Service medals are synonymous with selfless acts of kindness, giving of oneself without the desire to receive compensation apart from the act of the service. If I could give out a service medal I would award it to three amazing people who I have the privilege to know, Chris Te’o (Godfather), Talalelei (MC) and Meriama (First Lady) Taufale.
These three, having been touched by personal loss from cancer, were inspired to take action and try to make a positive change for their community. From humble beginnings they have become a movement which is growing stronger and extending across cultures and communities, it is the USO Bike Ride.
My husband and I started riding with our local USO bike group a few years ago and like many of our riders, until we rode with them we were unaware of what their message was, we just saw a group of cyclists who were friendly, safe and not intimidating. Their weekly rides, posted on their Facebook page, have ‘no drop policy’ where they start together, ride together and finish together. Course and group options are dependent on who turns up to ride as their aim is to welcome all comers, if someone is not confident one of the ride leaders will stay with that rider and support their journey.
So what is USO Bike Ride?
‘USO’ mean’s brother in Samoan, and in line with their key messages, understanding, strengthening and overcoming their original vision was to encourage Pacific men to take action to improve their lifestyle for health outcomes. Although the same message is applicable to everyone, due to inequitable outcomes for Pacific and Maori when it comes to cancer, often due to late-stage disease at diagnosis, they activity encourage regular health checks. Their model has been to educate and support lifestyle change via Cycling.
Thinking of others is a strong emphasis of the group as highlighted by the quote included on their website.
Our battle to be the best we can be, pales in comparison with the Cancer journey friends and family endure.
This message is shared on the weekly get togethers, on the USO cycling kit, at camps and events held throughout the year and during their organised bike rides which are specifically designed to share the cancer and health message when they meet and mingle with the locals. These educational rides have included Samoa, New Zealand (the length of both Islands) and the East Coast. Tangata Pasifika coverage of their USO New Zealand Ride in 2012 (this video is around 25min long with some pauses for what would have been add breaks) shares the early journey and documents the dedication to their vision whilst highlighting some amazing personal experiences.
The USO kit was launched as part of the inaugural New Zealand ride and is worn with pride by the USO members. Bright yellow and blue with striking designs draws a lot of welcome attention during our coffee catchups at the end of each ride as it is a powerful message with us all are dressed alike on mass. People love to ask what does our jersey stand for, as well as those who are going through the cancer journey will recognise the connection between USO and the Cancer Society and acknowledge the support.
Along with traditional Samoan designs the jersey includes the following imagery:
- Yellow hibiscus flower, our version of the Cancer daffodil.
- The Hammerhead shark design (Mangapore) based on the proberb ‘Me mate ururoa, kei mate wheke’ with the USO interpretation: Fight like a hammerhead shark fights and not the Octopus which gives up to easily.
- Turtles on our sides symbolises the extended difficult journey that people with long term conditions go through.
- The Chainring incorporating the map of New Zealand and the Southern Cross represents the chainring that drives the cycle and quality of life.
In addition to USO’s vision, encouraging youth to ride is a particular passion of USO’s founder Chris Teo who has helped to establish the ‘Bikes in Schools’ programme within three schools in the Porirua Community. His work has been recognised by the Wellington Regional Community Awards – Supreme Winner 2018 and SunPix Pacific Peoples Community Leadership Award 2019. Congratulations and well deserved.
Safety is key to USO Bike Ride which promotes safe riding and works closely with the NZ Transport Authority (NZTA). We learn how to ride as a group, keep left, be safe be seen, ride single file (USO train) or two a breast (USO bus) dependent on the conditions, how to safety travel through round abouts (take the lane to ensure we are seen) and understand that truck drivers cannot see cyclists directly behind, in front or at the side of them and appreciation for all road users. Check out this series of short videos around Bike Advice as a collaborative with USO and NZTA.
Our bike rides are fun and each ride has the following format:
- Welcoming everyone and a quick catch up, after all we are family and support and enjoy each others company.
- Huddle together and have a Karakia or Prayer to give thanks and think of others struggling with their health journey. Of course not everyone is religious but it is about sharing the ‘kaupapa’ (purpose) that is USO, after all life is not just about the cycling.
- Mili Mili Mili Patea, an USO take on the traditional Samoan clapping chant, which starts with the rubbing of hands together, followed by clapping interspersed with a mixture of responses based on the leaders call (for example Tiger will have us all ‘Roar’ where as Pussy Cat will have us ‘Meow’) and ends with ‘What’s Next’ – You Know’ then we all get on our bikes and ride as a happy fun unit.
- Coffee and a scones to debrief following the ride and share the friendship of each other.
USO is a fellowship which helps to serve the kaupapa setup by the three founders however what they give on a daily basis is nothing short of amazing. It is not about the cycling but through cycling comes change and their vision of Understanding, Strengthening and Overcoming is the backbone of an amazing service to our community. Humble and genuine they are true examples of how much you can achieve when your aim is to inspire whilst living the life you love.
Keep the wheels spinning.