Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they’re clad in cosplay gear riding cross-country on a motorcycle.
For the past three years, charity personality Colorado Captain — real name: Matt Gnojek — has traveled all over America on the back of his Harley. Dressed as Captain America, he takes an annual cross-country ride to spread positivity. But he’s not out there to show off his own cosplay skills. Gnojek is a real-life superhero who helps raise money for pediatric cancer while bringing smiles to afflicted kids and their families.
“But seriously, I’m no hero, I’m just a guy in a suit,” Gnojek says, sounding as humble as Steve Rogers himself. “Yet, if you’ve seen me, maybe I’ve managed to bring you a smile. That’s all it takes sometimes.”
He may not have supernatural strength to wield a heavy shield, but last year, Gnojek’s Colorado Captain rides raised $8,500 for pediatric cancer. As he sets off on his third annual cross-country trip, he has big plans to exercise his patriotic duty by encouraging Americans to vote in next year’s election.
“My goal is not to promote Colorado Captain, but instead all of the incredible individuals throughout the nation that work tirelessly to defend the defenseless, to help those in need, and support our most precious responsibility: kids.”
An Origin Story
Gnojek started out working birthday parties as “American Hero Guy,” dressed like Cap and cruising down highways on his Harley. During one of his rides, he saw an SUV full of kids waving to him excitedly on the road and realized that he had the power to make a bigger impact.
Gnojek ditched his party-store-grade costume and began volunteering throughout the Denver metro area in professional cosplay as Colorado Captain. Until one day, he met a little boy who would change his whole cosplay game.
“Following the 1-hour-and-30-minute drive to Colorado Springs, I came face to face with a young man with a stiff upper lip who was battling cancer and sported a self-imposed nickname that coincided with his courage: The Indestructible Jack Flash,” Gnojek says. “After the event, Jack’s father approached me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Thank you for this. He’s smiling.’ We shared a powerfully silent moment… Finally he asked me, ‘Do you do this all the time?’
“‘I do now,’ I responded.”
In the true spirit of Captain America, Gnojek is a hero who fights for the little guys. He went home that night and drew up his plan, which would eventually be called Cap Across America. Dressed as Captain America, he annually rides across the U.S. visiting hospitals and special locations, aiming to raise $10,000 for pediatric cancer. In addition to raising money, however, Gnojek has another big goal in mind: bringing smiles.
For as long as he can remember, Gnojek has only ever wanted to do what he could to make others smile. He laughs loudly, loves hard, and empathically feels others’ happiness. He turned these personal qualities — along with his goal of nurturing the human spirit — into a way to make a difference in the world he lives in, one smile at a time.
“I once heard Chris Evans [who plays Captain America in the MCU films] say that Steve Rogers is a challenge to portray because ‘he’s good … for the sake of being good,’” Gnojek remembers. “Captain America thinks the weight he carries is the shield in his hand; however, what I think he is holding on to is hope. And not just for me, for everyone. He came from nothing, yet he puts others first. So when Cap is giving you his all, he’s giving you everything. I believe we can do that; we can all do that.”
Although Captain America and his spirit mean a lot to Gnojek now, a teenage version of himself would not have understood the impact that a star-spangled hero could have on his adult life.
“[Captain America is] not just a hero, but a good man,” Gnojek says. “Characters like his give you a moment to look outside yourself and see something better: to imagine, to feel possibility again. It’s the basis of hope, and comics offer you a window into a world that is beautiful because you see the struggles of your own life mirrored in a hero’s. And if these larger than life characters — with all of their power and might — still face the same challenges as you or I, then what other proof do we need that we are already the champions of our own stories.”
Gnojek tells folks he’s a charity for other charities. Each year, he selects a single charity to be the recipient of his campaign funds. Thanks to working three to four jobs (in his words: “Thor didn’t pay for that new axe on his own”) to save money to fund his cosplay and his ride, Gnojek is proud that he can then give all of the donations he raises back to the community. For the third year in a row, 100% of his donations — which he collects through the events and his website — will go to Cap for Kids, a pediatric cancer charity.
Cap for Kids is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks to bring hope and happiness to kids who are undergoing cancer treatment, as well as their families. It provides financial and emotional support to the immediate families, as well as brings them face to face with their favorite comic and pop culture heroes through in-character hospital and home visits.
Cap’s Latest Ride
Over the past few years, Gnojek has racked up many miles on his Harley, estimating that Colorado Captain rode about 25,000 miles through 26 states to date. But with big plans for the future, he has no intention of hanging up his shield anytime soon.
“Naturally, 2020 holds tremendous weight for me — an election year is a wild time to be marching around as a comic book character whose canonical birthday is the Fourth of July,” Gnojek says.
Although nothing is final, he is pursuing the opportunity to work with Rock the Vote — expanding his reach and influence beyond pediatric cancer — and really get engaged in encouraging others to vote. He seeks to remind people of the power of an individual’s voice — and for the American people to understand how important it is to use that powerful voice, not just because a “guy in a suit” says so.
But for now, this year, Colorado Captain set out on his third annual charity ride. Unlike past rides, “Cap Across America: Great Divide Ride” serves as a prolonged season of small trips, instead of his usual many months on the road. This year’s ride focuses on visits out west across the Rocky Mountains (hence the name).
“With any luck, however, I’ll still be running into many of my old friends from the past two charity rides, as I seek to reach as many stops as possible along the path to my final con of the year: New York Comic Con.”
Because that’s what it’s really all about for Gnojek: connecting with people and fostering new relationships. It’s about making a difference and showing everyone that we can all be heroes.
“Whether you’re the captivating cosplayer I met in New York City or you’re the little kiddo in a van next to me while we cruise down I-95, nothing can compare to the open and honest hearts that I have met on the road,” Gnojek says. “You have made me speechless in the face of your kindness toward others. From Denver to Boston and back, you are the heroes of this story.”
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Spring 2019 Issue No. 3, click here to read more!
Photos: provided by Gnojek