286 miles is a long trip even in a car. So imagine what went through Ana Reyes’ mind when she saw the newspaper ad for a charity bike run from Boston to New York. ‘Impossible,’ she thought. ‘I haven’t been on a bike since junior high. I could never do this.’ But she did—and what happened was an accident and a journey she is still on today.
“I understood why people run marathons, climb mountains…these experiences really push you to re-think what is possible.”
Ana remembers training for the big ride in New York’s Central Park. She didn’t know how to use the brakes and ended up crashing into a parked horse and carriage. Thankfully, Ana says, the horse wasn’t hurt… and she was on her way to achieving her goal. Reaching the finish line was an exhilarating moment for Ana. That’s when the wheels really started turning. In 2005, Ana founded the non-profit venture I Challenge Myself. She wanted other young people from impoverished backgrounds like herself to feel proud and empowered, as she did.
“I wanted them to realize that they are capable of accomplishing so much and that many times the biggest obstacle standing in the way is their own fear and limited perception of what they can accomplish.”
I Challenge Myself introduces New York City public high school students to endurance fitness challenges--including a one-day 100-mile bike tour--that allow them to experience personal and group success, to strengthen their bodies and develop confidence and perseverance.
“Training for and riding that 100-mile ride is a symbol for life; the possibilities are limitless. But we need to have goals and a plan, work hard, persevere in the face of challenges and be a team player.”
Students are provided with bikes and helmets and ride between15 and 60 miles after school and on weekends during warm months. They spend the winter months building their strength through a unique resistance-training program and learning about nutrition.
The organization also offers a summer College Bike Tour, a 400-mile, multi-day circuit through upstate New York college campuses. Students sleep in dorms, meet admissions officers and, Ana hopes, become inspired to make college a personal goal.
"I want them to come away with [the message that] you can pretty much do anything, anything you want, but it's going to take hard work," says Reyes.
Ten years ago, I Challenge Myself started with 30 teenagers. Today the program is serving 200 students in four high schools, with plans to expand in the works.