Using motorcycles as a means of influencing young lives to take a better course is not a new concept. Using my fear of chickens was. Anything to make an impact, but please not that!
Being the kind of person she is, Mary Wanhill (formerly known as ‘Scary Mary’) worked countless hours to help a maximum of five riders per school term. That number might not seem like much, but it takes more than one afternoon to help change a life. Seven afternoons, with at least three helpers at each. Now that is the kind of one on one time that has a chance of making an impact.
Always controversial, the means of choosing these teens is never easy. We are now almost through our second terms worth of riders; the first group mainly coming from kids outside of the mainstream schooling system and our second lot being in school but teens that could do with some added attention.
Power Under Control
Having seen the heart behind what Mary and her husband Joel had done with the Encounter Camps and their other ministries, I put my hand up to be a part of it. Now I can’t claim to be doing it for free, a small amount of private funding helps keep up the motivation to make it a long-term commitment. More crucial is the support of sponsors such as Suzuki NZ who have helped supply five bikes for the riders to use, along with a number of other donations that provide all the accessories and safety gear that these riders need.
So, where does the chicken come into this?
It began when our primary helper, James, managed to lure a live specimen of poultry into his arms before proceeding to pet it. Like a cat. Most people would probably have no problem doing this, but I grew up going to the Hamilton Zoo where my most feared animal happened to be the Ostrich. Ugly beasts with naked necks and nasty nippers, I just didn’t like getting close to them. Shrinking these birds down to petting size doesn’t make the thought of handling them any more desirable. Perhaps we need to get pet chickens of our own to help me get over the phobia.
Coming from a completely different upbringing to most of these young men, building a connection on a level playing field is crucial. Not being present for the first session of both groups while they got sized up and learned a few basics, Mary and then James had made out like I was some superhero, which I then had the job of undercutting. That would have been easy except another side of me needs to give them the absolute best coaching possible.
We achieved quite incredible things with the riding skills of these guys. Breaking it down to the most crucial yet bite sized skills saw many of them progress from high levels of frustration at something like clutch control, to being able to come to a stop on an uphill without stalling and then ride away again.
From never having gone around a corner or over a jump, to slides and whips within just a few sessions, their improvement was sometimes stunning. More importantly there was an obvious impact on at least one life who is heading away from the habits that were bringing him down, and he has the support around him to make it a life long commitment.
So the coaching wasn’t helping me get on their level, which is why the chicken thing had its place. There was just one problem. While I could get them to ride fast on their bikes, do you think I could train them to catch a chicken by themselves? That is one lesson I don’t mind if I fail to teach.