Knights in White Lycra: Staying Fit While Helping Children in Need

Some years back, a group of British friends were sitting in a pub in Japan, wondering what they could to do to stay healthy. They had two options: either give up beer altogether or embark on a rigorous training and exercise program. Since the former sounded like utter madness, they went with the much more appealing option of just biking hundreds of miles up north. That way, they reckoned, they could stay fit while also helping raise money for the victims of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. And just like that the Knights in White Lycra (KIWL) were born.

Robert Williams, one of the founders of KIWL

So What Exactly Do the Knights in White Lycra Do?

Today, KIWL is an amateur sporting organization that fundraises for abused and handicapped children all around Japan. Even though they call themselves “knights,” they are made up of both men and women, but they stick with the name because “knightesses” is kind of a cumbersome word. Since 2013, they have raised more than ¥44-million through their sponsored long-distance bike rides, walks, marathon running, golf and futsal tournaments, and more leisurely pub quizzes!

One of the most important things about the organization is that they are not interested in international charities. Instead, they like to focus on grassroots NPOs in Japan, raising roughly ¥10-million a year for them. And because the charities they’re dealing with operate on smaller, local scales, they have very little overhead and so don’t have to divert much of the donated funds to administrative costs. That way, all the money goes to children who really need it while the Knights in White Lycra stay in shape – and the companies that sponsor their cycling jerseys, along with some participating employees, associate with the positive CSR message of “getting fit and giving back.” It’s a win-win-win situation for everyone involved.

During their first ride in 2013, they cycled more than 300km to Minamisoma to raise money for essential food and water for victims of the Tohoku quake living in temporary accommodation. A year after that, they rode for more than 500km to Minamisanriku to help fund a vegetable processing unit. In all their years on the road, only one person ever failed to complete the ride, but it was due to an accidental broken collarbone and not being physically unprepared for the journey. After all, the Knights give you plenty of time to get in shape. That’s why they hold their recruitment drive in November and set out on the ride the following May or June. That gives all participants plenty of time to train and train hard because KIWL emphasize that the rides aren’t four-day bike holidays. They are charity events first aimed at changing the lives of disadvantaged children.

The Knights in action

2018’s Charity Ride

This year, for their sixth annual 500km cycle ride from Nikko to Ichinoseki, which is scheduled for June 14 to 17, they have 40 male and female participants from nine countries ranging in age from 25 to 63. They are working with two charities: Mirai no Mori, which organizes outdoor programs for “abused, neglected, and orphaned youths in Japan,” and NPO Esperanza, who provide soccer schools for children with cerebral palsy.

Their main goal is to introduce “Frame Football” to Japan for the first time, allowing children with more severe CP to enjoy one of the most popular sports on Earth using custom-built frames. The devices cost about ¥100,000 per frame and KIWL hopes to buy 10 of them. They also want to bring in an expert from the UK, who will teach the kids how to properly use the frames.

But Knights in White Lycra don’t want to be known as a solely cycling organization. And to prove it, they’ve also organized walking and jogging events, golf days, futsal tournaments, ultra and half marathons, and even fun pub quizzes. Because they believe it’s important to train both your mind and your body and to have something for everyone to “get fit and give back.”

If you’d like to donate to the charities mentioned above, or get involved in some of KIWL’s upcoming events, visit www.kiwl.net

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