Press Release – Reston, Va. – Len Forkas, a Reston-based entrepreneur, will once again tackle the grueling ultra-cycling challenge, Race Across America (RAAM), to raise money for Hopecam, a nonprofit he founded to help children undergoing cancer treatment stay virtually connected to their classmates, friends and support networks.
“Last year Hopecam hit the milestone of connecting its 1,000th child. My goal between now and June is to raise $1 million dollars so that we can help 1,000 more kids,” Forkas said. “Racing RAAM helps me raise nationwide awareness about childhood cancer and the help Hopecam provides.”
Despite RAAM’s excruciating demands, Forkas says his hardest journey started in 2002, when his son Matt was diagnosed with Leukemia at age nine.
“When Matt got sick, he went through so much physically and emotionally. The best advice we received was to help Matt feel like a normal kid while he endured treatment,” Forkas said. “Since Matt’s compromised immune system kept him out of school and away from his friends, he grew lonely and depressed. At the toughest time in his life, when he needed his friends the most, he was stuck at home undergoing treatment. We came up with the idea of connecting him virtually, using webcams at school and at home. ”
In 2003, witnessing the positive effects Matt’s friends and classmates had on his recovery, Forkas founded Hopecam to help other kids undergoing cancer connect to their support networks. Since then, Hopecam has helped more than 1,000 children connect to 10,000 classmates in 46 states. Forkas turned to exercise to cope with the stress of his son’s illness. By competing in ultra endurance races, he has raised more than $1 million in sponsorship contributions.
The RAAM is one of the longest annual endurance events in the world, spanning 3,089 miles over the Rocky Mountains, through the desert and over the Appalachians. From California to Maryland, it is about 1,000 miles longer than the Tour de France and has to be completed in half the time. The bicycle race is also unique because there are no stages; cyclists rest only as needed, averaging 18-20 hours on the bike per day. The race must be completed in 12 days for solo riders. The 2017 RAAM begins Tuesday, June 13. Based on the race’s 35-year history, only half of solo riders will make it to the finish line.
Forkas successfully completed RAAM in 2012 when he was 52 years old, winning his age division and coming in 10th overall out of 47 cyclists from 20 countries. Leading up to the race he raised $300,000 for Hopecam. He dedicated each day of his ride to a child with cancer being helped by Hopecam.
“As hard as the race was, I knew the pain I was experiencing wasn’t anything compared to what these kids endure for months or years, and that kept me going,” Forkas said.
“Hopecam was founded before Skype and Facetime were invented. Our technology and interactions with schools were immensely important to helping kids who were feeling isolated and depressed,” Forkas noted. “While technology advances have made it easier for kids today to stay connected, Hopecam is committed to helping those who can’t afford those solutions.” Seventy percent of the children Hopecam helps attend “Title One” schools, meaning the majority of students need assistance and are entitled to receive subsidized meals. Half of them receive treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Hopecam now provides tablets with built-in webcams and Internet access, for kids who don’t have them. The nonprofit also liaises with the child’s school to establish a regular connection so he or she can participate in classroom activities and see and talk with their friends.
“This connection is invaluable for the child in recovery, but it is also a lesson for the other children in the class. They learn a lot about empathy and it removes some of the mystery of the illness when their classmate is gone,” Forkas said.
Each year, approximately 15,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer, and more than 40,000 undergo treatment for cancer.
Today, Forkas’ son Matt is a graduate of Stetson University in Florida. He works in the real-estate industry, lives in Arlington, Virginia and is completely cancer free.
Len Forkas is the founder and CEO of Milestone Communications, a wireless tower company based in Reston, Virginia. He is also the founder and chairman of Hopecam, a nonprofit that helps kids undergoing cancer treatment stay connected to their classmates, friends and support networks. In 2014, he authored, “What Spins the Wheel,” a book about the leadership lessons he gained from his Race Across America.