Paid Forward

Yes, he’s a BAMF. But that’s not the (only) reason why…

I am writing on behalf of my husband, Drew Ziegler, a firefigher/EMT in Clinton, Mississippi. He began racing triathlons about 3 years ago after a friend convinced him to try one. He had an interest in cycling since he used to cycle for rehab following soccer injuries. After another injury took him away from a professional soccer career, he began to devote his time to training for triathlons (he was hooked after the first one). He also decided to become a firefighter, which is a perfect fit for him since he has such a heart for helping people, especially in emergency situations. He is an extremely selfless person. He works a stressful job and never complains about pay. When we got married he sold many of his bike parts to be able to afford a honeymoon. On numerous occasions, he has saved up for upgraded bike parts and then given them to friends who he felt needed them more, never asking for money. A few months ago he had a bike wreck that broke a few parts on his bike but didn’t harm him. He took the parts that worked and helped a friend get his bike in working condition so he could do his first race. He has been saving up for a new bike but it has been difficult due to our financial situation. I know this would mean to the world to him.

And that’s (roughly) the letter that I got from Anna Claire Ziegler. I let her polish it a bit for publication. In the original version, she mentioned that Drew had shown her what I was doing with my Shiv as something noteworthy but that he felt that wasn’t something he deserved. Well, she felt it was something he deserved. And so, being a plucky Mississippi girl, she decided to write on his behalf. As a quick aside, among the bike parts he sold to finance their honeymoon? His race wheels. Seriously, I thought stuff like this didn’t exist outside of Lifetime movies… Well, in addition to his wife thinking he deserved the bike, so did I, and so did basically everyone I enlisted to help me read all of the “applications.”

I had quite the committee, and being such an eclectic group, I thought you might enjoying knowing a bit about them. I was so moved by the fact that people were sharing these stories with me, that I knew I couldn’t decide on my own. Reading the stories was incredibly emotional, and the idea of turning any one of those folks down broke my heart (and still breaks my heart, which is why I haven’t written the “I’m sorry…” letters yet. But I will. To everyone. Promise). My first recruit, who in typical fashion self-selected himself – was Jon. Jon was a former elite rower turned cyclist who now races XTerra. Jon has no children and is generally totally unsympathetic towards the demands of parenthood. His general bias was towards the young and aspiring kids who wanted to become pros, mostly because they reminded him of him, and he’s very fond of himself. He’s also an excellent judge of character and one of my good friends. And he was willing to read 40 (some additional ones trickled in) stories.

My next recruit was Alan, who was just shy of 300lbs before deciding to take control of his life. Alan’s first triathlon was an Ironman, which tells you most of what you need to know about his drive, perhaps only complemented by knowing that his PB for 140.6 is sub-10hrs. Alan is a proud parent of two wonderful children. I knew Alan would help to provide some insight into the meaning and importance of the several weight-loss related stories I received, which were truly inspiring.

Alan helped me recruit Jay, who was a former 2:16 marathoner at a time when white kids from the US generally didn’t run 2:16 for the marathon. But due to injury, Jay can no longer run. But he’s a helluva bike rider. And a parent. Like Jon, Jay had a soft spot for the kids wanting to become pros, again flashbacks to his own glory days.

And lastly, I asked for my wife’s help. As a former elite athlete who faced injury and as a new mom, she had her own biases. And, of course, as a Canadian, she was especially biased towards those trusty folks from north of The Border who wrote in.

As for me, I was touched by everyone in a profound way. Not only because the stories were so remarkable, but because they were telling them to me because they wanted my bike. And they wanted to pay for my bike. The reason I asked people – initially – to pay was because I thought it’d be a good way to do some good while also doing what I regularly do, which is turn the equipment I get into income. But as the stories came in, I realized there was no way I could take the money. And I didn’t want to. But I didn’t want to give the bike away, because in my experience, people tend to 1) want ANYTHING if it’s free and 2) care about it less. Having done giveaways at expos, people just grab because “IT’S FREE!” and I wanted to avoid that. So that’s why I decided to require some money, although as I wrote, it’s going 50/50 to World Bicycle Relief and a charity of the recipients choosing. For his half of the $500 (the amount that seemed doable to pretty much everyone which is how I settled on it) to charity, Drew is giving to the National Autism Center.

