Origin Story: Ian Cox Memorial Dicks-A-Thon - Oct 21, 2023

The Mountaineers is proud to sponsor the second annual Ian Cox Memorial Dicks-A-Thon, a volunteer-led athletic event raising funds for Mountaineers scholarships and search and rescue organizations. Ian’s twin brother Connor Cox tells the story of how this peer-to-peer fundraiser came to be in the months following the loss of our beloved community member, Ian Cox.
Connor Cox Connor Cox
September 15, 2023
Origin Story: Ian Cox Memorial Dicks-A-Thon - Oct 21, 2023
Ian and Connor Cox Create the Original Dicks-A-Thon. Photo courtesy of Connor Cox.

This story begins in April, 2018 with a silly idea. I was moving away from my hometown of Seattle to Santa Barbara, and I wanted a good old fashioned Seattle sendoff before I went. I started thinking about the things I would miss when I moved, and one of those things was Dick’s, the classic Seattle burger chain. Dick’s is the mecca for late night food for teenagers, and post adventure eats for weekend warriors. It’s fast, cheap, and delicious. 

The silly idea in question has to do with how the Dick’s restaurants in Seattle are laid out. They create an almost perfect 22-mile loop of the city, with each location perched in classic Seattle neighborhoods as if designed specifically to be toured. I called up my twin brother Ian with the idea. “Let’s run to all five Seattle Dick’s, 22 miles, and eat something at each one.” Without any hesitation, Ian was in. 

It takes a special person to agree to an idea like this right away, and that’s what Ian was. At that time, he had begun following my dad’s footsteps in mountaineering, taking courses with The Mountaineers and getting experience in the cascades. He started climbing Washington’s volcanoes, making it up Mt. Rainier for the first time the year prior. He was entering the stage of his life where the harder the adventure was, the better. He saw road running as a way to get in shape for climbing season. Flat roads weren’t really his idea of a good time, but galivanting around the entire city while taking on cheeseburgers was an adventure that he wasn’t going to turn down. 


An Appetite for Fun

While I didn’t share Ian’s drive to climb, we bonded over our aptitude and appetite (pun intended) for suffering, which led us to this crazy idea for an athletic event. We called this event the Dick's-A-Thon. We made up rules for the event too, agreeing  that we had to eat one menu item from each Dick’s, five items total, including three different burgers, fries, and a milkshake, all while running from Dick’s to Dick’s for 22 miles. 

We ate, we ran, we felt dizzy, we cramped, and we dripped meat-flavored sweat over rainbow crosswalks in Capitol Hill, past college students at the U District, next to the docks and over bridges in Ballard, and past the Space Needle in Queen Anne. It was perfect type 2 fun that tested our physical, mental, and gastrointestinal strength. Friends joined us along the way, inspired (or disgusted) by what we were doing. We ended with a final victory lap back home to drink beers and reminisce. 

I hold on to that day as a fond memory. I knew that after moving away, people in my new town wouldn’t understand what Dick’s is, not to mention the concept of a Dick's-A-Thon. I rarely got the chance to reminisce about that day. The adventure slipped deeper into memory as time went on and other adventures passed. Until August of 2022… 


Remembering Ian from Peaks to Pavement

In the years since the Dick's-A-Thon, Ian continued to pursue climbing as his main passion. He climbed all the major volcanoes in Washington and was ticking climb after climb off his list, pushing himself into harder and more technical climbs until one day he didn’t come back. While pursuing his passion on a solo trip in the North Cascades, Ian missed a check in. Despite an immense search operation involving many agencies, Ian never came home. The prevailing theory of what happened was that due to receding glaciers, the transition between ice and rock was weakened. As he stepped off the glacier onto rock, the ice gave way, causing him to fall.  

In the weeks following this news, our family went through a lot of emotions, but we kept coming back to stories about Ian and laughing. We repeatedly told stories of Ian’s adventures, his crazy trips that seemed incomprehensible, his quirks, and his somewhat helpful, somewhat counterintuitive sayings, including a family favorite: “'I'm not going to let you give up the first time you say you quit.” His friends shared how Ian inspired them to live a life outdoors. It was always cathartic hearing these stories, allowing us to laugh and be happy while listening to memories of past joy. 

