After three grueling months of hiking, climbing and biking across the contiguous United States, ultra-athlete and Michael J. Fox Foundation staffer Sam Fox (no relation to Michael J. Fox) completed Tour de Fox (tourdefox.org) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Saturday, September 12. The Tour, which set out from Maine on June 2, generated nearly double its $1-million goal, ultimately raising $1.87 million (and counting) for Parkinson’s research.
Sam’s odyssey covered a total of 14,000 miles, 8,000 of which he pedaled on his bicycle. (The remaining miles were driven, allowing Sam to cover as much territory as possible.) Along the way, he was joined by more than 2,000 Tour de Fox participants, including 129 people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD), their loved ones and their communities. The Tour garnered more than 7,000 individual donations through mostly grassroots, community fundraising efforts.
The Tour also enjoyed tremendous support from the Board of Directors of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. A highly motivational matching fund of $750,000 was generously furnished by Lauren and Lee Fixel, helping to spur nearly $250,000 in grassroots donations on the first day of the Tour alone. Board member Rick Tigner, President of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates, hosted the single largest Tour de Fox fundraiser, “Tour de Fox: Wine Country Edition,” a bike ride and celebration held in Sonoma County, California, which raised nearly $440,000. Tour expenses were underwritten by the Shackleton family, led by Board Chairman Woody Shackleton, enabling 100 percent of donations to the Tour to go directly to the Foundation’s cutting-edge research programs. Several other Board members, including Michael J. Fox, Nelle Fortenberry, Amar Kuchinad and Sonny Whelen hosted or joined events along the Tour route.
“The power of the Parkinson’s community to bring about change can’t be overstated, and Tour de Fox has united and motivated Parkinson’s patients and families in a whole new way,” said Michael J. Fox. “Sam Fox may be slightly nuts to have taken this on, but thanks to the thousands who came out to support his extreme undertaking this summer, we’re reminded that working together not only helps us share our strength and hope — it also brings us tangibly closer to the cure.”
A summer of incredible challenges and feats
Tour de Fox kicked off with an interview with Foundation Board member Willie Geist on NBC’s “TODAY” Show before Sam set out to climb the highest peak in 48 states, plus Grouse Grind in Vancouver. The route included 52 hiking, climbing and biking excursions open to the public, in addition to more than 30 celebrations held by members of the Parkinson’s community as Sam crisscrossed the country:
- While most rides and climbs welcomed people of all physical capabilities and experience levels, seven Xtreme (TDFX) events collectively raised nearly $50,000. TDFX events included a three-day, 50-mile climb in Wyoming and a 170-mile ride through Yellowstone National Park. Sam was joined by 15 people for these Xtreme events, including one Parkinson’s patient who summited California’s Mt. Whitney — the highest peak in the Lower 48.
- Sam accomplished 49 planned high point climbs, and summited 47 of them. Two climbs were deemed too unsafe to finish due to weather conditions, with Sam coming 1,000 feet within the top of Utah’s King’s Peak and less than 4,000 feet short of the summit of Washington’s Mt. Rainier.
- Sam exceeded original plans to bike 5,000 miles, clocking nearly 8,000 miles by the Tour’s completion.
- Tour de Fox engaged people well beyond the Tour route, spurring 2,127 conversations on the Foundation’s social channels where onlookers and participants alike shared #tourdefox tales from the road and encouragement to help Sam keep going.
Digging deep: Sam’s motivation behind the journey
Sam’s motivation for Tour de Fox is his mother, Lucy, who has lived with Parkinson’s disease since 2000. Since graduating from Yale University in 2009, Sam, who originally hails from Rhode Island, has turned his athletic gifts and passion for the outdoors into a fundraising powerhouse.
Sam crowd-sourced the idea for Tour de Fox during a 2013 appearance at SXSW in Austin, Texas, after running the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in 60 days and raising $300,000 for The Michael J. Fox Foundation in 2011.
On staff, Sam serves as Outreach and Engagement Officer, where he serves as a Foundation ambassador, providing counsel and motivation to other athletes and extreme fundraisers.
During the Tour, Sam often reflected on his mother and the other members of the PD community he met along the way — particularly when the road got rough. “As the bruises and aches began to set in, I often thought about how these pains were temporary, while the challenges faced by my mom and those living with PD are every day,” Sam said. “I am honored to have met so many with Parkinson’s and their families who shared their grace and strength with me, and who kept me going every step of the way.”
Official sponsors of the Tour de Fox included Volkswagen, lululemon athletica, Specialized, Gatorade, Prothena and Adamas Pharmaceuticals.
Donations to Tour de Fox will be accepted through the end of 2015.