Cycling Taught Me the Importance of Building Communities, Not Just Networks
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I grew up in Los Angeles, where the weather and terrain make scenic, year-round outdoor activities possible. I played lacrosse in high school, but even though my father was an avid cyclist, I steered clear of the sport. I mean, let's be honest, who is interested in copying their dad when they're in high school? I knew about the Fireflies Cycling Club since my father had participated in the past, but it wasn't something I'd ever thought about for myself until I made my own way into the advertising industry.
I figured it would be a great opportunity to meet new people and get in a good workout at the same time. Of course, I knew and was excited about the charity component raising funds for leukemia research, but I had no idea how much that aspect would elevate the experience to something far beyond any of my expectations. What started off as networking for a good cause rapidly turned into a transformative experience that showed me that, while the ad industry can appear superficial at times (we aren't the ones curing cancer, that's why we're raising the money), it is made up of individuals who are deeply passionate about helping others and telling poignant stories.
When I signed up for the West Coast ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I certainly didn't take the physical feat lightly. I ramped up my training immediately, doing 3-4 rides per week, with one long ride on the weekend. I knew I needed to push myself to be ready for the 465-mile journey, but what I didn't realize was that the unexpected parts of the rides were the parts that you truly could not train for.
Sure, I'd had a flat tire or two along the way, but the variability of the heat, terrain, fueling, and sleep (or lack thereof) was something that I just had to experience firsthand. But, like every part of this adventure, I was never riding through those challenges alone.
Starting out, I knew I was the "newbie" of the group, with most of the other riders being seasoned cyclists. Still, no one ever made me feel less than or unwelcomed—apart from the occasional teasing for my cotton socks or any other gear faux pas along the way. Another rookie mistake was being a bit too trusting of food from a burrito stand along the Central Coast. Everyone else seemed to handle their burritos just fine, but by 8 o'clock, nausea hit me like a truck and I had no idea how I was going to be able to ride the next day. Even suddenly struck with food poisoning, though, I knew I couldn't give up. Cancer patients don't have the option to "quit" when things get challenging, so I knew that no matter how hard the conditions got, I was determined to get through it. After a medic gave me a couple of charcoal pills, I was close enough to working order to saddle back up. Though I was exhausted and depleted, all I could think about was the City of Hope patients who had the bravery to face much harder challenges each day.
There were times on other really hard days—whether due to long mileage, challenging inclines, or inclement weather—when the easy thing to do would be for the stronger riders to power through and move forward quickly. What struck me was that the best riders would always hang back and ride with those who were struggling, no matter what. I knew going in that their tag was to "never ride alone," but actually seeing it in action was both staggering and humbling.
On one part of our ride, I managed to get three flat tires in a row. I ended up being one of the last riders. At first, I was by myself, but one by one, people who had already finished their miles for the day would double back and they rode me in. From playing sports, I had of course experienced camaraderie, but in such an individual endeavor like cycling, I really could not have imagined how this flock mentality would translate in practice. It was a heartfelt moment that really showed me how deeply dedicated everyone was to the cause.
While I was raising money for City of Hope, a cancer treatment and research center, I was taken aback not only by the generosity but also by the staggering number of people who have been personally impacted by cancer. You initially go to family and friends asking for their help for the cause, but sometimes you don't realize that you have a friend who has a parent who is battling cancer, or a colleague who lost a sister to the disease. What may have started as an effort to raise money for money's sake quickly became more personal and gave me more perspective on the true impact that we are able to have with our fundraising efforts.
When I first signed up for the Fireflies, I thought it would be a fun way to network with new people in advertising, but that quickly became the least important part of the experience. Through hundreds of miles, countless meals, water breaks and tire changes, we connected on a much more foundational level as humans, not business connections. Never once did anyone "talk shop" or bring up a project that they were working on. Instead, we helped each other to push through challenges and make it through to a more beautiful and rewarding finish line—and isn't that what great creative collaboration is really all about?