Next week, thousands of cyclists will hop on their bikes and make the annual trek across Iowa. Among them, a group of kids who might not have the experience if not for a special program called “The Dream Team.”
As the sun inches up over the Des Moines skyline, a group of cyclists meets at the Riverfront YMCA.
“We began preparing these young people in January, indoors here at the YMCA,” explains Kittie Weston-Knauer, one of the mentors for “The Dream Team.”
These young people range in age from 13 to 18. They come from all walks of life. But for about six months out of the year, they share the same dream – completing RAGBRAI.
“I’ve heard the food is pretty legendary,” says Jake McMillin.
This will his first RAGBRAI, and he doesn’t take it lightly.
“I know it’s going to be hard, but I think I can definitely get through it because of all the training I’ve had.”
“The Dream Team’s” training consists of three, weekly rides. Some of the top riders will cover a thousand miles. All of the equipment, including the bike, is provided at no cost to the participants.
“The idea of course is to provide a opportunity to young people who might not have the opportunity to ride RAGBRAI,” says Weston-Knauer.
Mentors teach the kids the rules of the road and help them build strength, stamina, confidence and character.
“This is a safe environment,” says Rachael Stokka, another mentor.
“I do feel stronger,” says McMillin. “I can go a lot longer than when I started, and that’s a good feeling.”
Jake Crutcher says it feels like family.
“I’ve learned how to not be so shy and make new friends.”
RAGBRAI may be the goal, but it’s the lessons learned along the way that keep this team dreaming big.
“They really do make you commit to that,” says McMillin. “And they make you learn to commit to things and that really pays off later.”