Reon Nolan will be in two races when he lines up for Miles Continental Le Race in Christchurch on March 21.
The former convict-turned-youth mentor will again bring three cycling protegees to the starting line of the 100km classic from Christchurch to Akaroa, but he also hopes to smash the race record for a mountain bike.
“Once I finish my own race, I will head back down the course to find my boys in case they need some encouragement to get to the finish line,” says Nolan, who has used cycling to turn around a troubled life and now uses that same experience to teach new skills to young offenders.
Nolan works for the Te Rangatahi Tumanako Trust, or the Youth Hope Trust, where he teaches the young men key life skills through sport.
He works closely with adventure therapist Daniel Eastwood from the Waipuna Youth and Community Trust, to deliver a 15-week reintegration programme for the Department of Correction for young offenders.
Once they have completed that programme, Nolan continues to train with a handful of the youngsters to get them ready for events like Le Race and the Coast to Coast.
“I look at the lads who are the most engaged in the first programme and are genuinely interested in learning new skills,” says Nolan.
He said most offenders may never have experienced a community that is safe and supportive, and the only community they may have known are gangs or an abusive family situation.
“So when they get among other cyclists, they get a totally new experience of being amongst people who enjoy each other’s company, have the same passion and look out for each other.”
Nolan can relate to the young men as he himself travelled down a similar path of crime, gangs and prison when he was young, until Jeff Cooper and Lyn Voice from the Salisbury Street Foundation introduced him to cycling.
“They never gave up on me.
“Every time I would come out of prison, they would help me get my life back on track.”
The Youth Hope Trust is entirely funded by private donations and Le Race’s event manager Sheree Stevens offered her support by giving the riders free entry to the event.
“What Reon does with these youngsters is just amazing, so if we can contribute to a small degree, than we are pleased to do so,” said Stevens.
Nolan said Stevens is one of many people in the cycling community who have been supporting his work.
“The boys don’t have anything, so all the bikes, their shoes, and their outfits are all donated. The support from the community has been amazing and we couldn’t do it without them.”
Nolan works closely with Eastwood at the Waipuna Trust, but also with a host of other programmes around the city.
One of the young cyclists joining his small team for Le Race is part of the Coast to Coast Rangers Trust which mentors young men in the east of Christchurch.