Have you ever taken one small step outside of your comfort zone, maybe even an accidental step, only to look back and realize that your life would never be the same?
My small step came in the form of a young girl named Teagan with white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and Down Syndrome. If we’re being real, I am unsure if I could have claimed at the time to have even been seeking out the friendship and community Teagan represented- a friendship and community that has changed me forever. I am so grateful for my years of weekly car-concerts, frozen custard runs, and cheerleading lessons with Teagan.
I now know there is no way I could have ever experienced the joys, the depths, and the victories of the disability community without her.
Teagan did not know that day by day she was shifting my perspective. I had always looked at people with disabilities as people of value, of course, but this value and worth meant something different when it stemmed from one of my own personal relationships. Our friendship made me want to look deeper into the disability community.
In high school, I began looking into and exploring ways to serve and befriend people with disabilities. Hand-in-hand with Teags, I have been able to pursue various clubs, summer camps, and organizations over the past 9 years.
My experiences led me to a wide spectrum of knowledge- I was gaining and witnessing sweet life lessons, but I was also gaining some scary awarenesses that were impossible for me to ignore.
There was, and is, injustice in the world that my friends with disabilities and their families live in. Injustices in the realm of opportunity and in education by being pushed into a system that is one size fit all when no two students are the same. These injustices and so many more stoked a fire and sense of purpose in me.
Going into college, I knew I wanted to pursue a life and occupation that kept me grounded within the disability community. I didn't achieve that groundedness until I witnessed the challenges that people with disabilities face.
One challenge was so ugly that I could hardly bear to imagine or understand it.
Trafficking is a heavy and cruel thing on its own, but it became shockingly more personal for me when I saw the true target it poses on my friends with disabilities.
I had the privilege of growing up without having to talk about trafficking because no one I knew had been impacted by it. It was something that I thought was far removed from me—I didn't even acknowledge its existence.
It wasn’t until I had the realization that people with disabilities are even more vulnerable to trafficking that I really looked at the issue for what it is.
Trafficking is one of the fastest-growing criminal industries, with a monetary value of over 150 billion dollars according to Polaris, the nonprofit organization that runs the national human trafficking hotline in the United States. Tens of thousands of children are affected by this senseless industry every year.
When I began thinking about the truths of trafficking, I had no idea how to process it all. How had I gone my whole life with trafficking happening in my state, my county, and even my hometown, and not given the time to care about it?
And this led to me another thought: how many other people are there that are just like I was, completely unaware?
I couldn’t get enough of the research, podcasts, or movies about this topic. Through my educational journey regarding trafficking, I learned about other vulnerable populations: runaway or thrown-away children, homeless teens, members of the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, people of color, and people of low economic statuses, just to name a few.
I came to know about Pedal the Pacific through a few girls at my college participating. I can promise you that when I was keeping up with their journeys on social media I had no inkling that I would fill their seats one day.
But once again, with more education came more realizations and understanding on my part.
I realized that these are people that our society tries to push into the shadows and ignore and my guilt and inaction were a supporting factor in the problem at hand.
Here is the truth: these people- all people- are of inarticulable value and worth.
Here is another truth: I know that on my own I cannot fix every issue each of these populations face. What I can do is push myself to take action and show all these people that they are worthy enough to be fought for and freed from the darkness of trafficking.
I ride to tell members of these vulnerable populations that I care and that I see their value to society.
So, I am only one person, but still I am one person.
I took a small step with a now-dear friend, Teagan, that led to bigger steps and making more friends. Somehow I got lucky enough to be biking hundreds of miles, pledging that I am aware and that I care about the people who have been particularly affected by sex trafficking.
I am here to admit that I am sure my fight will be imperfect. But I am also sure that what I am fighting for, who I am fighting for, is worth every ounce of energy I will give alongside 11 other brave women.
For that I am grateful, and it is for that reason that I ride.