On October 5 and 6, while the triathlon world cast its eyes toward the Pacific Ocean’s Hawaiian Island chain and the Hawaii Ironman World Championship on October 8, a smaller island in the Atlantic was receiving the biggest walloping in nearly a century.
Massive Hurricane Matthew gained steam (with wind speeds of up to 110 miles per hour, hooked a right, headed north and tore a wide swath of destruction across the Carribean Islands on its way to America’s eastern seaboard. In that path, Nassau took the brunt of the hurricane—a category 3 storm—on the head. Roads were flooded due to storm surge. Trees were downed, with fronds ripped away from palms leaving them bare, power lines downed and homes left without power or water. Other trees were left in a state of frozen catatonia, bowed away from a wind that now longer tears at it.
Nearly a month later, piles of foliage, siding, branches lay in piles, pushed there like winter snow in an effort to simply clear the roads for access. And many of those Kona pros, along with several Olympians and 70.3 champions, descended on Nassau to race the second-annual Island House Triathlon. Yes, there would be a race—normalcy is setting in—but the community still reels.
Chris Lieto was already headed to Nassau with his growing nonprofit, More than Sport, but suddenly had a more urgent activation: provide clean water to those who were unable to get it due to the hurricane.
It was a somewhat unfortunate chance for LAVA to see More than Sport in action. The easy part was enabling; More than Sport would provided 50 kids bikes, bringing cycling to a collection of youth that may not have had the opportunity. The more direct impact action item was solving for a dire need: water.
We sat with Lieto to talk about More than Sport in Nassau to talk about its partnership with the Island House Triathlon, and its activation today in donating 50 bikes to kids at a local school, as well as delivering 50 clean water filtration systems to locals in need. With that, names including Sebastian Kienle, Andreas Drietz, Cameron Dye, Tim Reed, Leanda Cave, Leon Griffen, Tim Don, Flora Duffy, Richard Murray and Sarah Groff were out on the Island House deck, adjustable wrenches spinning, building Spiderman and Frozen-themed kids bikes. Helle Frederickesen? She built three bikes. It was an all-star cast of bike mechanics.
LAVA: We’ve seen you at different events, whether it was 70.3 Panama years ago to build houses, or helping needy families on the ground in your hometown of Kona. What was the impetus, especially when you were racing pro in its early years, to start More than Sport?
Chris Lieto: The purpose was to create a platform or network to support athletes with the charities they care about. And it came from my racing days. I tried to create an impact, but it created a lot of stress. It inhibited my training, but I still wanted to do it, and it was really just that: I wanted a reason to race that was above my own desire to race. After I retired, I wanted to be provide this as a service to other athletes. They don’t often realize the voice they have.
We’ve impacted 6 of 7 continents in just the last year. Since we started, we’ve impacted half a million lives in total, servicing through five key sources: food, water, shelter, education, medical. That gives is opportunity to do a lot… but keeps us focused on those five.
LAVA: How did More than Sport’s partnership with Island House start this year?
Lieto: (Race director) Luke (McKenzie) approached me mid-year. He’s been an ambassador and active with us. I said we’d love to work with you and Island House, and I asked if there was anything in particular he wanted to give to. And in a show of his character, he said ‘let’s just find something in the community in need.’
LAVA: Why are the pros such a vital part of your message?
Lieto: The More than Sport mantra is to inspire and transform lives. Of course, that means the lives of the people we’re affecting, kids and adults where we serve. But we also aim to affect the lives of the athletes and fans participating in whatever project we’re serving.
Here in Nassau, we wanted to engage 40 amazing pro athletes and 10 CEO’s in the race to not only have an experience in a unique event in an amazing part of the world, but also to give them an opportunity to serve the community and give back.
LAVA: The bike builds have been a cornerstone of the cause.
Lieto: Yeah, it has. It’s tangible is build a bike for a child, to teach them how to ride, to just spend a few minutes and change someone’s life. I mean, all of us have had that moment of learning to ride, and it’s transformative. Luke has seen that in Kona, and it’s an easy way to engage athletes here for the event. It takes 15-20 min to build a bike, a few minutes of time with a kid, and you can change a life.
