Walt Williams isn't one to shy away from a challenge. The former NBA veteran, after all, is perhaps best known for playing under the most trying circumstances in the history of Maryland basketball.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Terps were in the midst of major NCAA sanctions after the death of forward Len Bias, Williams honored his commitment to his home-state school and starred under new coach Gary Williams. It was a decision that forever endeared Walt Williams to Maryland fans, one many believe helped save the program.
So when Williams, 42, recently learned about the Catoctin Challenge, a 100-mile charity bike ride through the Catoctin Mountains, it didn't take him long to make his move.
"Honestly, about 10 seconds into talking, he's like, 'Oh, yeah, I'd love to do it,'" said Phil Heffler, the chair and founder of the Catoctin Challenge. "He hadn't ridden a bike in years, but he wanted to raise money. He thought it was a great idea to raise money for a good cause."
Williams hopes to raise $50,000 from friends and supporters for Camp Greentop, a summer camp in Catoctin National Park that serves about 300 disabled children and adults annually. The money will help send low-income individuals to the camp.
For Williams, the Challenge seemed like a good opportunity to get more involved in one of his favorite organizations. The financial adviser has served as a member of the board of directors for the League for People with Disabilities — the agency that runs Camp Greentop — for more than a year, and he was interested in ways to further support its mission.
Williams was initially introduced to the league because his 7-year-old son, Bryce, has a mild form of cerebral palsy, a disability that affects motor skills. Williams toured the charity's facilities in Baltimore and came away impressed with its commitment to disabled people of all ages.
"I just feel like there's so much research and so much being done to take care of the kids with disabilities, but what happens to them when they become adults?" Williams said. "So it really touched my heart to see the staff and the people who were so involved and so caring, and it just made me want to commit."
That's exactly what he has done. Williams has been cycling for a couple of weeks now and is steadily increasing the distance of his rides. His longest trek so far was about 20 miles, and he plans to reach 50 in the coming weeks. With the two-day Challenge set to begin July 28 from Frederick, Williams is confident he has plenty of time to get up to speed.
Of course, Williams must divide his time over the next six weeks between training and raising money. He has organized an all-day fundraiser at the Greene Turtle in Olney for Saturday and is rallying people to join "Walt's Team" — a group that will ride with Williams in the Challenge. Members of the team must raise $2,000 in pledges, an increase over the $300 minimum to participate in the ride, and will receive an autographed basketball.
Williams is coordinating everything from raffle items to special guest appearances.
"He understands that when you have a child with a disability, not everyone has the same access to care," said Jill Huey, vice president of development and marketing for the league. "He's just been a true gentleman and very willing."
That willingness will be put to the test next month. The first day of the Challenge requires riders to climb six miles up a mountain — a task that will likely cause even Williams, a world-class athlete in his own right, some strain.
"He'll be tired. It's not an easy ride by any means," Heffler said. "I'm sure his tongue will be hanging out by the fourth or fifth mile."
But right now, fatigue is hardly Williams' chief concern. He is focused on helping as many people as possible enjoy Camp Greentop, and on giving families an opportunity they otherwise couldn't enjoy.
"I just want to get out there and have fun with it," Williams said. "The main thing is just about the people who are coming to support, people who have supported as far as monetarily and things of that nature, and the effect that they will have. That's what's important."
If you go
What: Walt Williams' Charity Fundraiser for the League for People with Disabilities
Where: Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille in Olney
When: All day, June 16
Includes: A raffle of prizes and appearances by some of Williams' former teammates and coaches