Local Entreprenuer Spearheads Racing for Charity
First, he created the Citizens Bank Pell Bridge Run. Then, he started the 4 Bridges Ride. Newport native Matthew Gray’s gray matter always seems to be working on the next big race – and local charities reap big rewards.
The 4 Bridges Ride, a 26-mile bicycle ride across all four bridges connecting Aquidneck and Conanicut islands to the mainland, is returning for a second tour on Sunday, Sept. 21.
The ride starts in North Kingstown at 7 a.m. “We’re up and over the Newport Bridge by 8 a.m.,” said Gray, president of Gray Matter Marketing. The entrepreneur coordinated the event with the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA).
“This is not for novice cyclists; it’s a long and hilly course,” he said. The route runs over the Jamestown and Newport Pell bridges. After traveling through Newport, riders bike over and back across the Sakonnet River Bridge in Portsmouth. The finish line ends on the Bristol side of the Mount Hope Bridge, and transportation is provided back to North Kingston following the race. Gray noted that the course takes an average of one to two hours to complete.
The race expects to draw between 1,200 and 1,500 riders, nearly double the 750 who participated last year. Gray said more than 200 bicyclists have already signed up. The early online registration fee of $55 is good through Sept. 16; riders registering after that will pay $65 to participate.
Proceeds from the event will be donated to local and national charities. Last year, a $10,000 donation was given to the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC). The organization was chosen for its efforts to enhance the biking experience in Newport County. One of AIPC’s long-term goals is to expand the bike path along the waterfront to the Sakonnet River Bridge and to provide safer biking along roadways.
“There’s nowhere to bike without traffic,” Gray observed; Newport County has no bike paths, only bikeways. Gray, who is also a member of the Residents for Economic Vitality (REV) group, said REV’s goals are similar to his work involving RITBA, adding, “We’re trying to find a balance between business development and improving the quality of life.”
Gray Matter Marketing has worked with RITBA in the past, creating the Citizens Bank Pell Bridge Run, a four-mile race over the Newport Bridge, in 2011. In its inaugural year almost 2,000 runners and walkers crossed the span, and last fall the race raised over $18,000. The Citizens Bank Pell Bridge Run is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 26.
RITBA and Gray designed the 4 Bridges Ride to offer cyclists a one-of-a-kind course, promote the bridges, and collect money for charity. Partnering with Gray, whose business uses the Internet for marketing, means utilizing social media to cultivate support.
“Events are perfect for social media; it’s the only way we market them,” Gray said. Sites like Facebook and Twitter create a conversation and publicize the races. Equally important, he adds, is that “After each event, we can gauge people’s reactions, see what worked and what needs improvement, and work with participants to make it better the next year.”
All proceeds from this year’s 4 Bridges Ride and the Citizens Bank Pell Bridge Run will be divided among 13 charities: Rogers High School Boosters Club, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Women’s Resource Center, Jamestown Community Theatre, Jamestown Cal Ripken Little League, Aquidneck Island Planning Commission, Meeting Street, Payton’s Pace, Sail to Prevail, American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, Pulmonary Hypertension Association, Samaritans of Rhode Island, and the Special Olympics of Rhode Island.
Gray also partnered with the Fort Adams Trust to develop the Newport Ten Miler, a race that starts and finishes at Fort Adams State Park, to benefit the historic fort. In its second outing in April, the popular Ten Miler added a 5K component for less experienced runners.
New this year is the Craft Beer Race, a 5K traveling road race, hitting Portland, Maine; Stowe, Vt.; Providence; New Haven, Conn.; Waterville Valley, N.H.; and Cape Cod, Mass. Each post-race craft brew festival showcases at least 20 area breweries, and the sites have local charitable partners that receive donations from the proceeds.
Gray is enthusiastic about all the races but downplays his role in their success. “These events allow us to give back to the community and have fun,” he said.
Following the July 20 Craft Brew Race held in Providence, Gray Matter Marketing made a $6,000 donation to the Rhode Island Brewers Guild. Nearly 1,500 runners participated in the race, which was followed by a local craft beer festival. “These brew fests allow us to present our beers, hand crafted here in Rhode Island, to those in attendance. It is a great outlet for us to demonstrate all we have to offer, both as individual breweries and collectively as the Brewers Guild here in Rhode Island,” said Jennifer Brinton, Owner of Grey Sail Brewing of Rhode Island, and board member for the RIBG.
Rhode Island based breweries include Coastal Extreme Brewing Co., Coddington Brewing, The Bucket Brewery, Crooked Current, Foolproof Brewing Co., Grey Sail Brewing of R.I., Proclamation Ale Co., Ravenous Brewing Co., Whalers Brewing Co., and brewpubs Brutopia, Trinity Brewhouse, and Union Station Brewery. (Photo by Jonathan Clancy)