As throngs of fans packed themselves into the seating area for the Main Stage at ACE Comic Con Seattle, desperate to catch a glimpse of Captain America himself, Chris Evans, a smaller, but no less passionate crowd kept Matt Gnojek, also known as Colorado Captain, occupied on the convention floor. In fact, Gnojek was so busy taking pictures with other ACE attendees, that he missed the Avengers: Assemble panel, featuring Evans, Don Cheadle, and Jeremy Renner entirely. But Gnojek is always willing to make a sacrifice to bring happiness to others.
From children battling cancer to war veterans who faced combat, Colorado Captain wants nothing more than to help people. It might be something simple like brightening a person’s day with a quick selfie or it could be collecting the money needed to cover the costs of treatment for a sick kid. No good deed is too small for Colorado Captain, who has truly turned the Captain America philosophy into an actual way of living.
Currently, Colorado Captain is on his third motorcycle ride across the country to collect donations for Cap for Kids. This year’s Cap Across America tour takes this Colorado native on a journey through the states west of the Great Divide. While on the road, he splits his time on the road between bringing joy to kids in hospitals, meeting with veterans at memorials, and raising awareness of his fundraising efforts at conventions. Before attending Ace Comic Con Seattle, for example, Gnojek spent some time at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
“That is the biggest priority for me, getting to visit the kids in the hospitals,” Gnojek shared with The Model American. “I really love trying to offer them a chance to meet a hero who is almost as cool as they are.”
Since embarking on his Cap Across America rides, Gnojek has collected the autographs of numerous Marvel stars on his own shield that he plans to auction off in 2021. The nearly two-year-long wait to auction off the shield serves an important purpose. Each year, Cap for Kids auctioned off one of a small collection of Captain American shields signed by the legendary Marvel mastermind, Stan Lee. They now have one shield remaining to raffle off in 2020.
“Sheild for Hope is an idea I had back in 2018,” Gnojek included. “Over time as the opportunity presents itself, I’ll try to get a signature on the shield. If I am going to be at a convention and have the extra cash, I’ll throw the money down to get a signature.”
During the years between now and 2021, Gnojek wants to get as many Marvel celebrity signatures as he can on another Cap Shield, the Shield of Hope, to then donate to Caps for Kids.
In previous years, Gnojek traveled around the East Coast and Midwest during the late summer/early fall. It was there, during his appearance at New York City Comic Con, that he met Joshua Lafayette and Katie von Pagels, two fans who share the Captain’s MCU fandom and his charitable spirit. Fast forward to the last weekend of June 2019, the opening night of ACE Comic Con Seattle at the WaMu Theatre. Hanging out near the 2017 Harley he customized for his cross-country treks, Lafayette and von Pagels approached Colorado Captain to give him a ticket to meet Chris Evans.
Colorado Captain shared on social media that he was appearing at ACE Comic Con Seattle but was unable to afford the cost of a photo opp with Evans. Upon learning this, Lafayette and von Pagels decided to make the sacrifice and gift a ticket to Gnojek. However, when he found out that one of them was sacrificing their own ticket to meet Evans, he refused the offer. Undeterred, Lafayette and von Pagels reached out to ACE president, Stephen Shamus, to see if he could help. The next afternoon, Colorado Captain met Captain America and got him to sign his Shield of Hope.
“The truth of the matter is we [Gnojek, Lafayette, and von Pagels) met twice and we took pictures, and they just kind of liked what I was doing,” retells Colorado Captain. “Then, out of nowhere, they got in touch with the president of ACE Comic Con [Shamus] and asked if they could get me a ticket. I couldn’t believe it. It still blows my mind to this day that they made that happen.”
While Colorado Captain donates the proceeds he generates to Cap for Kids, Gnojek is also passionate about a number of other organizations. This kind-hearted actor turned cosplayer uses his Colorado Captain persona to raise awareness and spirits at war memorials, Ronald McDonald Houses, and refugee centers along his ride each year. Registering with the Tour of Honor, Colorado Captain schedules appearances at four memorials per state he visits while on his annual venture.
“Regardless of how you perceive it, I think that seeing a superhero riding down the road on a motorcycle kind of takes you out of the daily drudge and reminds you that it’s ok to have some imagination,” he says. “It’s something kids teach you. Kids never stop having an imagination. But we as adults always have to temper our imagination with reality.”
Colorado Captain also has his eye on 2020. With the upcoming election year weighing heavily on many Americans’ minds, Colorado Captain hopes to inspire his fellow patriots to get out there and vote.
“I’m looking forward to this year and moving into next year with a lot of gusto,” commented Colorado Captain. “I’m hoping to really help influence and encourage folks to go to the voting polls and just make a difference. Lift up their voices and go make a difference out there.”
Nine months out of the year, Colorado Captain works several jobs to fund his summer ride. His goal is generate enough income to personally fund his trek, a goal that affords him the opportunity to give all the donations he generates to charity. In 2019, his Cap Across America tour this year was partially funded by the money Gnojek earned selling the classic Camaro that once belonged to his late mother. To many, selling one of the few remaining treasures of a deceased parent is a huge sacrifice. For Colorado Captain, it’s just another way he can make this world better.
“I hold on to the smiles we shared together so hard because it’s what keeps me going,” Colorado Captain said. “It’s always the smiles.”
Events like ACE Comic Con Seattle celebrate the heroism depicted in comic books, movies, and TV shows. While these fictional do-gooders are fun and fascinating to read about and watch, it is the everyday heroes like Gnojek who deserve the praise and accolade reserved for the headliners of these major pop culture gatherings.