If there’s anything that troubled teens can do to demonstrate their newfound strength, it’s biking 500 miles in South Georgia heat and humidity.
That’s exactly what residents of the Paul Anderson Youth Home are currently doing. The young men, whose ages range from 16 to 20, have been training for the ride since April and began their trek in Flagler, Fla. They made a stop on St. Simons Island on Tuesday.
They lodged for the night at Epworth by the Sea before continuing on the rest of their ride this morning. They will ultimately finish up in Vidalia on Saturday.
The riders have all had to deal with their own personal hurdles that brought them to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, which was founded as an alternative to juvenile correctional facilities in 1961. The home was named after legendary Georgia-born weightlifter Paul Anderson, who was an Olympic Gold medalist and boasts a Guinness World Record of backlifting 6,270 pounds.
The bike ride is an annual fundraiser that has been going on for 14 years. The ride was inspired by Anderson’s own attempt to raise money to open the home by riding his bike from Vidalia to Omaha, Neb.
Through the Paul Anderson Youth Home, young men learn to reject unhealthy habits such as addiction and crime and to better their lives through a Christian approach. Physically demanding challenges such as the 500 mile bike ride are part of the home’s methods of instilling self-confidence into the young mens’ lives.
Members of the Paul Anderson Youth Home Leadership recognize the value and significance of the riders’ journey.
“This ride celebrates all that our boys have overcome and accomplished during their time at Paul Anderson Youth Home,” Fritz Olnhausen, board member and alumni parent, said in a press release about the ride. “Our ultimate hope and prayer is that the ride reminds these boys that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.”
Stephen Nichols, director of communication at the Paul Anderson Youth Home, said he gets a chance to better understand the men’s progress by riding with them each year.
“I’ve always enjoyed being a part of the bike ride,” Nichols said. “It gives me a chance to get to know five young men in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t have.”
While five young men trained for the ride, only four are riding this year. Tres Bell, 17, strained his hip flexor while training only 10 days before he was set to begin the ride, and he was told by doctors that he wouldn’t be able to participate.
Nevertheless, training for such an intense feat granted Bell a strong sense of accomplishment and fellowship. He rode bikes as a child but had never ridden a road bike before.
“The bond that I got to share with the other guys by riding 15 miles every other day helped me push myself further than I ever knew I could push myself,” Bell said.
Bell said that after he graduates the program, he plans to work for his brother at Chick-fil-A back in his hometown of Franklin, Tenn., and eventually play basketball for Liberty University in Virginia.