Venti Questions: Mike Rowe, 11th Hour Racing

As a syndicate for philanthropic entrepreneurs, movers, shakers & changemakers, Volatile continues “Venti Questions” to highlight those in the community that are making waves & getting work done. Mike Rowe, Founder of 11th Hour Racing and former Trauma Technician of nine years at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Emergency Department, graciously accepted our invitation to share his version of philanthropy.

1. What does philanthropy mean to you?

Philanthropy is to be filled with benevolence and goodwill, promoting the welfare of others, and often the needs of others are placed before our own. In this sense philanthropy and altruism many times are inextricably intertwined. Just as important as giving money and other tangible goods, is giving time and effort.

2. What inspired you to make a difference?

While working in Jefferson’s Emergency Department, I took care of a 35-year-old Spanish women with stage four breast cancer who frequently came in, was admitted to the ICU, and weeks or months later would return to the Emergency Department. Though she had every reason to be upset and angry, she focused her attention on making the staff laugh, and was concerned more with the long hours the staff worked than her own pain and suffering. She was a remarkable woman the staff fell in love with.

Late into an evening shift one of her brothers in his late early thirties was standing outside of her room with tears streaming down his face. Her brothers were very pleasant, but typically stoic, so this quickly caught my attention. I took her brother to the family room, and asked him what happened. He looked up with tears streaming down his face, and the pain in his eyes I’ll never forget, and his response is what started 11th Hour Racing.

“Mike I know Angela (alias) doesn’t have long; I’ve already made peace with this. But she can’t breathe, and I listen to her at home struggling for each breath, and we can’t afford the oxygen or medicine she needs…I’d give anything to help her, and it’s killing me having to just watch Angela like this.”

This conversation with Angela’s brother in the Emergency Department stuck with me, and I can still picture his tears from exasperation, and feel the pain I did that evening. Situations like Angela’s play out all the time, but this time it shook me, and I was convinced I could do something about it.

3. Do you feel a personal responsibility to help others?

So much as I have the capability to help ease a person’s suffering, I have a responsibility to act. All of us, myself included have been guilty of inaction in scenarios where we could have made a difference in a person’s life. As 11th Hour Racing has grown, and we now sponsor families every month who count on our organization to provide their rent, food, utilities, etc.; there is tremendous responsibility.

“Whatever the dangers of action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater.”
-Tony Blair

4. What is the source of your passion?

Working in a busy Emergency Department provides examples everyday of cancer’s burden, but it’s the late night or early morning phone calls I get from oncology social workers or patients who have run out of options, and are facing eviction, utility shutoff, or have no money for food, fueling my passion for 11th Hour Racing. Almost every family 11th Hour supports I meet with in the beginning, and subsequently form close bonds with. After getting to know them, and their hopes and fears, their children’s names, and other intimate details of their lives; my work takes on a very personal meaning.

5. What impact would you like to make in the community?

My goal for 11th Hour Racing is creating a scalable and sustainable organization whose impact on the lives of people fighting cancer and their families exists long after I am gone.

6. How long have you been doing this?

I’ve been in the medical field for over ten years, and founded 11th Hour Racing almost three years ago.

7. Is there/what is the ripple effect?

One of the aspects of 11th Hour Racing I love is the win-win relationship it creates in a number of areas. Many of the people with cancer we’ve helped and their families give back tenfold after they are in remission; some even while going through treatment.

Leo Hernandez was one of first patients 11th Hour Racing formed a relationship with. At the time Leo was 19 years old, diagnosed with stage four lymphoma, and given a very grim prognosis. When I first met Leo and his family he was on the oncology unit at Jefferson, and the first thing he said to me was “Mike when I get out of here, I’m going to run with 11th Hour Racing, and help other people with cancer”. A year later he made good on his promise after going into remission, and inspiring thousands as he ran and finished the Love Half Marathon with our team. An article was written about his story shortly after he finished the race. Many of our runners are cancer survivors or those currently in treatment who inspire the entire team, and the community around them, and end up being cancer patient advocates themselves.

Another type of ripple effect stems from our business model, and the way we approach partnerships; which is similar in nature to how a for-profit organization manages partnerships/sponsors. 11th Hour Racing invests a significant amount of time and effort into supporting our corporate partners which potentiates a greater return for them, and ultimately increased and sustainable support for 11th Hour. Our return on investment is tremendous, and reciprocally helps support local businesses.

Join the Race against cancer – Register for the Unite Half Marathon!

8. What are your goals and values?

My short term goals are always changing, and this allows me to stay focused on more long term goals both for my family and 11th Hour Racing. Overall my goal is to continually grow as a husband, father, and a leader. No matter what position you find yourself in, you’re either improving or taking away from the people around you. I hope my family and people in the community are better off because of my work and dedication. Values I aspire to are discipline, integrity, compassion, faith, perseverance, and courage.

9. How do your goals and values reflect what you are doing to give back and make a difference?

Knowing one day I am going to die puts into perspective the limited time I have to improve the lives around me in my roles as a husband, father, and leader. To be successful in these roles, and achieving my goals I must work hard every day to exude these values, and readily admit when I have failed.

