Krystal Saunders, who last month completed her four-year career as a high-level women’s basketball player at the University of Miami, is in better shape than most.
But when she walked into the FlyWheel Sports indoor cycling class Thursday on Miami Beach, she admits she was concerned.
“I saw people sweating and passing out,” Saunders said. “I saw one guy lying on a chair. I said, ‘Woooo, this must be serious.’ I was a little scared.”
As it turns out, Saunders was fine. She completed the 45-minute class in good form, riding next to Miami women’s basketball coach Katie Meier, Olympic gold medalist Ruth Riley and 20 or so others.
More importantly, the grueling workout was for a good cause — the Nothing But Nets charity, a group whose mission is to eliminate a world-wide malaria epidemic that puts 3.4 billion people at risk in 106 countries.
Thursday’s class cost $50, and all the proceeds go toward buying insecticide-treated nets that help protect people in at-risk areas from mosquito bites that could lead to malaria. The nets cost $10 each to purchase and deliver.
Malaria, the leading cause of death among children in Africa, is commonly transmitted by a bite from an infected female mosquito.
The mosquito bite introduces a parasite into the person’s circulatory system. Typical symptoms include fever and headaches.
In 2012, the most recent year of official reports, an estimated 627,000 people died from malaria.
Thursday’s charity bike ride was held in conjunction with World Malaria Day, established in 2007 and commemorated annually on April 25. Malaria also strikes in Asia, Latin America and, to a lesser extent, the Middle East and parts of Europe.
But it is most deadly in Africa, where a child dies of the disease every 60 seconds. This figure was once every 30 seconds, before Nothing But Nets was created in 2006.
Riley, a 6-foot-5 center who won a national title at Notre Dame, two WNBA championships with the Detroit Shock and a 2004 gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team, has become a global spokesperson for Nothing But Nets.
The charity is a grassroots campaign of the United Nations Foundation. So far, nets have been distributed to 29 countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“The campaign has raised over $45 million to distribute seven million nets,” Riley said. “Nearly half the world’s population is at risk, and children under the age of five and pregnant women are disproportionally affected because their immune systems are not as strong.
But because of the charity’s work, 275 million malaria cases have been averted over the past decade, Riley said.
Riley, 34, was born in Kansas and raised in Indiana, but she has been a Miami Beach resident since 2001, when she was the first-round pick of the Miami Sol, a now-defunct WNBA team.
After the Sol folded in late 2002, Riley remained in Miami and has become active in the community.
When Meier was hired by Miami nine years ago, Riley, who often works out at UM, and the coach formed a friendship.
And while Miami and Notre Dame are normally heated rivals on the basketball court, Meier and Riley have put those differences aside.
“Ruth’s goodness transcends rivalries,” Meier said. “She is one of the best people I’ve ever met. She has a beautiful soul.”
To read more about preventing malaria and/or to get involved, go to www.nothingbutnets.net.