Hattiesburg pastor hits road to combat poverty in America

By BETH BUNCH,

It’s just like riding a bike, right?

Kat Spangler Kimmel of Hattiesburg surely hopes so.

Until she recently started training, it had been 7th or 8th grade since the 36-year-old had been on a bike.

Kimmel, co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, is preparing for a ride October 18 and 19 to raise money for Together for Hope, a program of the Cooperative Baptist Foundation. The ride will carry her and other cyclists through what is known as the Cotton Belt of Alabama, one of the most rural poverty areas in the United States.

Together for Hope began as a commitment to the 20 poorest counties in the nation and has expanded during the last 20 or so years with a goal of ending rural poverty and hunger

in 301 counties of persistent rural poverty. These counties fall into 5 geographical categories: the Mississippi River Delta, the Alabama Cotton Belt, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Appalachia and Native Lands. Two of these areas fall with an easy drive of the Pine Belt.

Last year, CBF had its first ever "Civil Ride," raising money for Together for Hope and awareness of racial injustice in the nation. Riders rode from Memphis to Jackson, starting at the National Civil Rights museum at the Lorraine Hotel and ending at the MS Civil Rights Museum. This year, the ride moves across the state line.

The ride begins at the doors of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., progresses through Selma and to the finish line at 16th Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., – a trip of 150 miles in two days.

The goal of the ride is to raise money to help end hunger and rural poverty.

Kimmel has been practicing, so to speak, with a bike a church member loaned her for the race. Very fearful, she said it’s that which is pushing her forward. She’s ridden a solid 40 miles at one time and has made a point to do some hill training. She’s riding about three mornings a week and tries to schedule her longer rides for the weekends.

She explained that she’s never trained for anything before.

“I played soccer in college and was an athlete but never trained for a run or anything,” she said. “I’m believing if I can get 50 miles at once surely I can do 75 in an entire day.”

While she exercises on a regular basis, she’s used to more of an indoor 30-minute fast interval training where she’s done.

“Biking is a big commitment; it takes a long time and is a real challenge,” Kimmel said.

It was just two weeks ago that she found out that the commitment was not 65 miles a day, but 75, which includes the hills in Birmingham.

She’s had one accident and came out unscathed but the church member who was with her was not so lucky. And yes, she does wear a helmet.

This adventure has become a learning experience which is accompanied by some soreness. But the winner in all of this is Kimmel who can eat “anything I want to which is fantastic, and not my norm. I’m enjoying that immensely.”

Her goal between now and the ride is to become a little more confidant on the bike.

She bought a fitness biker rather than a road bike, which she is borrowing for this race.

“Road bikes are not quite as stable as a fitness bike, so I’m a little more nervous,” she said. She’s also a little uneasy about the traffic. Having ridden on the Longleaf Trace where there are no vehicles, she pushed herself out on a traffic-laden road one day recently. And the hills around Birmingham are cause for concern.

Based on her estimates, she’s figuring it should take about five hours to do the 75-mile ride each day, based on the pace they want for the rider. She also keeps reminding herself it’s a ride, not a race. And she knows that there is a SAG (support and gear) vehicle, just in case. But she’s determined to see this through to the end.

About 20 people have signed up to ride so far, including several riders who are making a return appearance after last year’s ride. That gives her hope she can finish.

Hattiesburg’s University Baptist has a connection with BCF.

“Because I’m on the coordinating council for CBF, I wanted to make the ride last year,” she said. Instead she went to the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson and welcomed riders as they came in off the road.

“I see this as a good opportunity to raise money for Together for Hope and to help hunger, and to help relieve some rural poverty,” Kimmel said. “I know we won’t do it all with this ride, but I think both of these groups are doing some really good and important work, so I want to support that.”

Kimmel sees the ride as a good way to “help spread the word, to help people know what they are doing, to remember and to pay attention to our past and we can be more aware, intentional and loving in our present and future. I think it’s a beautiful thing they are doing and good for me.

“You know sometimes when you put your ideas together with your body it’s a little more powerful and so all of that sort of combined made me think that this is something I need to be doing.”

There will be stops along the way where there will be volunteers providing water, a pat on the back or cheers of support and then there are several stops which are really intentional and will explain to the cyclists what happened along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Montgomery, from the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, which cyclists will cross, to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. This historical church recently had memorial service for the 56th anniversary of its bombing, which killed four young girls – Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins.

The closing celebration will be held here as will the kickoff to CBF Alabama’s annual meeting.

To take part in the ride there is an $850 fee and Kimmel had to pay $100 to enter. She is still looking for sponsors to help her fulfill or exceed this goal. With still a few weeks to go, she’s hoping to raise aboveand beyond the goal. She also hopes her story helps get people to thinking. Those wishing to help her with her ride can visit civilrides.com, hit the Help the Rides tab at the top and then the Sponsor a Rider tab.

And if you’d like to do more, hop in your car and head to Alabama to be at one of the stops or the finish line to cheer her and other riders on.

“Support, encouragement, love and support of one another, that’s what community is about,” she said.

She also believes this a really neat way to pique people’s interest, raise their awareness, and to support the work of these groups. And because they are committed, Kimmel is committed to what’s ahead of her.

“It will be fun. I feel good about it,” she said.