LUCCA, Italy (VN) — My parents raised me to be well rounded, which has helped me adapt to new countries, cultures, languages, teammates, and circumstances since I became a pro cyclist. But, since leaving Virginia Tech in 2009 to pursue my goal of a ProTour contract, the sport has consumed me.
From the season’s beginning in early January to its end in late October, I break my daily routine — eat, sleep, ride — only for international travel and team events. Immersed in cycling culture, it’s easy to forget that many people dream of owning a bike simply for transportation. From that perspective, straddling my $10,000 Trek Madone humbles me. I fantasize about all the great things I’ll do during my offseason. Yet, after over nine months of hammerhead training, racing, and recovering, the couch is very seductive and lethargy soon follows.
Guy East, a former teammate on Trek-Livestrong, struggled seeing destitute poverty as he traveled for racing. He gave up professional cycling, sold almost all of his belongings, and bought a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico. He worked his way through Central America to Nicaragua, serving in orphanages, soup kitchens, and through local outreaches. Ironically, Guy ended up at El Puente, a mission base in Nicaragua where I went during my first ambitious offseason as a full-time pro cyclist.
When Guy told me that he and Todd Henriksen of AIA Cycling were organizing a four-day trip for athletes to build a home for a family in Tijuana, Mexico, I signed up.
Twenty-three of us, including Olympians in cycling, track and field, and rowing, piled out of vans onto the building site in late December. I expected to see oversized Lincoln Logs and boards with pre-threaded screw holes. The stacks of shingles, 2x4s, and drywall dumbfounded me.
My first thought was, “Good thing there are some rowers and triathletes here for the heavy lifting.” Still, none of us had building experience. Homes of Hope assigned our group two experienced builders who assigned tasks so that everybody always had a hammer or brush in a hand. We literally put up a two-room home with bunk beds and a stove in two days.
Even though it wasn’t a race, our group, the green team, couldn’t help using a little competition against the other four teams to motivate us. Team Green-GO! built that house with enthusiasm.
Since the Lambert family founded Homes of Hope 20 years ago, they have placed over 4,400 families in homes globally. The Moreno de la Cruz family had been living exposed to the elements in a makeshift shack with dirt floors. Having moved to Tijuana for employment, they still earned under $400 per month. On our second day of building, Señor Moreno de la Cruz had returned from working the nightshift as a security guard at 6:00 a.m. He swung his hammer as hard as the rest of us.
There is a long list of organizations that facilitated our service including: CWAM (Companies with a Mission), Homes of Hope, YWAM (Youth with a Mission), More than Sport, and Athletes in Action. Through CWAM, small groups can sign up for their schedules builds with Homes of Hope. We’ll be back.
Each night, 120 of us from the five separate builds congregated at the YWAM base for dinner. There, Corwin (AIA national director of pro ministry) and his wife, Kim Anthony (UCLA hall of famer), shared their testimonies in motivational segments. These thought-provoking talks, taco dinners, late night soccer games, and, of course, building a house together, united athletes — who are people too — and helped us step out of our specialized worldview for a moment that will remain with us throughout our sporting careers.
We left feeling like heroes for giving up a long weekend. But that was all possible thanks to the people at Homes of Hope and YWAM, who’ve spent years developing a strategy that enables groups to make a real difference on such a short trip.
Certainly, life changed for the Moreno de la Cruz family, but the experience also made differences in our lives.