Road Warriors: Momentum Bike Clubs helps young people scale new heights

Life is a series of choices – many of which can change the direction of our lives. This was the case for Daniel Cubides when he and his mom moved to Greenville from Bogota, Colombia in February 2017.

In the US Daniel was faced with new opportunities that he could never have imagined in his home country. Rather than sitting at home and playing video games, this highly motivated Berea High School student chose to challenge himself.

Daniel started by volunteering with Neighborhood Focus. This free, faith-based program offers under-resourced children year-round academic support, spiritual enrichment, character education and life skills development. Daniel, an A student, began tutoring Latino elementary and middle school students. It was through this work that he learned about another local nonprofit – Momentum Bike Clubs. Little did he realize when David Taylor, the executive director of the organization, presented to a group of middle school students, his life was going to make a hairpin turn. He was about to start on an incredible journey.

In March 2018, Daniel wanted to get involved with Momentum despite the fact that most youth start the program in Middle School. David immediately recognized Daniel’s enthusiasm and “let’s do it” attitude; so he invited him to join the Club’s Challenge Team. At the time Daniel had not ridden a bike in more than two years and in reality he had never ridden a bike with gears. A new challenge began!

If you haven’t heard about Momentum Bike Clubs before, you can check it out at www.momentumbikeclubs.org. This community initiative of the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson University works with youth, ages 10-18, like Daniel, who are open to vigorous exercise and healthy peer and mentor relationships. Since it inception in 2010, Momentum has served over 800 youth who have collectively ridden bikes over 90,000 miles.

The organization’s longitudinal mentoring model begins with a strong connection to a bike club in middle school. Then in high school students can become part of the Challenge Team. Youth also have the opportunity to participate in internships, trips, development seminars and college prep resources. With the assistance of community partners, eligible youth are recruited and connected with volunteer adult mentors. Momentum is always eager to expand its corps of mentors.

Tom Johnson is one of the Club’s most dedicated mentors and chairman of the Friends of Momentum Bike Clubs. After retiring from a successful career with the Celanese Corporation, he spent time assessing how to live a meaningful life during retirement. For the past three years Tom has volunteered with Momentum, providing him with the opportunity to live out his personal principles of growth, adventure, ecology and compassion.

“Continuing to grow during retirement is so important. Through my work with Momentum I have built many mutually beneficial relationships. While mentoring can be healing for the youth in the program, I have also grown a great deal. And I have been able to do this through the adventure of cycling and sharing the natural world with kids,” shared Tom. “Daniel is one the special kids that I have mentored through the Challenge Team. And he has pushed me as much as I have pushed him!”

A goal that some of the more advanced riders on Momentum’s Challenge Team have chosen to tackle is cycling the “7 Summits” – a series of seven progressively more difficult rides including Skyuka, Glassy, and Sassafras Mountains. Daniel, of course, thought that the challenge was something he wanted to undertake. First though, he had to get comfortable on a bike. His first outing with Momentum was to Furman University. As he recalls, it was pretty rough that day.

Over time, Daniel built his strength and technical skills by riding 75 miles weekly. Daniel then began to conquer one peak after another.

One of Daniel’s most memorable training rides was cycling 100 miles along the Silver Comet Trail. This overnight camping trip took the group from Atlanta to the Alabama line and back. All of cyclists were self-supporting, carrying their own gear.

Then last summer Daniel was invited to be part of Momentum’s Internship Program as a high school counselor. He once again jumped at the challenge to mentor other youth who loved cycling. He would develop job skills and even get paid. However, Daniel had no transportation to Cleveland Park where the program was held 4 days per week from 8:00 to 4:00. So what did Daniel do? He rode his bike back and forth from Berea each day – wearing a helmet of course.

Only 8 months after joining Momentum, Daniel’s “let’s do it” attitude reached a new high. In October he peaked his final summit – Sassafras Mountain, a climb that includes grades approaching 20% –with his mentors, Tom and David at his side.

“It was extremely difficult, but they kept encouraging me. It was the most powerful feeling in the world when I got to the top. It was so beautiful and I had accomplished something really important. I could never have cycled the “7 Summits” without my mentors. They kept me calm and focused on what I could accomplish. Only two others had achieved this challenge in the past and I was the first Hispanic guy. I am very proud.“

So what’s next for Daniel, the guy who never turns his back on a new challenge? He is considering a career in biomedical engineering and planning to attend college this fall. When I asked Daniel where he would like to go to school, he responded without missing a beat, “MIT! After conquering the “7 Summits,” I think anything is possible!”

If you find Daniel’s attitude inspiring, consider becoming a mentor with Momentum Bike Clubs. You will get as much out of this relationship as you will give.

For more information www.momentumbikeclubs.org or contact David at dtaylor@clemson.edu

Debbie Nelson

Debbie Nelson is the president and founder of DNA Creative Communications, a woman-owned public relations and inspirational marketing firm for nonprofit organizations. Under Debbie’s leadership, in 2010 DNA founded Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums, an annual training program for Greenville nonprofits in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greenville County, the United Way of Greenville County and the Hollingsworth Funds. To support other nonprofits across the state, she also manages education programs for the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organization. As an a advocate for the nonprofit community, each month Debbie shares nonprofit stories in her Shine the Light columns in the Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Monthly. In addition she teaches nonprofit marketing at Clemson University to inspire and develop future nonprofit leaders. Debbie is a graduate of Leadership Greenville, Leadership South Carolina and the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Initiative. She currently serves on the boards of the Greenville Area Development Corporation, the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the United Way of Greenville County and the United Way Association of South Carolina.

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