That’s when the Dick's-A-Thon came back to the front of my mind. It seemed that this silly run had more of an impact on Ian than I realized. Many of these friends, climbing partners, and adventure buddies brought up the “famed story” of our first Dick's-A-Thon run. This run around Seattle that I had rarely spoken of in the years since was apparently in Ian’s story rotation when he was on mountain adventures, and it actually appealed to some of the people he was telling it to. A bunch of his friends thought it would be a good idea to honor Ian by repeating this epically silly run around Seattle. 

52ff317533323868fcd879b6e4b1bce2.jpgPHOTO BY GEORGE BICKEL.

Dicks-A-Thon has an Impact 

The idea started as a way to honor Ian, then we thought we could use our newfound motivation to raise money for local outdoor nonprofits, too. Maybe it would be fun if more people were involved. Make some t-shirts of course. Race bibs were a must. Live DJ? Why not! 

A band of misfit weekend warriors came together from Arizona, Colorado, California, and Washington behind the cause honoring Ian. We were organized, thoughtful, and ridiculous. We scheduled the first annual Dick's-A-Thon two months after he passed away. The inaugural event was held on October 22, Ian’s and my thirtieth birthday.

Despite a hasty preparation, it was a success. Over 100 people showed up in some capacity to either run the route or volunteer. Friends and strangers ran together through pouring rain, retracing the steps that Ian and I had taken four years earlier. Groups of runners with Dick’s-themed race bibs ran through Seattle together not to race, but to experience something hard that they’ve never done before, just like Ian would have wanted. 

Conversations focused on Ian’s adventures, his impact, times when Ian told them “I’m not letting you give up the first time you say you quit,” but they inevitably veered towards burger eating strategies for each of the five restaurants. “I’m saving the milkshake for last, it’s a wildcard in your stomach.” “You’ve got to get the double out of the way early, I’m eating it first.” 

In an earlier feature in Mountaineer magazine, Ian’s close friend Brian Bickle described: 

Ian was everyone's gateway to the great outdoors, a confident and skilled partner on any adventure, an amazingly kind and cheerful friend… He was the first person to suggest hitting the trails on a trek he most assuredly was sandbagging you on, only to then be the one to help you overcome your perceived limits and grow… I'll never forget the call on a very unfortunate day in my life where I asked for his help burning off some energy, which Ian somehow interpreted to mean a 29-mile trail run with a few rock scrambles. I definitely didn't believe I was ready for that when he explained our route at the trailhead… until we finished it.”

Some people running the Dicks-A-Thon didn’t even know Ian at the start, but afterward they had a pretty good understanding of who Ian was, embracing Ian’s spirit of challenge and ensuring steady personal growth. We raised over $32,000. The funds were donated to all the search and rescue operations involved in the search for Ian, as well as  scholarships at The Mountaineers that promote outdoor education and improved access for people who are historically underrepresented in the outdoors. 

92fb7dffa2236892aefe70566a733c09.jpgPHOTO BY GEORGE BICKEL.

Support Scholarships - Join the Challenge on Oct 21

We were so encouraged by last year's event that we are continuing with a second annual Dick’s-a-Thon on Saturday October 21, 2023. An exciting change about this year is the running event will begin and end at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center in Magnuson Park, bringing the Dick’s-A-thon run to a full marathon distance! We’re also adding a half marathon option to increase access to the run for more people.

Join the Challenge

Keeping Ian’s memory alive is why so many of us are invested in the legacy of Dicks-A-Thon. We’re hopeful to reach more people this year, raising even more funds to provide people with positive introductions to the outdoors, regardless of their financial means.

The Dick's-A-Thon story started as two brothers taking part in a goofy idea because it sounded hard. It grew into something much bigger, beyond our wildest expectations. And we are going to make the most out of it, because that’s what Ian would do. 

Support scholarships at The Mountaineers and sign up to participate or volunteer for the Ian Cox Memorial Dicks-A-Thon at www.dicksathon.com.