DENVER — Dressing up like a superhero doesn’t make you one. What you do while wearing a cape or a mask does.
Denver’s own Colorado Captain exemplified that with a year that was more like a comic book adventure.
Not a bird or a plane
Drive around Denver long enough, and you’re bound to see him. A young man riding a Harley Davidson with a shield on his back, dressed head to toe like the comic book character Captain America.
“My name is Matt Gnojek and I’m the Colorado Captain," he said.
Denver7 first introduced you to the bartender/actor/cosplayer back in August.
“Captain America was this person, was this character, that represented so much to me that I admired and wanted to emulate,” Gnojek said.
He turned his interest in the comic book hero into an outfit, and turned that into a cause.
He said he wanted to come up with an idea that drew attention to himself so he could in turn highlight charities.
Captain Colorado encounters a villain
Gnojek set out in August on his own hero adventure. He rode his motorcycle through 16 states, to six hospitals and multiple conventions, raising money for kids with cancer.
“At the end of the trip, once folks know who I am, I’m going to participating in the Children's Hospital toy ride of Denver,” he said.
The trip was a resounding success with thousands of dollars raised and even an appearance on TV as part of New York’s ComicCon. Gnojek was riding back west in October when this hero’s story encountered a villain.
“It felt like hitting a boulder at a million miles per hour,” Gnojek said.
He was riding on the highway when a piece of a semi truck tire entered his lane and hit him.
“My right foot and that piece of tire got real close real fast and then had a very intimate break-up,” he said.
The incident broke his ankle. The bike stayed vertical but Matt couldn’t ride any further than a friend’s home in Peoria, Illinois.
The man who had for so long portrayed a hero was stranded and unsure if he would be able to make his final goal of riding at Children’s Hospital in Aurora in December.
A rescue and an election
Sometimes even heroes need saving.
In this case, the Denver7 photojournalist who worked on the first two stories with the Colorado Captain was the one who stepped up.
James Dougherty drove the 935 miles from Denver to Peoria, picked up Gnojek and loaded his motorcycle into the back of his personal truck, and drove them both back to Colorado.
The Colorado Captain and his bike would both be in town in time for the toy ride in December. The question was, would Matt be healthy and able to participate?
“Thanks for voting, real heroes vote,” Gnojek said only a few days after getting back to Denver, as the Captain stood outside a voting location on Election Day.
“I’m out there encouraging folks to do, well, not just what they're able to do, but their duty as an American to vote,” he said.
He stood outside for seven hours on a broken ankle, and had surgery the next day. Doctors told him recovery time was eight weeks, well past the date of the toy ride.
Doing what heroes do
Come Dec. 2, dozens of motorcycles lined up, each rider holding a gift or two for children at Children’s Hospital Colorado. As they pulled around the corner in front of the hospital, would the Captain be among them?
To cheers and waves, the Colorado Captain turned the corner on his Harley.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” he said. “There’s no words that can possibly describe the feeling that you get from doing something like this. And if I can walk into this hospital and see these kids who are fighting for their life every day they wake up, I’m pretty sure I can handle walking around on a mostly healed ankle."
The Captain had crossed his finish line. It took five months, thousands of miles, and a broken ankle, but the man behind the shield said it was worth it for thousands of dollars raised, and hundreds of smiles.
With a salute, he rode off.
To donate to the mission of the Colorado Captain or learn more about the cause, click here.