At The Catalog we talk constantly to our supporters and the broader community about the impact our member programs have on the lives of thousands of young New Yorkers. We rejoice at every outcome and achievement that our member programs reach. However, it is the individual stories from the young people themselves that we delight in the most.
Below is the college essay of Jackson Gonzales who was a participant in member program I Challenge Myself’s (ICM) College Bike Tour and Cycling Smarts program. I Challenge Myself provides opportunities for public high school students to strengthen their bodies, minds and spirits. Their school-based fitness programs in New York City public high schools introduce students to endurance sports (cycling and cross fitness) that help students develop socially, academically and physically through self-challenge and goal-setting. ICM’s College Bike Tour is a 400-mile 7-day New York State college bike tour that exposes students 7 very different colleges. The goal of the Tour is to further challenge ICM students to aspire, focus and prepare for college and life after high school. Since ICM’s launch in 2005 they have served over 1000 public high school students in New York City. Jackson is just one of their success stories.
“Sure we wish that those situations that happened that were sad or difficult didn’t happen but everything happens when it’s supposed to happen even if it takes us by surprise.” – Christopher Gonzales, My Dad
Thirty-eight days after my dad posted this quote to his Facebook account, he passed away. It would be an understatement to say 2015 has been an eventful year. Losing the most important person in my life, especially during my junior year of high school, made a huge impact on my academic career. When I think back to all that I’ve learned, most of it came from him. Whether it was how to tie my shoes, how to build a shelf, or how to season chicken; but most importantly, he taught me how to be a good man. Having the man whom I could rely on for anything pass away in an instant took an immense toll on my life. However, as much as I mourned I also grew a substantial amount. I took a tragic life-changing event and used it to push me further.
In July 2015, I was given the opportunity to ride a bike 400 miles to visit 7 colleges in 7 days with 10 other students. This was a task that required waking up at 5:30 in the morning every day to get on a bike and ride. Having no objective other than to get from point A to point B. We rode up mountains and through dirt paths traveling a range of 50 to 80 miles a day. The nine other students, whom I now call friends, and I rode together, each with a different reason to keep pushing through this empowering and intimate experience. Throughout this bike tour, I constantly doubted my abilities and at times, found my muscles locking up and my lungs feeling tight. Sweat and tears ran down my face as I pressed my feet down on the pedals and felt as if I only took one step into a journey that demanded leaps; yet I couldn’t wait until the ride was over just so we could finally see the college we worked so hard to get to. I knew I wasn’t doing this ride for nothing, I wanted to visit these colleges. Not only that, but I wanted to push myself, I wanted to improve myself. Though my father was not there to see me do it, I knew I was making him proud.
The weeks after my father passed away I lost all hope, I felt helpless, like my life was falling down around me. However, I found the ability to keep pushing forward, using his own words as my personal compass. I found the ability to use these events so they empower me, fuel me, and motivate me to keep doing better than I did the day before. I’m not the same person I was at the beginning of 2015. I’ve grown, I’ve learned, I’ve felt, and most importantly, I’ve challenged myself. I’ve managed to experience both the best and the worst things I could experience in my life within the span of 7 months. Though he is not here with me physically, I know he would tell me to treat this next chapter of my life, college, as I did the bike tour. He would tell me to continue to grow, to challenge myself, and to push forward in order to become a better person; something I will never stop doing, like my father.