The cycling contingent of the group poses with the Moreno de la Cruz family and their freshly completed home.
It’s not very often you find a group of professional athletes that want to do anything more than train, recover, and look after themselves. Let’s face it, being a successful athlete typically requires a selfish lifestyle. That’s why it was a bit of a surprise that between Christmas and New Year’s a group of 20 athletes, including Olympians and National Champions, headed south of the Border; and it wasn’t for a vacation or even a training camp-it was to build a home for a needy family.
Former professional cyclist Guy East was the person responsible for bringing the group together, while CWAM
(Companies With A Mission) paid for the home’s building materials. During Guy’s two-year stint as a pro, his eyes were opened during a couple of International trips. What he saw made him realize he needed to do more than just be a bike racer. ‘In 2009 I was racing in Mexico City and literally right out front of the entrance of the 5-Star hotel were staying in was a homeless shelter. I went into the shelter and couldn’t believe how people were living. The following year I traveled to the Philippines; the poverty and need I saw there made me realize how insignificant racing my bike was, and I wanted to have a greater purpose in life.’ At the end of the 2010 season Guy bought a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico and traveled through Central America helping in orphanages and shelters. He now lives in Tijuana working with More Than Sport
, an organization that looks for ways to give back to the impoverished communities where many sporting events are held.
The group of athletes that Guy compiled for the trip to Tijuana included Ben King (RadioShack), Danny Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare), Jesse Anthony (Optum-KBS), former criterium National Champion Daniel Holloway, Mike Stone (BMC Development), Olympian track cyclists Giddeon Massie, and Tela Crane, along with two track and field athletes and two rowers. Ironman champion and More Than Sport founder Chris Lieto also made the trip from Hawaii with his nine-year old son, and another former-pro cyclist Todd Henriksen who is now heading up the cycling division of Athletes in Action
along with his wife Tabitha. Even with the long list of accomplishments the group had, there was one thing we were all lacking-building experience! Fortunately, Homes of Hope
provided two experienced builders to help guide our good intentions into creating something that could be called a home.
The home we’d be building was for a family of four that was selected based on income (they make about $400 a month) and level of need. The house they were living in was made of cinder block walls and dirt floors, and was neither wind nor water tight. When we showed up at the build site the first day we arrived to find a pile of building materials, a concrete slab, and the family ready to work side by side with us.
We only had two days to complete the house, which seemed impossible; but we were reassured it was realistic, even if our group was slightly building impaired. Off to work we went, some painting lumber, others working on framing, and the rest of us tackling the roof joists. By the end of the first day we had the walls up, drywall hung, door and windows installed, and the beginnings of a roof. I guess the old adage of many hands making light work really is true. For the most part, everything was coming together as it should, and in the few instances it didn’t, a little extra caulking and paint hid our less than perfect craftsman skills.
That evening the dinner conversation wasn’t about watts, training, or even if the food on the menu fit our diet, it was about our excitement to be doing something that benefited others. Six hours into day two we had nearly completed the house, and assembled a new bunk bed for the family along with a dining room table complete with matching chairs. While the home’s interior was being dialed in with window trimmings and touch-up paint, some of our group took the family to Wal-Mart to purchase food and a few gifts for the kids with money we had all pitched in. Going to Wal-Mart was a first for them since in Mexico it’s typically out of range for anyone below the middle-class.
As we turned over the keys to the Moreno de la Cruz family for their new 330 square foot house, each of us got a chance to say why we had agreed to come on the trip, and what we experienced in the two day’s time. Most everyone was happy to have an opportunity to give back and help a less fortunate family, but seeing the true joy of the children having some of the most basic things we take for granted every day gave us the feeling we were truly the ones receiving the biggest gift.
A FIRST OF MANY
‘It was like a dream come true getting the athletes together in Mexico’, said Guy, who already has plans for future builds with athletes. ‘I chased the dream as a pro, but realized I didn’t have a balanced approach in life. Bike racing is one of the coolest things you can do, but it’s not everything. If your life is based only around winning, then when that crumbles it’s going to hurt a lot. I want to show athletes that having a holistic, broader perspective in their lives is more sustainable.’
An idea that Chris Lieto has pitched through More Than Sport is to tie together home building with a team’s early season training camp. The team work, communication, and patience required in building a house is something that could help unite teammates before relying on one another in race situations. And let’s face it, the good PR that would come with a team camp/home building experience wouldn’t be a bad thing for most teams at this point.
When we arrived at the build site we found a freshly poured foundation, a stack of building materials, and a family that couldn’t wait to get started on their new home.
Triathlete Chris Lieto manned the circular saw while multi-time Olympic track cyclist Giddeon Massie looks to have his hands in a precarious position.
After a few mis-measurements, and a lot of bent nails, we were well on our way to framing the four walls.
Christen and his sister spent the day painting the trim for the home they would be moving into the following day.
Once all four walls were framed the posse was gathered to lift them into place before being nailed to the concrete.
The 330 square foot house was divided in the middle to separate the bedroom from the kitchen. Even though the the house was “large” in comparison to what the family lived in before, it was equivalent to the average size of an American home’s master bedroom.
By the end of day 1 the house was taking shape, looking like, well, a house.
A spectacular sunrise greeted us for the second day of building. This would be a million dollar view a mere 25 miles north of where we were.
Even though we did the very best work we were capable of, there were a few instances of having to use a bit of extra caulking to fill in the gaps.
Jesse Anthony had some help from Christen, cutting the roofing shingles.
When former criterium Champion Daniel Holloway decides his time as a bike racer is over, he might just make a good roofer with all the new skills he acquired.
Ben King (left) became quite fond of hammering, and I don’t mean the same type of hammering he does on the bike.
The finished interior included a bunk bed for the family, along with some extra goodies for the kids.
From concrete slab to finished house in less than two days. Handing the keys over to the family was the highlight of the trip, and something I hope to do again very soon.