Heroes come in many forms but the most known archetype is the reluctant hero. An ordinary person thrust into a situation that allows them to rise to the occasion. Well, this isn’t that kind of story. There were no people needing to be saved and no evil to be vanquished. But what it is though is a simple story of teacher and student and how that student was able to find a moment where they witnessed their own rise and became one with their new role.
Camilo was new to Spoke’n Revolutions Youth Cycling, our youth summer bike touring program. He was a good friend of Fernando, a returning youth cyclist who has an outstanding character and positive outlook on life. With two tours under his belt, Fernando invited Camilo to what would be Fernando’s “swan song” tour. Fernando was graduating high school and would be leaving for college in the fall. Camilo heard stories from the two previous tours Fernando had participated in and wanted to join him. Being on the school varsity football team Camilo is very athletic. But he had never travelled across country on a bicycle.
The tour started off well but it was Camilo who was the first to be injured while following in line with the other cyclists. While we were winding our way along the bike path at UNC Wilmington he smashed his finger on the post designed to keep cars off the greenway. He was still getting used to the group dynamics of cycling but learned a valuable lesson in staying vigilant for one’s own safety.
It was early in the second week of the tour when, mechanic and coach, Tod Andrews and I recognized the leadership qualities that Camilo possessed. It was a simple thing that happened in a moment. A moment so quick that you knew what you saw, because it resonated with you. Camilo was leading the group along a bike lane when the bike lane diverged, as they do when they converge with a right turn lane, and he followed the bike path, stayed true when the path became ambiguous and resumed back onto the bike path. The youth behind them did exactly as he did, like little ducklings.
I turned to Tod. “Did you see that?”, I said, now coasting in amazement and joy. Tod smiled back and said, “Yea!, that was cool”.
Allow me to geek out for a moment. If you don’t ride bikes you might ask, what’s the big deal? He did what he was supposed to do. And technically, yea, he did. But, as a cyclist, you know the ambiguities of road cycling and the minor adjustments or judgements you have to make while keeping yourself safe. Add to that the fact that we’re riding with youth. What was so amazing about that moment was that while Camilo was leading, he was wholly aware of the safety needs of his and his fellow cyclists and they trusted him.
Camilo was not aware that he was being groomed to be a leader. We provided the opportunity for him to be up front, gain confidence and subsequently, the trust of his team. During a recent Facebook chat with Camilo I explained what we were doing and when. He said at the time he didn’t think it was a big deal. He was doing the job he was given. And that’s what natural born leaders do, excel at the job they’re given.
Camilo in his words:
Along the journey I became accustomed to seeing road kill ranging from little pigs to armadillos. The smell was so bad it made me want to hold my breath! There were more pleasant sights, such as the major cities of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina.
It was in Charleston that just a few weeks prior a young white male took the life of nine African Americans church members at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church. When we arrived I was caught off guard when I was hit with a huge wave of emotion that I hadn’t experienced during any other part of the trip. I began to cry in front
of the church. I couldn’t comprehend why
someone would commit such a horrendous crime.
We were able to meet Dr. Herman Blake,
who gave us some insight to the massacre. People usually visit places
like this by car, so for us to ride up to this emotionally charged
place on bikes was surreal.
Throughout the tour I’ve felt many different emotions. Anguish being one of them when my legs and back would hurt after climbing a big hill, or when the summer heat of the south made cycling difficult. Despite the challenges I faced it was my determination that helped me push through.
During the beginning of the tour
I kept back and watched how things were being done. But a few
days after we visited Charleston, SC, something in me had
changed. From that point I took on a leadership role that our
group needed. For 15-20 miles each day, I would take on the
headwind in order for my team-mates to cycle easier. I made
sure we stayed in a straight line so that everyone rode
together and was safe.
At the time, I felt as if what I was doing something natural and not above average. I had figured it was just my role on the cycling team. In the article “Triangle Youth Tour Historic Coastal Corridor,” my coach, Kevin Hicks, describes a moment in which he felt I was a natural leader.
I did not realize this even happened, and didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I simply moved slightly to the left when the bike lane ended, and all my team-mates followed me.
However, at that moment my coach felt that we were in “synch with one another and led by the one person my team-mates trusted” (me).
I was not aware my coaches were grooming me to become a ride leader, but without much instruction I did what I was there to do. At times
the group would be slowing down and it was then that I realized that I needed to lead the group to pick up the pace.
Even though I was new to the cycling tour, I was able to fulfill a bigger role on my team by becoming someone who led my team-mates with humility, fearlessness, and selflessness. Participating in this tour made me more observing of the world around me and made me realize how some of the little things I do can have a big impact. I failed to realize how important I was to my team. That was, until the day I read those articles about the cycling tour.
Due to this experience I am now more aware of my ability to motivate others, and feel more confident in doing so.