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Athletic Voluntourism: Travel, Compete & Give Back!

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Last week over 190 charities participated in the New York City marathon, raising over $30 million for different causes, but athletic fundraising and voluntourism efforts don’t just happen one day a year. From cycling to cruising, philanthropic correspondent Marcy MacDonald outlines new way to travel and give back.

Despite our troubled economy, voluntourism has continued to grow. Today, ‘giving’ is incorporated into every marathon, from large cities like New York and Boston to small events like the Loch Ness marathon in the United Kingdom.

Whether you have a yen for hiking, biking, running, wheelchair racing or just walking around the deck of a ship, there are now hundreds of ways you can participate, donate and raise funds for a — sometimes tax-deductible — holiday-for-a cause. By Googling your favorite charities and athletic pursuits, a long list of destinations and events can be paired, but here are a few of my favorite ideas.

Cycling for a Cause

Put your cycling muscles to work for charity. Entities from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, St. Judes Children Research Hospital, The Multiple Sclerosis Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, to AIDS Lifecycle host long bike rides.

In many cases, as with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, if you meet the fundraising minimum the charity takes care of all your travel details, from registration to equipment transportation to hotel and airfare expenses.

World Bicycle Relief, which Barron’s has listed among the top ten for effective fundraising, raises money to bring bicycles to different African nations. Instead of just riding in your home town, participant fund raise and ride through Africa. The organization is sponsoring three different nine-day bike tours to educate riders about their causes.

If you’re looking to participate with the people you are raising funds for consider the Lighthouse for the Blind. In New York City and San Francisco, the organization sponsors have cycling events that pair sighted cyclist with vision impaired bikers for tandem bike bike rides and races.

Most events have options that range from 30 to 100 miles, but the Arthritis Foundation’s Amgen California Coast Classic has a grueling 520-mile, eight-day bike tour from San Francisco to Los Angeles each September.

If you’re still looking for a longer ride, the American Lung Association, sponsors locals rides, the Clean Air Challenge in Alaska and the seven-week Big Ride Across America.