate Boyd, Executive Director at Christian Encounter Ministries. "The Agony Ride answers this with physical, indisputable evidence. It stirs up hope that life may be worth living after all, and it provides the means to pursue that hope."

To learn more about the Agony Ride, to sponsor a rider or to follow progress of the event once it starts, visit https://agonyride.org/. To learn more about Christian Encounter Ministries, visit http://www.christianencounter.org/.