Mexican Cycling Team
Friday, September 5th, 2014
Mexican Cycling Team Takes on the
Cochise Classic and the “Culture of Constant Pedaling”
by Michael Murphy
When Carlos Armenta of Agua Prieta, Mexico, lined up for the 97-mile Cochise Classic on his heavily-used mountain bike last year, he got plenty of stares from riders on slender carbon road machines.
“Can you imagine such craziness?” Armenta said recently, looking back on the ride. “I rode the race and finished one from last. It was crazy, but it got me out of my comfort zone. It made me feel tired but alive.”
Armenta and 50 other members of the Mexican Vecinos Dignos Cycling Team will return to the Cochise Classic this year – albeit on road bikes – as part of the Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation’s “Bigger Than Borders” ride and fandango weekend. The foundation – a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization of volunteers – is a beneficiary of Perimeter Bicycling.
Rancho Feliz has changed the lives of Armenta and thousands of others on each side of the border since its inception in 1987. The organization brings together volunteers from the US to assist people living in Agua Prieta, a town across from Douglas hard hit by drug violence. Programs emphasize education and opportunity, not welfare or handouts.
For most Mexican riders, the 2013 Cochise Classic was the longest distance they’d ever experienced. Their mountain bikes were donated by Rancho Feliz. Riders had to complete volunteer hours to receive them.
“Quite honestly, they’d never ridden bikes,” said Gil Gillenwater of Scottsdale, the group’s founder and president. “If you go to Agua Prieta, it’s not a place to ride a bicycle.”
Yet Armenta and the other riders on the Vecinos Dignos team persisted and discovered they liked the training.
“None of us had ridden a race before,” said Armenta, 37. “So it was hard and exciting … we started riding our bikes and we never knew how much fun we could have.”
For Vecinos Dignos rider Reyes Zagaste, bicycling also has become a way to manage his high blood sugar, cholesterol and triglycerides.
“Introducing me to the culture of constant pedaling hasn’t been easy, but Rancho Feliz has motivated us to ride again this year,” he said. “0f course, I’m not going to win this race, but I intend to win for myself. I started cycling when I weighed 262 pounds and I now weigh 220. I feel great, I feel strong, and ready to ride in the race again this year.”
Last year, Zagaste completed the 50-mile event.
“I yelled, laughed prayed and cried, but I finished. And this year I will do it again,” he said. “Receiving a bicycle from Rancho Feliz really changed my life.”
Vecinos Dignos will be joined by about 100 riders from north of the border, including Gillenwater, who has turned the Cochise Classic into a three-day event that ends with the distribution of 12.5 tons of bulk food to the residents of Agua Prieta. Volunteers will distribute about 1,000 bags – each with enough food to feed a family of four for a week. Residents are required to collect 20 discarded pieces of plastic from the town to receive a bag.
Last year, Rancho Feliz raised $300,000 from the “Bigger Than Borders” ride and recycled enough discarded plastic to fund four scholarships.
“This is how we change Mexico,” Gillenwater said. “We understand the dynamic between the material need to receive and the spiritual need to give. Operating under this philosophy, we all receive.
“It all goes back to consciousness and awareness. That’s what we’re pushing,” he said. “These are human beings. They want the same things for their families that we do.”
For Armenta and Zagaste, that has meant a new life in a community established by Rancho Feliz in Agua Prieta and new educational opportunities for their children.
“Rancho Feliz has filled our lives with light,” Zagaste said.