10. What exactly is your end goal and how do you plan on accomplishing this?

My end goal is creating a paradigm change where support for oncology patients is reimagined, with care primarily being subsidized by the private sector; this allowing sustainable support systems to be created, and without the miles of “red tape” inherent to most non-private subsidy.

11. If someone would like to contribute a donation or lend a hand in this process, how can they do so?

The need is great so any runner, non-runner, someone who thinks they want to be a runner is encouraged to come out. Most of 11th Hour Racing’s funding comes from online donations and corporate partnerships. We have an online donation page were tax-deductions can be made, 11th Hour’s Facebook page provides the most current runs, events, and info or people can email us or check out our website or other social media accounts.

One of the best ways a person can get involved is by taking what they are already passionate about or experienced in, and plug this into our mission. We have used or could use any type of background ranging from laborers, web designers, social media experts and accountants to attorneys and administrators.


12. Are you involved in any community partnerships or collaborations?

We have several corporate partners, and organizations we’ve worked with successfully. These collaborations are at the heart of our success. Recently 11th Hour Racing was named Wells Fargo’s newest community corporate partner in Philadelphia. We held an event similar to “Extreme Home Makeover” where volunteers from 11th Hour Racing, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, and 22 volunteers from Wells Fargo repaired the home of a gentleman in South Philadelphia with metastatic cancer. The patient was very grateful, and the group from Wells Fargo was an amazing group to work with.

Jefferson staying true to its commitment to their patients in the community created a fund for 11th Hour Racing called the 11th Hour Fund. We also have a close relationship with the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center social workers who help find patients for 11th Hour Racing with the greatest financial need. Staff and administration throughout Jefferson and SKCC have worked tirelessly in working with 11th Hour to support oncology patients in Philadelphia. I cannot say enough good things about Jefferson and SKCC. 11th Hour Racing also partners with some other wonderful organizations including CGI Racing, Phila Massages, CoreFitness, Philadelphia Runner, the Second Street Irish Society, and others.

I’ve also been fortunate to work with David Caldarella and David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation. David is an inspiring man I consider a good friend, and the epitome of altruism. There is one more person I want to specifically mention from Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center whose friendship, support, insight and mentorship have been integral to 11th Hour Racing’s ability to help so many people. Greg Garber is the director of social services at SKCC, and a genuinely compassionate cancer patient advocate, and talented administrator.

13. How do your collaborations coincide with your end goal?

11th Hour Racing’s relationships with other organizations has enabled us to grow quickly, and has given us the ability to offer tremendous support to patients and runners alike. Our partners are carefully chosen, and I would personally recommend anyone one of them to my family.

I also work with a tremendous group of volunteers, and have a very talented and passionate leadership team. With the team we have now I am confident the sky is the limit, and the surface has only been scratched regarding the organization’s potential.

14. Why do you believe what you’re doing is unique, in comparison to anyone else?

What I’m doing is not unique so much as the way 11th Hour Racing is solving a chronic problem reflective of a systemic failure to support and protect some of the sickest in our population. 11th Hour Racing supports people with cancer directly, we work with those in the medical field who know their needs very well, when notified of a serious need such as an impending eviction, no food, utility shutoff, etc., 11th Hour can offer assistance and aid in less than 24 hours, partnerships are approached differently with a long term relationship in mind rather than a onetime donation, and through these partnerships 11th Hour Racing has the agility of a grass roots organization, but also the leverage of larger organizations.

15. Do you have any advice for those who want to get involved?

We have a great group of runners, volunteers, and supporters; so email us about any opportunities or simply show up at any event or run. Don’t be afraid to start running, as many of our runners started out walking. Last year our team for the Love Half Marathon included several runners who several months prior had never even run a 5K, and were not previously active. I will warn those wanting to get involved though; running, seeing every week the lives you’ve impacted, and the comradery are addicting. It will likely change your life as much as it does those you’re supporting.

16. How do you encourage volunteerism?

Respecting their time and effort, and keeping them up to date about patients we’re supporting. Most volunteers go above and beyond what is asked, and it can be really inspiring to see an obstacle galvanize a group of volunteers as they work together to solve the problem.

17. How do you think we can motivate our youth to get involved?

Get them away from the TV, and give them ownership of something they care about. Teach youth, failure is a part of life, sometimes a necessary part of life, and what’s done after the failure separates those who impact the world around them, and those who merely survive. Some of the best lessons I’ve learned stemmed from failure, sometimes very public failure.

18. What would you like to pass on to future generations?

Whatever you aspire to; start taking steps now. There will never be a perfect or ideal time to chase your dream or make change. It won’t always be easy, and there will be times especially in the beginning where it’s downright lonely, and things might seem impossible, but you must have conviction in your “why.” 11th Hour Racing is something I think about constantly, and it took me a while in the beginning to understand most people will not automatically jump on board, but it was my job to articulate my vision to others.

19. What inspires you to keep paying it forward?

Seeing the positive impact in the lives of people involved with 11th Hour Racing. I wouldn’t trade anything for the relationships I have with the volunteers, athletes, management team, or our corporate partners. Seeing the relief of someone fighting cancer after a heavy burden such as an eviction is lifted, or a new runner crossing the finish line of a race previously thought insurmountable is incredible.

20. Is there a specific uplifting quote that best exemplifies what you stand for?

“…who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 
-Theodore Roosevelt

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