Ten young people. Nine months of training. Two weeks of cycling. One team. The group of Bath Rugby Foundation HITZ students trained weekly throughout 2019 to prepare for a 300-mile-long cycle through the Chilean Andes alongside ten mentors.
Across two gruelling and rewarding weeks, the participants covered the miles and – more significantly – forged lifelong friendships across the generations.
Bath Rugby President John Hall launched the Andes Challenge with the intention of bringing together a group of mentors to share their rich life experiences with young people. It was life-changing for everyone involved.
The nine months of training included spin classes, fitness and endurance training, countless bike rides in all weathers around beautiful Bath countryside. The programme built resilience, connections and personalities.
As John described: "They’re young people who’ve not had the best start in life, and what we wanted to do was build their self-esteem, build their confidence and give them something that will help them throughout their lives."
Each student had their own reasons for taking part – some to learn about leadership and fitness, some to take on the endurance, some to discover they can achieve what they set their mind to – some simply to force themselves into the outdoors, or to learn how to ride a bike.
But every single person had something in common – they wanted to challenge themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. And every participant did what Todd urged them on the first day in Chile:
The Andes Challenge represents a living example of what unlikely friendships, diverse backgrounds and innovative ideas can foster and create.
Through the President’s Lounge, we can create more opportunities for people like Todd and Stan, who found purpose and pride through the Andes Challenge and the Foundation because someone took the time to believe in them and encouraged them to believe in themselves.
Stan had the toughest start to life. After his addict parents left him aged just two, he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
The illness hugely affected his childhood – not just his health, but missing the opportunities children have to socialise, join in and grow with other children.
Stan joined Bath Rugby Foundation’s HITZ Learning Academy to take part in the BTEC Sport Level 1 course in September 2018 after finishing his course at Bath College.
Stan went to Bath College but was often removed from lessons for being disruptive, unmotivated or too tired following all-night video gaming. He also had issues with drugs, often smoking cannabis before, during and after college.
In September 2018 he joined the HITZ Learning Academy to take part in the BTEC Sport Level 1 course and in just one short term he began to change his habits and attitude, being suited to the HITZ environment.
The HITZ classroom does not look or feel like a traditional school or college environment and all participants are treated as adults by the HITZ and Bath Rugby Foundation team. This attitude to learning allowed Stan – for the first time – to feel he could be himself.
Stan impressed everyone with his changed attitude and focus on improving both his own fitness levels, and that of the whole group. After just one year with HITZ, he went from being unmotivated and disinterested to being an inspirational leader and motivator among the Andes Challenge participants.
In little over a year Jade went from a 16-year-old unsure what her next steps would be to emerging as an inspirational leader.
Jade met Bath Rugby Foundation coaches on exam results day, having not received the exam results she wanted. She had found the final GCSE year difficult throughout, avoiding attending some lessons. But on results day, she took her first steps with the Foundation and enrolled at the HITZ Learning Academy.
One short year later, Jade was named not only the winner of the national HITZ Rugby Ambassador Award, but also the Bath Life Awards rising Star Award. Over the year Jade spent on the HITZ programme the entire team at Bath Rugby Foundation saw a huge change.
Initially shy, lacking confidence and not putting herself forward, through her time volunteering and playing rugby with Walcott Warriors she changed her whole attitude and mindset, making her an obvious choice to take part in the Andes Challenge.
After completing a year as a Bath Rugby Foundation apprentice, Jade applied for and secured a full-time position as a Teaching Assistant with the Foundation’s education partner, SCL. Her role now sees her back in the HITZ classroom, working with the current cohort, having been in their shoes just a few years ago.
Todd, a young man who has learning difficulties, has had a tough home life since his mum left at an early age. Having suffered at the hands of bullies his entire life, he makes no secret of the fact his participation in Bath Rugby Foundation programmes has transformed his life and given him a social life he would otherwise not have had.
Todd has been part of the pathway created for participants on Bath Rugby Foundation programmes. He joined at a young age and has had continued opportunities for further education, development and, of course, enjoyment.
Todd was never taught to ride a bike as a child but – in typical fashion – it didn’t stop him taking on the Andes Challenge. He took it as an opportunity to learn how to cycle, putting in months of hard work to prepare. His first lesson at Bath Rugby Foundation was on his 19th birthday.
Six months later, he completed the Andes Challenge. It is a remarkable personal achievement and absolutely characteristic of his positivity and determination.
Despite the challenges Todd has faced throughout his life, he is one of the most positive young students at the Foundation. His joy is infectious, and he brightens up the Bath Rugby Foundation office every day.
Bath Rugby Foundation is Bath Rugby’s charity and our purpose is to empower vulnerable children and young people in Bath and the surrounding area to succeed.
We believe every child and every young person in Bath and North East Somerset deserves an equal opportunity and the same chance to succeed.