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Nonprofit grants athletes a way to ‘Suffer Better’

Suffer Better ignited when aging endurance junkie Bob Africa dominated at a 2013 trail running race high in Colorado’s mountains. At the finish he declared, “You might be younger, faster or have a bigger engine, but I can suffer better.”

The catch phrase led to a nonprofit when Africa, who went on to work for PopSockets, joined forces with training partner and competitive ultrarunner Peter Downing. His cohort, a multigenerational Denverite, had previously practiced law but was looking for something more fulfilling.

Since then, Suffer Better has helped connect a historically disparate community of endurance athletes. Leveraging the inspiring and energizing nature of the outdoors, athletes are easily encouraged to accomplish bigger things with an obligation to give back — and in a figurative sense suffer better.

Today the virtual 501c3 and 1% for the Planet member runs community-building endurance events on local trails — and even Downing’s private easement-protected mountain property. Fundraising is aimed at two core causes: preserving public lands and improving air quality.

Most recently, Suffer Better lofted its “Give Your All and Give Back” philosophy through a new grant program. The nonprofit is partnering with outdoor brands, such as hemp extract supplement maker iKOR Labs and Hydrolight Outdoor Gear, to back up to $1,000 grants. Athletes can apply for grant money to stage their own creative events. Brands get to share the good works through website content, images, and public relations, according to Downing.

“One of our primary goals is to help individuals realize that one person can indeed make a difference by doing something positive,” he says. “Most of our grant applicants are individuals looking to inspire groups or kids about the importance of the outdoors and why it’s worth exploring and protecting.”

But Suffer Better’s internal fundraising approach isn’t always about asking for cash. Last year the organization put on an outdoor farm-to-table dinner. “We got nearly 70 people to come in a spectacular setting and for a delicious dinner, with all food raised on our friend’s farm, to raise enough money for at least a couple of grants,” Downing says.

The first Suffer Better grant went to Boulder-based runner Kunlong Babatunde Cousin, who Downing calls “an incredibly humble, caring human.” With the grant money, Cousin turned his 50th birthday into a 50-mile fundraising run for a local family whose daughter is suffering from a progressive neurometabolic disorder called Leigh’s disease. Most didn’t go the distance, but it didn’t matter.

“He’s [Cousin] the first to say that running, especially ultrarunning, is a primarily selfish endeavor,” Downing says. “But when he inspires others to join and support him, the result is the community recognizing that runners can — and should — put that energy to something positive and bigger than their personal health and fitness.”