If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I commute to work by bike. It's an easy way for me to squeeze exercise in without taking extra time away from my family and other obligations, there's a great infrastructure for it here in Portland, and it allows me to one-up those sanctimonious Prius drivers. (Win-win-win!) I've been called "hard-core" more than once as I've ridden to work in the pouring rain, hail, snow and wind. Hard-core? Hard-core is those guys on fixies who race past me up the hill without breaking a sweat. Or those folks who scream at cars that don't leave enough room in front of the bike box. I am not hard-core.
I'm not above muttering complaints about the weather, the hill, the errant squirrels darting in front of me, the exhaust fumes, and the wardrobe limitations imposed by my bike-commute. I am a whiny bike commuter.
But a few weeks ago, I rounded a corner on my daily commute (grousing under my breath about the bitterly cold wind and the threatening gray clouds) and found myself behind a one-legged biker.
That stopped my grousing cold. More than that, it made me re-think my commitment to bike commuting. Because if I lost a leg, I'm pretty sure I would give up biking.
Clearly, I wouldn't have to. Here, riding twenty feet in front of me, was proof that if I wanted to, I could continue biking even in the face of a lost limb.
Now, I don't know if that biker had a special, transcendent passion for biking, or if he lost his driver's license, or if he couldn't afford parking downtown and hated the smell of the bus. I don't want to apply some there-but-for-the-grace-of-God sentimentality to his situation, which I know next to nothing about.
But whatever his reasons, he had committed to riding his bike when that can't have been the simplest option, the path of least resistance.
Nonprofits are often faced with projects that take every ounce of perseverance for them to complete. Lack of money, staffing problems, red-tape and bureaucracy can all conspire to make every battle an uphill one. But the most effective organizations don't give up. They take setbacks in stride and continue pursuing their goals, even if, to outsiders, it may seem impossible.
That kind of perseverance inspires donors. Those stories about the times you overcame huge odds to move mountains are fundraising gold. Collect them. Share them with your staff and your donors. And remember them when the going gets tough again, as it inevitably does.
I only followed the one-legged biker for a few blocks before I turned to continue on my way to work. I didn't have the chance to study how he accomplishes what in my head seems like an impossible task.
But the memory of those few blocks has stayed with me. I challenge you to find your own one-legged biker. What inspires you to keep going? What makes you approach your projects with the creative energy of someone who would choose to bike through rainy Portland streets with only one leg?