We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofLuis Peña

It was the summer of 2008, and I was five years old when my dad bought me my first bike. I lived in the Dominican Republic, a third-world country, so while seeing a bike wasn’t a first, it was definitely rare to own one. Subsequently, I was the only kid in my neighborhood to have a bike. 

I fell in love instantly, and I would ride around the neighborhood for hours. I loved picking up speed and lifting my feet off the pedals and throwing my head back to look up at the clear blue sky and the vibrant yellow sun. Riding that bike became my whole reason for waking up in the morning.

One day, during one of my many attempts to do a front-wheel wheelie, something bad happened. Maybe I was distracted. Maybe I was thinking about lunch. Maybe the sun was in my eyes and I was preoccupied with being momentarily blinded. Whatever it was I hit the brake for too long -- past the point of control. Suddenly, I found myself propelled out of my seat. While in the air, it felt like time kind of slowed down. Then I hit the pavement in a crashing jolt. I had done a complete front flip and landed in front of my bike. I walked away with a small cut on my knee, but the damage to my most precious possession was absolutely devastating. 

After the accident happened, I went to the garage in my housing complex. I saw my neighbor, Rafael, and asked him for help. I didn’t know what I was doing since I had never fixed a bike, and I was really frustrated because it was a gift from my dad -- a very expensive one I might add. 

I was really desperate, so I needed all the help I could get. Seeing the clear distress on my face, Rafael didn’t hesitate to say he would help me, and he began to examine the bike. He stared at it for about five to maybe eight minutes until he said, “It’s not impossible to fix, but it will take some time.” When I heard that, I was perplexed. I was happy that it could be fixed at home, but I was dreading the fact that I would have to tell my parents what happened. 

I was sure that I would be yelled at for being irresponsible, but when I told them, neither of them raised their voice. All my dad said was, “Next time be more careful, and I am happy that you took responsibility by telling us and taking care of the bike yourself.” My jaw hit the floor. I was in slight awe because I was sure that they would be angry, but they weren’t. After that, I spent the next two weeks fixing the bike with Rafael. We didn’t just fix it though, we did more than that.

During the two weeks Rafael and I spent fixing the bike, we decided to do some upgrades. We spray-painted it a different color (a sleek and metallic white), and we added steel black pegs onto both wheels. We also fitted some new brakes onto it so I wouldn’t flip over again. 

After all the changes, riding around felt different. Whenever I passed by the road where I broke the bike, I smiled. I still remember everything: the crash, fixing the bike, and even telling my parents. Fixing and upgrading the bike was the first time I felt genuine accomplishment through hard work. I even remembered that feeling of accomplishment and lesson about hard work when I moved to America years later, the biggest challenge I had ever faced. I overcame it though -- the fear of being in an unknown country -- and found my place here.  

© Luis Peña. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.