Alumni Takes on Epic Challenge to Raise Money for Cancer Research
You’ve probably had friends who’ve participated in charity runs or bike rides, or maybe you’ve completed one yourself to raise money for a cause close to your heart. Well, Chewonki alumnus Christian Melbostad (Boys Camp ‘91 & ‘92, Camp Staff ‘96-’99, ‘01) is taking the idea of charity athletic events and running with it… or cycling, to be exact. Today he’s more than half-way through a cross-country bike ride to raise money for cancer research, and the effort has already generated over $100,000 in donations.
Big problems need big answers, and Melbostad has never been one to shy away from a challenge. As a Camp Chewonki camper, he recalls exhausting his camp leaders with his unending energy and ceaseless questions; “I was always asking “Why? Why? Why?” he laughs, later recalling running into the same cabin leader as an adult, to whom he apologized. Later, he funneled his insatiable curiosity into an engineering career, and, upon graduation, the soon-to-be-famous SpaceX scooped him up. Although it’s a household name today, SpaceX was just a startup at the time, creating a brand new market niche. Melbostad became a mission manager, helping nervous clients navigate the fine line of feasibility for getting something into space.
“I’ve always loved problem-solving and building things,” says Melbostad. But, after a number of years at SpaceX, he decided to step away from the company’s tremendous intensity–first to southern Appalachia, and then to Oregon. He started cycling more (as an engineer, he has a particular interest in well-made cycling gear), and his wife introduced him to Team in Training, an arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that trains people to raise money for charity through running, biking and other athletic events (tagline: Beating Cancer is a Team Sport). Soon, the two began raising money for cancer research, and, over time, a sense of shared purpose and community with other athletes has become a driving force in his life.
Like so many things, Covid-19 altered the trajectory of Melbostad’s fundraising efforts in 2020. With infection rates exploding all over the country, many charities canceled races or made them virtual, inviting people to participate from home. The days of traveling to small towns with dozens of athletes to raise money were over, or at least on pause. Around this time, Melbostad’s friend, Sally, suggested they plan their own charity ride, specifically a 3,100 mile bike ride in 35 days to generate awareness of and donations for blood cancer research. Melbostad was in, of course. Soon he and three other women were working through a rigorous schedule of training rides and finding sponsors. They left Washington state on July 25th, followed by a custom camper van covered with decals promoting their efforts.
Although Melbostad has ample internal drive, he says he’s most energized when collaborating with others–an attribute that developed during the many summers spent at Chewonki. “There’s a tremendous emphasis on community. You live in a cabin and share resources with one another. There’s something about tackling a challenge with others that creates a lasting and meaningful experience.” Perhaps it’s the ability to reach beyond what’s possible alone?
Melbostad’s community-oriented outlook gives him a tangible sense of confidence, as well. Before leaving, people often asked if he was nervous about the trip. “Nope, not at all,” was always his response. “We are a group who made time to develop trust and together we’ll face what happens. Good, bad, and unexpected things will occur, but it will be with three, awesome women whom I trust, no matter the circumstances.”