DENVER (CBS4) - As the USA Pro Challenge rolled through much of Colorado this month, a Colorado family was right there each day to cheer on the racers and spread the word about their bike-centered foundation.
Randy and Jen Charrette of Ridgway started a nonprofit called The Axel Project with two goals: helping children learn to ride bicycles and remembering their murdered toddler.
"We mainly focus on the 2 to 5-year-old kids who are just getting into biking and introducing them into a healthy lifestyle," said Randy, who uses the professional stage race as an opportunity to do outreach for his foundation.
LINK: Axel Project
Since forming the nonprofit, the Charrettes have allowed approximatly 1,000 kids to hop on a pedals-free balance bikes and ride on their basic biking course.
"The most fundamental part of riding a bike is learning balance. Pedaling is relatively easy. It's the balance factor (that's the challenge)," Randy told CBS4 on Sunday in Denver's Civic Center Park, where their course was set up near the finish line of the USA Pro Challenge.
One of the mottos of the group is Ride Through Grief. In early 2013 Randy and Jen took their family on a trip to Mexico when 2-year-old Axel was killed by an intruder at the home they were staying in. After the shock of the murder wore off, the family decided spreading the word about balance bikes such as the one Axel loved to ride would be a way of honoring his memory.
"We love when they come up to us and they ask us about our organization and we get to talk about Axel and explain why we're doing what we're doing ... we get a lot of joy from it," Randy said.
"There's definitely a lot of shock when (people) ask and we tell them the story, but it's just part of it."
Randy said his favorite part of teaching kids to ride bikes is the reactions he sees in the parents.
"The look on their face when their kid takes off, or their grandkid takes off, it's really rewarding," he said.
In addition to showing kids how to ride, The Axel Project helps schools across the state get balance bikes.
The foundation is holding a fundraising ride next month. It runs from Ridgeway to Telluride and back, and anyone who is interested in the ride through the San Juan Mountains can visit axelprojectride.com.
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