Lapping up organ donors at Aspen’s Summit for Life |

Lapping up organ donors at Aspen’s Summit for Life

ASPEN ” At this time last week, Aspen residents Wendle Whiting and Nick Graber were going up and down in their fight for organ donation.

The duo spent 8 1/2 hours doing 16 laps on the Silver Queen Gondola to raise money for last Saturday’s Summit for Life, which benefited the Chris Klug Foundation. They raised $674 toward the cause.

“It’s something fun to do without doing the actual race,” Whiting said Saturday afternoon from gondola car No. 80, which happened to be how many miles the duo logged on the ride. “I just wouldn’t be able to walk up the hill, and it wouldn’t be too much fun.”

Whiting was referring to Saturday night’s uphill race, in which 300 people hiked 2 1/2 miles up Aspen Mountain ” a 3,200-foot vertical climb.

Klug said the event raised $50,000, about $15,000 more than last year’s race. The first event, held in 2006, raised $20,000.

Each year the event becomes more popular and successful. Saturday’s festivities attracted a total of 450 people, which included 150 partiers at the Sundeck, Klug said.

Saturday’s race, formally known as Storm the Stars, was the third annual as the Summit for Life. Last year, 230 hikers participated.

The cost to climb was $40 per person, and racers also were asked to raise at least $160 in pledges.

“Pledges have really taken off this year,” Klug said. “They are coming in from all over the country; from $5 to $500, and almost every state is represented.

Organizers this week said money is still coming in.

The nonprofit organization was founded by Klug, who is the first ever transplant recipient to win an Olympic medal. Klug speaks around the country on donor issues, promoting awareness for organ and tissue donation.

Klug was on the waiting list for a liver transplant for about six years. He said 2,000 people in Colorado and 100,000 nationally are waiting for an organ transplant.

“The need is increasing and is not going away,” Klug said.

The Summit for Life is the major fundraising event for the foundation. The proceeds go toward hosting events around the country to raise awareness and encouraging people to become donors.

Whiting and Graber were able to convince four people to become donors during their 18-minute rides on the gondola. They had the registration cards in hand and had riders fill them out on the spot. Most riders already were donors but that’s not the case everywhere.

“It’s just a stupid problem,” Whiting said. “We shouldn’t have a waiting list.”

Besides not having to make the grueling climb, the other motivations for the pair were both personal and quirky. Graber’s uncle has someone else’s kidney and Whiting likes to participate in “random acts of weirdness.”

“It’s a good reason to wear bad sweaters,” he said, donning quite a bad one in the gondola. They also had three boxes of Franzia wine to offer their guests.

Klug said the pair’s efforts are exactly what the mission of the foundation is all about.

“That’s really in the spirit of the event, to raise awareness,” he said. “They talked to people about organ and tissue donation, and hopefully those people will go back to their family and friends and talk about it.”

Klug is on the board of the American Transplant Foundation, which helped launch the fundraising event in Aspen.

Based in Denver, the foundation was formed four years ago to coordinate collaborative efforts between various organ donor groups.

The Chris Klug Foundation’s overhead is relatively low. Last year, the foundation hired a part-time executive director at $20,000 a year. Klug, as president of the nonprofit organization, draws no salary.

He said he would like to take the executive director position to full-time next year.

Whiting rode the gondola two years ago for the first annual event, raising $1,100. He and his partner came in third in fundraising.

That’s because his partner comes from a wealthy family and her relatives rose to the occasion.

“They tried to out ‘philanthropize’ each other,” Whiting joked.

The Chris Klug Foundation also raises money through private donations.

According to the foundation’s 2007’s IRS tax return, the nonprofit organization raised $50,680 in revenue and spent $22,076.

For more information, log onto the foundation website at


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