Sharing the power of bikes with displaced Ukrainian juniors
Lachlan Morton and Mark Padun went to Warsaw this weekend to meet a club of Ukrainian refugees and give them each a Cannondale CAAD
This weekend, Lachlan Morton and Mark Padun travelled to Warsaw to distribute 13 CAADs from Cannondale to a club of Ukrainian juniors who had to flee their homes to escape a Russian attack this spring and have been living apart from their families ever since.
Lachlan first met those kids at the Polish Olympic centre in Spala, the day after his One Ride Away effort to raise money for the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. He had raised almost €300,000 on his 1,000-km ride from Munich to the Ukrainian border. As he rode east, he met more and more people who had had to flee their homes and all of the Poles, Germans, and Czechs who were providing them with a safe place to stay. He was heartened by their support and amazed by all of the people who stood long into the night to encourage him and all of the bike riders who joined him on the way to keep him out of the cold wind.
The next day, he had been invited to meet a club of Ukrainian juniors who had been saved from the Russian bombs by their coach and were being put up by the Polish cycling federation. Meeting those kids broke his heart.
“Just seeing from their facial expressions and body language, you could just see the trauma of it all,” Lachlan says. “Their families were still all in the Ukraine, most of them still are, and they just were all lost in a way. They were just young bike riders, chasing their dream. Trying to get your head around something like this happening to them was pretty confronting, and at that point, meeting those kids, it was really hard to work out what you could say or really do apart from just show up and basically say that you care and that the greater cycling community cares.”
Later that day, Lachlan went for a short bike ride with the Ukrainian juniors. They were all on borrowed equipment that had been generously offered to them by local Poles. On mountain-bikes and 20-year-old racing bikes with miss matched parts, Lachlan could see that cycling still offered them some freedom.
“We went out on the bikes for like half an hour, spinning around, and you could just see the power of bikes,” he says. “Everyone was laughing and mucking around. Even if it was just for half an hour, that was just like a tiny little escape for them. And we could bond over that. There wasn’t anything we could do then, beyond just share that half an hour, because the reality is that I was leaving for home the next day, and they would just still be there living it.”
Speaking to his EF Education-EasyPost teammate Mark Padun later, Lachlan came to understand the power of bikes even better. Mark knows all too well what cycling can mean to those kids. He had to flee his own home in Ukraine to escape a Russian attack in 2014. The coach who saved the juniors Lachlan met in Poland gave Mark a safe place to stay when he was a teenager separated from his family. Cycling kept Mark going.
“The bike gave me routine,” Mark says. “So every time thoughts were bothering me or bad stuff happened, cycling was the easiest way to get away for the moment. There are not many ways to escape all of these things, all the stuff that happened. I would just jump on the bike, go on a ride, do my training. With a bike, this routine would take you away from everything that was happening. This still helps me quite a lot.”
Together with Cannondale and EF Education-EasyPost, Lachlan and Mark hit on the idea of getting the club of Ukrainian kids some bikes of their own.
“Having a bike of your own is incredibly powerful,” Lachlan says. “Whether it is racing, whether it is commuting, whatever it is that you are going to do on your bike, to have that for yourself is, for me, the most simple and the most powerful thing that you can have. For these kids who have lost a huge amount of control over their lives, through no fault of their own and have very limited control over what is going to happen in the years coming, I hope that just having that bike gives them that little bit of power over their future and will enable them to, even if it’s just half an hour every day to just go out and ride their bike when they want and forget about the realities of what they are going to face. Then, that is worthwhile. That is the goal with giving these kids these bikes: they can do what they want with them.”