The Chainlink

Featured Ride: CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour

By Yasmeen Schuller

The quality of our air can affect us in so many ways and is important for a healthy environment, active lifestyle, and maintaining good health. The CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour is in its 21st year and has grown to address the larger issues related to clean air, healthy lungs, smoking cessation, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma. Your CowaLUNGa pedal power can help fuel Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and their efforts for cleaner air and healthy lungs. Clean air is personal - whether you know someone trying to quit smoking or you have first-hand experience with asthma or you worry about air pollution. As cyclists, we appreciate the importance of the air we breath every time we leave our homes to go for a bike ride.


The Ride

There are so many rides to participate in this year and CowaLUNGa is definitely up there as one of the great rides for all levels of ability. Families and newer riders can start out with the 18-mile fun ride while avid riders can take on over 190 miles with one, two, or three day riding options.  While enjoying the scenery and rolling hills of Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin, riders can enjoy time with friends and family while helping the RHA achieve their vision of healthy lungs and clean air for everyone. Not a bad way to spend a weekend!


"I am a veteran rider of the CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour. It is a very well-run event that benefits a great cause. This ride has the nicest volunteers and participants!" - Debbie, Tinley Park, IL


If you’ve done self-supported long rides, you will appreciate the organization that goes into a supported long ride like this because they’ve done all the route and meal planning for you. You can focus on the bike ride and not worry about finding your next meal or which route to take. The bike tour starts at Gurnee Mills Shopping Mall with registration and pre-ride snacks. Breakfast and dinner are all provided for the riders including vegetarian options. During the day, there are two rest stops and they have some great recommendations for a nice, relaxed lunch to break up your day.


If you want to make a weekend of it, the two and three day tours provide lodging. The first night accommodations consist of rustic indoor cabins and the second night’s stay is in dorms at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. If you prefer to rough it and sleep outside, you can always bring your own tent and they’ll transport it to your nightly destination.


Clean Air & Impact of Our Environment

Todd Fraley, a Health Law and Policy Analyst for RHA, also participates in the Cowalunga Charity Bike Tour. When asked how the ride and Respiratory Health Association affect his life, Todd said, We’ve achieved a number of really incredible lung health policy wins. To sum up how Respiratory Health Association has impacted my life: I’m passionate about the work I do and I love working with the people here.”


Clean air is not an easy task. A lot of work needs to be done to help make our air clean and safe for everyone. A few of RHA’s recent successes include:


  • Reduced air pollution from coal-fired power plants in Illinois. RHA’s efforts have set the stage for reduction of thousands of tons of air pollutants each year.
  • Passage of the Future Energy Jobs bill in Illinois for, “greater use of renewable energy in Illinois and further reductions in air pollution from other energy sources.”
  • Successes like these are critical to reducing thousands of air-quality related asthma attacks.
  • RHA continues to develop resources concerning the health effects of climate change. The Cowalunga Charity Bike Tour will contribute to their future efforts to educate people on the impact of climate change and how we can work together to address the environmental impact.


The Battle Against Tobacco

Todd Fraley shares RHA’s accomplishments in the battle against tobacco:

Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death and disease.  We’ve made a ton of great strides over the last decade

  • In 1999, nearly 1/3 of Chicago high schoolers smoked cigarettes; today, the Chicago high school smoking rate is below 10%. Thousands of premature deaths have been prevented and billions will be saved from long term health care costs.   
  • Unfortunately, the work is not done.  It is a constantly evolving industry and prevention funding is on the chopping block.  The tobacco industry spends $275 million in marketing in Illinois alone compared to the state’s tobacco control budget, which is usually around $10 million. 
  • While we’ve seen massive declines in youth cigarette use over the last decade, we’ve seen increases over the past several years in products like hookah and flavored little cigars.   
  • Among many of the things we do at RHA is work to implement evidence-based youth tobacco prevention policies across the state, as well as increase access to cessation programs for adults who want to quit. 



Fighting Asthma

Jeremy and Stephanie Wilson are parents of a young daughter with asthma. When their daughter, Lauren was admitted to the hospital at six months old, she spent eleven days in the NICU on a ventilator due to illness and severe asthma. Lauren is their motivation to participate in the ride:


Lauren has inspired us to do this ride because she is growing into a happy and healthy 7-year-old now and she wants to help more people understand what asthma is and how it can be managed if you have it.  Our participation in this event helps to draw attention to the RHA and raise money for their efforts to help with lung-related health issues. Lauren plans to ride in her Wee-hoo trailer for the 18 mile ride this year. 


What do Stephanie and Jeremy think about the CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour?

Great experience.  Highly supported ride with very friendly volunteers and great times.  We ride with Team Tardy, a team that has been riding in the CowaLUNGa since its inception. We recently joined the team and enjoy having others on our team to support and have in our corner. Stephanie has even gotten co-workers to join in for the shorter rides. 

What is RHA doing to address asthma?

  • RHA delivers asthma management education through their Fight Asthma Now ® program to 1,700+ Chicago area schoolchildren every year. They’ve also trained 2,300 school personnel and caregivers through their Asthma Management program.
  • Respiratory Health Association and its partners secured passage of the Illinois “Asthma Emergency Response Protocol” bill, requiring schools to prepare staff to address asthma emergencies.
  • RHA worked with Illinois Department of Public Health and the State Board of Education to implement the new law by developing and delivering training to more than 500 school staff statewide.


It’s Personal

Whether fighting for clean air, quitting smoking, or supporting a child with asthma, CowaLUNGa means a lot to many cyclists. As a “Lung Health Champion,” Jason Pyrz has been raising more than $1,000 every year and he rides to honor his grandmother, “Aside from making friends both inside and outside of the organization, the RHA has given me a way to honor my grandmother’s memory – my grandmother died from lung cancer when I was only fourteen.”


Jason will be participating in his seventh ride this year.


Jason’s advice to first-time riders?

Do it! Even if you’ve never put more than 20-30 miles on your bike at one time, you can do this ride. The rest stops and lunch options are spaced roughly every 15-20 miles along each day’s route, so you have plenty breaks if you want to take them. This was the first ride I ever signed up for that was longer than the Bike The Drive or LATE Ride routes – if you can do those, you can do this. And remember, even if there’s a hill on the route that might seem insurmountable, there’s no shame in hopping off and walking up.


Considering participating in the CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour for the first time? First-time riders that sign up by June 15 can save 50% off registration.


CowaLUNGA Charity Bike Tour takes place July 29 through July 31, 2017

Want to know more? Check this out:


CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour event on The Chainlink


Visit the website to learn more about the ride




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