At 23, Ryan Dungey is already among the most successful motocross racers of all time.
Dungey is a two-time AMA Motocross national champion in the 450 class and a champion in the 250 class. He is also an AMA 450 Class Supercross champion (2009) and an AMA Supercross Lites champion.
Dungey's prized possession is not one of his many trophies, ribbons or medals. It has little to do with his on-track success. Dungey's beloved accomplishment is the creation of his charity bike ride, the MN Major, which will take place for the second time July 28, starting in Hastings, Minn.
"Since I was about 15 years old, when I became a professional, I always wanted to be part of giving back," Dungey says. "I wanted to do more than just the sport."
In March 2012, Dungey began to brainstorm ideas for a successful philanthropic model. The pieces fell into place for a charity bike ride in Dungey's home stay of Minnesota.
All donations and registration fees benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a leader in the fight to finding cures to various diseases such as cancer. Dungey, who has visited the hospital, feels a special connection to the hospital's motive.
"One thing that inspired it was my grandmother," he says. "She had battled cancer twice, once when I was very young, which I don't remember much, and again when I was 10. She fought that for about five years. She passed away from liver cancer and that was tough. She was a big inspiration on my life. How I saw it affect her life and the struggles she went through and the chemo and everything, it was a pretty powerful experience. Being helpless and not being able to do anything was tough, but the one thing I could do is help and raise money for cancer research."
By the time Dungey and others involved with the first MN Major solidified the event in 2012, he had just six weeks to scramble for donations and riders. Despite the lack of time, Dungey and those involved were able to get about 300 riders for the event, which offered rides of 62 miles and 25 miles. The inaugural MN Major raised a little over $20,000.
In 2013, the event has a different feeling. The excitement of producing a new event is gone, but the anticipation of a more successful MN Major is boiling. With a year to plan and raise money for the event, expectations are raised a notch.
According to Dungey, as of last week, more $30,000 has been raised and the total number of riders is growing. Dungey also vows to match the donation total up to $50,000.
In an age when young athletes are making names for themselves for the wrong reasons, whether it is a murder charge or PED allegations, Dungey's stresses involve a philanthropy event. He does not take his life status for granted.
"I race professional motocross and that's what I do for a living. At times, that's very satisfying, but there are points in your life where you think there's got to be more than this and it's not only about you," Dungey says. "For me, it's not about me. It's about raising enough money for the cancer research and to keep improving things and find out more and more, so they can cure cancer in many different forms."
The 2013 event will include a 62-mile and 20-mile bike ride, the latter of which is a shorter ride this year to accommodate more tame riders. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the paths travel along the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers.
The MN Major also features an event village and a kids' loop. Motocross rider Wil Hahn and cyclist Tom Danielson, fresh off the Tour de France, will bike. Target, a sponsor of Dungey and the MN Major, is headquartered in Minneapolis.
In the MN Major's first year, Dungey saw an ecstatic group of Minnesotans come together for the goal of philanthropy.
"Rarely, do you ever get to see people gathering for a cause," he says. "For everyone to get together and to be as into it as you are, it's amazing. To give back and to give money and to bike ride, [last year] was so cool because everyone was smiling the whole day. We were there from seven in the morning to three in the afternoon. You're doing something for something that's so powerful, that's going to help save lives."
Two individuals who influenced Dungey as a motocross racer are Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael. Both motocross trailblazers, McGrath and Carmichael, are active in charity.
As a professional athlete, Dungey wants to be like McGrath, Carmichael and other athletes both on and off the track (or court or field or rink) who give back.
"I always looked up to people in particular sports, whether its car racing or cycling or motocross, that did more than just their sport," Dungey says. "I know a guy like Lance Armstrong ... he's got a bad rep right now, but on the side of that, he was able to build a foundation and help millions of people and raise millions of dollars."
While Dungey pours his heart into the into the MN Major as a means of giving back to the community and paying respects to his grandmother, the event also brings publicity to the growing sport of motocross. Although the AMA Motocross Championship began in 1972, the sport is still far from mainstream.
Video games and television are perhaps the most efficient tools in promoting the sport. Dungey and fellow racers will draw national attention one day before the MN Major at the Spring Creek National. At 3 p.m. ET, the 450 Moto II will be live on NBC (FuelTV and NBC Sports will also have coverage during the day).
Dungey, who is second in the AMA Motocross Point Standings, is becoming an ambassador to his
sport at just 23.
"I wanted to be more than just great on a dirt bike," he says. "I wanted to be great to my fans and I wanted to give back to the sport and almost leave it better off than when I came in. On the track, winning as much as we can, that's the goal, but off the track, things can be done and everything's moving forward. I want to be a guy who's good role model, who kids' parents would want them to look up to."
Dungey should bring the sport quite a bit of publicity this week. This past Saturday, Dungey finished second in the 450 Class at Washougal Motocross in Washougal, Wash. Ryan Villopoto, the current leader in the standings, edged him for first place.
Shortly after the event, Dungey was scheduled to travel home to Minneapolis. From Wednesday to Friday he plans on talking to the media and promoting the event. On Saturday, he will race at Spring Creek on network television in Millville, Minn. (near Rochester, Minn.). After the event, he will head back to Minneapolis for the MN Major on Sunday morning.
With such a busy lifestyle, Dungey is currently satisfied just having the MN Major.
"Hopefully when racing comes to a point where we finish up with that, we'll move into this," he says. "I want to keep building it up year after year and I don't want this thing to fall off. I want to grow it year by year and maybe it can be more than just one charity bike ride each year. Maybe we can go around the country with this. Maybe make it into a foundation. That'd be the ultimate goal."
For Dungey, there is more to his career than personal gains. Motocross has got him to the public eye, but he is using it as a tool to his goals.
"The sport has given me such a great life and it's given me such great things," he says. "To give back to it and the community, is always good. It's so rewarding, but at the same time, it's not about me. It's about helping them."
To donate or register for the MN Major, visit MNMajor.com.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.