By JOHN O'CONNELL
On the eve of an Ironman triathlon, Brady Murray eats two baked potatoes, finding the carbohydrates convert to usable energy faster than pasta or any other food staples among endurance athletes.
Murray also carries a couple boiled Russets for a quick boost during the biking and running portions of his 140.6 mile races.
Based largely on Murray's preferred fuel, the Idaho Potato Commission donated $50,000 toward the organization he founded, RODS Racing. Its members solicit donations for triathlon mileage to help families adopt orphans with Down Syndrome from developing nations.
As the major RODS Racing sponsor, IPC's logo is prominently featured on the jerseys of Murray's 51 athletes from throughout the U.S. and England, who must each compete in at least one triathlon per year and raise a minimum of $1,000. IPC is also promoted on the RODS Racing website, rodsracing.org. With triathlon season starting in May, Murray expects Idaho spuds will enjoy further exposure in media spots about his racers.
"If it's prepared the right way, the reality is the potato in its purest form is one of the most healthy ways you can fuel the body, whether you're an endurance athlete or not," Murray said.
In its first 16 months, RODS Racing has raised $180,000 toward adoption fees and helped six orphans find homes -- two of whom were adopted with IPC funding.
"There are many families who are ready and willing to adopt these children. The challenge they face is they don't have the money to do so," said Murray, a former Meridian, Idaho, resident who recently moved to Alpine, Utah.
In 2007, Murray's second child, Nash, was born with Down Syndrome, which is the most common chromosome abnormality in humans and is associated with both cognitive and physical delays. Murray's family later learned from friends of the dire situation children with the disorder face in developing countries.
"In almost every situation in a developing country, children born with Down Syndrome are placed in an orphanage and stay the first four to five years of their life. At age 5-6, they're transferred to an adult mental institution. It's common in the first couple of years they pass away due to stress and malnourishment," Murray explained. "It struck me to the core."
Jamie Lentz, of Cincinnati, first heard about the problem on an adoption blog. Though they already had three biological children, she and her husband adopted Eli, a 6-year-old Lithuanian orphan with Down Syndrome, about six months ago. RODS Racing contributed $20,000 toward the $35,000 adoption fee.
They're now tapping retirement funds and doing their own fundraising to adopt two Bulgarian orphans with Down Syndrome, including a malnourished 6-year-old who weighs just 15 pounds.
"It breaks your heart because all they want is a family," Lentz said.
IPC officials say they receive requests for charitable donations on nearly a daily basis and can fund only a select few. They'll evaluate the exposure from RODS Racing before determining if they'll continue the relationship for another year but believe the organization is a good cause and an ideal fit with their efforts to promote potatoes in a healthy lifestyle.
"Our nutrition message is going to get a bang," IPC Commissioner Jim Tiede said.