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Kathmandu Coast to Coast is a life-changing experience. You’ll learn new skills, conquer your fears and push your body further than you thought possible. And for a small group of students from Linwood College, Coast to Coast encourages them to keep moving forward.
Jess De Bont grew up with Coast to Coast thanks to her adventure-loving dad. And when she completed the race for the first time, she knew it was something she had to share.
“I grew up with it [Coast to Coast] as a totally normal experience … and as I crossed the finish line ... I thought, wouldn’t it be great to give this experience to someone else who might not have the chance to compete?” Jess said.
It was an easy jump for her to make. With her background working in New York with kids from the Bronx Children’s psychiatric home, she saw the potential to make a difference for young people in Christchurch.
Three years later, Jess and her dedicated team run the Coast2Coast Rangers, a program that mentors and supports young people to compete in one of the toughest adventure races in the world. And they do it all for free.
“Why? Coast to Coast gives kids an experience they may not normally have access to. Healthy, positive experiences and people that can open up a lot of opportunities,” Jess said.
“I still get goosebumps talking about it.”
Jess (and co-founders Steve Moffatt and Daniel De Bont) set their sights on at-risk students from the eastern suburbs — an area still recovering from the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake. And this year, six brave students from Linwood College signed up to learn the three disciplines that make up Coast to Coast: trail running, cycling and kayaking.
With less than a year to train, there’s no time to waste. Once they’re on board, they’re off to the hills on Saturday morning for a run. Lessons in cycling, bunch-riding, kayaking, and how to read rivers will follow.
“It’s quite a big thing, a lot of these kids don't have bikes at home, so learning how to do this, it’s pretty massive,” Jess said.
“As I said to one of the boys, people have been training for years and years to do this, and here you are in just six months doing it".
Gaining the skills they need is no easy task. But to help speed things along, some of biggest legends of the sport lend a helping hand. Steve Gurney and Nathan Fa'avae have shared their tricks and tips in the past — as well as accompanying the teens on race day to offer support.
The rest is a combination of sheer grit and commitment. But it pays off.
"You're putting these kids in new environments in situations they're not comfortable with," Jess said. “For some people, they might step outside of their comfort zone maybe once a lifetime, maybe one a year, but these guys are doing it each week. There’s a buzz on the kid’s faces when they achieve. When they do something they thought they couldn't do".
It’s a sense of achievement that can make a long-term impact. In developing skills for multisport, they learn about teamwork, build a new sense of confidence, and ultimately walk away with new skills for life. It’s the ultimate goal for the program, and one that works.
For Coast2Coast ranger Hengi, 17, the biggest challenge was the mental game.
“I learnt that keeping positive in my lowest of times is also me at my highest and truest form — being positive influenced my participation and attitude while competing exhausted, tired and doubtful,” Hengi said.
“In my head I wanted to stop and give up, but I knew that if I kept pushing through the pain and put my mind to it and strived to complete what was in front of me, that it was possible to finish Coast to Coast".
His team mate Kyle, also 17, shared his sentiments.
“I can complete anything if I put in the time and effort into in it, as the more you put in, the more you get out of it".
They arrived at the start line and made it to the finish. But what’s next?
“I encourage the kids to keep looking forward. In their training, they look forward to certain aspects, and I want that to continue … we encourage them to return, volunteer their own time for the next round, and to stay active,” said Jess.
“These kids are inspiring people in their own communities. It's cool to see them becoming role models themselves".
Besides the achievements of her former students, there are plenty of other moments that make Jess proud to be involved.
"Seeing the pride on the parent's faces as their kids cross the finish line...that's pretty special”.