With the help of my friends, we narrowed it down to the most compelling stories. There were a few names that kept popping up in everyone’s list, and Drew’s was one of them. Drew’s story touched everyone. Ultimately, I settled on three finalists. And I planned to have the world-at-large vote on those three. But then, while I was out training, I changed my mind. Someone raised the good objection that votes often become a popularity contest. And I liked the idea that I got to choose someone and say to them, “I choose you to have my bike,” as opposed to, “The world chose you.” Of the three finalists, only Drew didn’t have a bike (because of his wreck). The other finalists, who replied after I told them of my change of plans (I had previously written to ask them for a “final draft” submission that could be made public), both said that they thought it appropriate that the bike go to someone without a bike.

To the young kids and aspiring pros out there, yours were among the hardest to read. I felt for every one of you. Some, I was inspired by the massive obstacles you’ve already overcome. Others, by your zeal and passion for the future. In the end, I wasn’t sure how to choose among all of you, so I thought it best to just eliminate you all as a group. It was too hard to find the right mix of results/need/etc. But I am certain you will all find success, as your passion was obvious. I wish I had bikes for all of you. And if I can help you find one, I will. I’ll touch on how when I write back to each of you.

To everyone else – and you really ran the gamut – I wish I had bikes for you all as well. Some of you needed “a bike,” (though likely not pure race bike like my Shiv), and I hope you find one. And if I can help, I will. Again, I’ll touch on that when I write back to each of you too.

I was truly inspired. As seems to happen so often, whenever I do something that seems to “inspire” other people, I’m really the one who comes away even more inspired. So thank you. And, Drew, enjoy your new bike. I’d say I’m expecting big things, but you’ve already done plenty…

9 thoughts on “Paid Forward

  1. Man, what a great idea. I have a few Tri bikes that are less than 4-5 years old. 1 a 3 year old Trek E7 that I bought as a basic entry level bike. I got into triathlon on a bet and bought this when I got started. I of course fell in love with the sport and 25 triathlons later including 4, 70.3's and 1, 140.6 I have accumulated a bunch of equipment that I don't use that others could. I've been very blessed financially and it's easy to sometimes forget that. Your idea here helped me realize this. If anyone else wrote in with a similar story and need a bike I would be willing to donate my Trek E7 and even pay to have Tri bike transport send it to them. I applaud your generosity and thanks for making me realize how blessed and fortunate I really am…..


  2. @Anonymous – use the contact form on the right to email me. We'll find good homes for your bikes. There were several great candidates. THANKS! Jordan


  3. Thanks for this great post, Jordan. These types of situations are wonderful and difficult at the same time. Resources are limited and need is great. What is very cool is for someone to put himself in this connumdrum; at once able to help those who ask for help and then subjected to saying “I can’t help”.

    It reminds me of my 25 year old daughter who is a teen age survivor of stage four, cancer. She is a college grad who, after graduating, went to work for a nonprofit that provides four year college scholarships to kids who have survived or are fighting cancer. She was a recipient for four years.

    She reads the letters, considers the need, then considers the limits of the foundation and makes decisions. It brings her to tears at times.

    You get it, so it must be difficult as you prepare to write those letters that say “not this time; not right now”. That is tougher than the decision to say “yes, we are able to help you”. Thanks for putting yourself out there!

    As always, you do a wonderful job sharing the human side.


  4. Amazing story Jordan. You are the man. I love seeing athletes do more with their platform of fame. I figure that's why you and Chris Lieto are my two favorite triathletes. You guys continue to humbly downplay your success and show the world how you can give back. Please keep it up! And bring more pro's to the good side.
    If you are ever high up in the Colorado rockies, looking for some altitude training, please look us up.
    Aspen Triathlon Club


  5. Excellent choice, Jordan. You've done a phenomenal job choosing a new home for the Shiv, and to hear their story as well is just amazing. Good work!


  6. This is a great inspiring story that truly uplifts the sport. I hope this starts a fire to keep this idea going forward and help those in need!
    Great Job!!



  7. Hey Jordan!
    My husband and I met you last year at IM AZ when I walked up to you and said ARE YOU JORDAN RAPP?? This was again another example of paying it forward and you could not have picked a more deserving recipient. Thank you for being the standout in the TRI crowd and for stepping outside the box to do the right thing. Your son is adorable too!!!


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