So we’re going to the local elementary school and gift the bike to a child, and having each athlete connect with the kid, teaching them how to ride. We did a contest to win a trip here, and Jen donated enough funds for to provide the bikes for this. And the Island House is working with the school to provide a shed for the bikes on site, so the bikes have a long life and can be passed along to other kids, along with implementation of a physical education program. It’s a longer-term investment.
LAVA: The bike project still goes forward… and that was the sole initial plan.
Lieto: Yeah, that was the initial plan. But when Hurricane Matthew hit, and we saw the news of water shortages, power outages, we asked, ‘how can we give to the current needs in this crisis? And that came with water filters. We brought 50 water filters in with the 50 bikes. And the filters, they last a lifetime, providing 10-12 gallons of fresh water a day. And you wouldn’t believe it, you can run the muddiest water through it and pure clear water drinkable water with 99.999 purity comes out. They last a lifetime; it’s clean water for life.
And because of the hurricane, I’ve had a bunch of athletes expressed interest in donating a portion of their prize winnings, regardless how they finish. They’re actually committing now, not knowing what they’ll win. And I know how it can be at some races, it’s easy to shut down if you’re content. But if they’re race for something greater than themselves, they might go harder. If they do better, they’ll give more money. It’s my hope that it will inspire them, that it will be noticeable in their racing.
LAVA: You must get a kick out of seeing these guys taking a knee to deliver a bike to a kid, to see that moment register. Or to get a group together to do something as impactful as building a home in a third-world country.
Lieto: When I was doing it on my own, it was fun to see it happen. But today, it’s amazing to see today so many different athletes doing stuff with More than Sport from surgers to cyclists to runners USA women soccer players, Surfers like Shane Dorian and Sunny Garcia, rally driver Tanner Foust, cyclists Ted King and Ben King, and all these triathletes like Jan Frodeno, Crowie, Linsey, Luke, these guys have been so giving.
On November 4th through 7th, we’re doing a build in Ensenada, Mexico. It’s gonna be cool because we’re gonna get 25 athletes coming from all different sports, to do one initiative; Olympic runners, cyclists, gymnasts, triathletes, soccer players. We’ve never done it, so I’m really looking forward to that one.
And I’m stoked to see Luke, he’s gotten it, what we’re about. He’s always engaged and active with our initiatives. It’s funny; the pros often think that to have to do charity means you have to raise money. But they don’t have to do that at all. They have the ability though their voice to inspire change and transform the DNA of sport. Their fanbases engage, and it all works.
It’s been fun. Even backdating to 2010, when we did our first home build in Panama. The day after the race, we had 40 athletes and brand folks that woke up at 5:30 in the morning, super sore from having raced, and we went into the Darién Gap, deep into the jungle. We were gonna have to take rafts, the military heard about what we were doing, and flew us in. It was amazing.
We built for three days. To this day, folks say it was the most impactful thing they’d ever done. The race was awesome, and we never want to take away from a race, but it’s a compliment. It’s like what we’re doing with Island House. The event is amazing, the accommodations are phenomenal, the island and course uniqueness of the terrain is so unique and the impact event we engage on…it’s just another thing that will help make it the best event of the year, and to what makes it memorable.
LAVA: Your home of Kona, too, always seems to be a gold mine, of pros and age groupers all pitching in to build bikes and otherwise contribute.
Lieto: In previous years, we’d have good participation. But this year, we had so many that wanted to help, we literally had more than enough volunteers. And brands… that’s been huge; brands that do a licensing partnership and donate a portion of their sales towards an impact. For example, CeramicSpeed has a special blue OPWS that, when purchased, pays for a stove for a family in Central America. Bonk Breaker, Drink Maple, Zwift, Everyman Jack, Ventum, they all have amazing partnerships with us.
And we have opportunities to buy shirts where you choose what impact you want to contribute to: food and water, shelter, education. And you get to see what the impact is.