On Sept. 20 and 21, Donovan Craig will climb 1,500 feet up the face of the New River Gorge in West Virginia.
Craig, along with his climbing team Kanyekanye Climbers (named after the Zulu phrase for “all together”), hopes to earn $5,000 in pledges to purchase anti-retroviral medicine for African children affected by HIV/AIDS.
The team of 10 local climbers is raising money as part of the second annual “Climb Up So Kids Can Grow Up” fundraiser.
Organized by the American Foundation for Children with AIDS and the American Alpine Institute, the event adapts the classic walk-a-thon model for outdoor sports – including cycling, hiking, climbing and running. Craig is one of hundreds of participants and volunteers who are raising awareness for the event.
Originally from South Africa, Craig moved to Charlotte in mid-2004 and sought ways to engage in outdoor sports. He soon fell in love with outdoor climbing, even going on to manage Charlotte's Inner Peaks gym and teaching others how to climb.
“Once you get into climbing, you start to explore your limits, not just physically but psychologically, as well,” Craig said.
So when one of his climbing students, Ladianne Mandel, approached Craig to participate in the AIDS charity event, Craig signed on and set out to recruit a climbing team. For Craig, the cause is especially poignant because of his connection to Africa, where AIDS rates are among the world's highest.
“I grew up in South Africa, so I saw how people and children suffered,” Craig said. “And I grew up in the younger generation that really embraced people helping people.”
Everyone from the occasional jogger to the elite hiker is encouraged to gather pledges for completing a physical challenge.
“The idea is to go out, do something good for yourself, for your own health while saving the lives of some kids in Africa,” said Tanya Weaver, the executive director of the American Foundation for Children with AIDS and the event organizer.
Climbers, hikers, cyclists and runners from 30 states, France and Kenya participated in last year's event, which raised $15,500. This year, it has grown to include all 50 states in addition to Colombia, Costa Rica, Kenya and Papua New Guinea.
“We wanted to make this event easy and accessible for everyone,” Weaver said. “You don't need to be in tiptop shape or to be able to do some crazy challenge. You can go for a good walk or climb a set of stairs and still raise money.”
The American Foundation for Children with AIDS is also offering prizes to encourage participation. The individual who raises the most money wins the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a partner. The team that earns the most pledges gets a 10-day safari in Namibia for two.
“My hope for the event is that everybody will have a great time and enjoy putting their healthy bodies to use to help others,” Mandel said.