“Remember the Removal” cyclist Kaylee Smith, of Tahlequah, prepares her bicycle for a training ride on April 5. This year’s nine cyclists have been forced to train separately due to the COVID-19 virus. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
“Remember the Removal” mentor rider Tracie Asbill, of Briggs, left, joins Kaylee Smith, of Tahlequah, for a training ride on April 5. The cyclists have been training individually since mid-March but sometimes two cyclists ride together for safety reasons. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
tney Roach, of Tahlequah, puts air in her front tire before a training ride. She wants people to know that the bike ride is not just about riding the Trail of Tears because the nine cyclists are learning their language, history and culture. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
“Remember the Removal” cyclist Whitney Roach, of Tahlequah, trains in Tahlequah to prepare for the annual bike ride that takes place in June. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – COVID-19 has forced many people to alter their schedules and plans. It’s no different for this year’s “Remember the Removal” bicycle team.
Kaylee Smith, 19, of Tahlequah, said the viral pandemic has forced her and teammates to train individually, which she said has been difficult after learning how to train as a team.
In December, the nine teammates began training for the annual ride that retraces the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears in June. The ride develops leadership skills in Cherokee youth and honors ancestors who were forced to Indian Territory in 1838-39.
The team began training with fitness trainers at the Cherokee Male Seminary Recreation Center in Tahlequah by lifting weights, using spin bikes, rowers and performing floor exercises. In February, the riders received bicycles and started training together, gradually increasing mileage until mid-March when they stopped training together because of the virus.
“Right now, we are training to go 50 miles, and I just hit 50 miles last weekend. I’m going to try to hit 55 miles this weekend,” Smith said on April 5. “It has been extremely hard and it’s been really disappointing not to being able to train with my team because in the end this is a group ride, and we will all have to depend each other. Not being able to ride with them…it’s just been really hard. You don’t have anybody to push you. You don’t have anybody for you to pace yourself off of.”
She said one way she stays motivated is by texting her teammates to encourage each other. “We talk about how hard this is and how we’re going to get through it because we are strong. We’ve all been encouraging each other to train as much as possible, even if it is hard to train by yourself,” Smith said.
She said when she applied for the ride this past fall she thought it would be more of an “athletic thing.”
“It’s 950 miles, so I thought it would push me athletically, and I would be more in shape by the time this thing is over. But being four months into this my thoughts have changed completely,” Smith said. “I am in love with my team. I am in love with my culture, and I am beyond ready to start riding with my team.”
Smith said in four months she has learned much about Cherokee history.
“I feel like I’m a lot more connected to my culture than I was before,” she said. “I think once we do the ride and we finish it, I want to be able to educate other people about what happened to the Cherokee people during the Cherokee removal in 1838. Not very many are educated about the fact that Cherokee people were herded like animals, that they were beaten, that they were raped…it was awful, and I want to tell people that this is our history, and as Cherokee people we still stand strong today carrying on their legacy and showing people that we are still strong as ever due to our ancestors.”
Whitney Roach, 21, who lives in Tahlequah but grew up in Lost City, said she’s known about the ride since she was a young girl and has friends who have experienced it.
“I saw how it changed their perspective on everything,” Roach said. “I’ve always been involved in Cherokee Nation ambassador programs, and I just really wanted to do this, not only for myself but to honor my grandpa. He’s a fluent Cherokee speaker. I know that’s one thing he always tried to teach me, and I just didn’t want to listen.”
She said she knew coming together with people who are like-minded as her that wanted to learn more about their culture, history and language would be good for her and she would have a chance to honor her ancestors and her grandfather. Like Smith, Roach said she has grown close to her teammates.
“Training by myself because of the COVID-19 (outbreak), has been really difficult. Your team really backs you up. I don’t think anyone besides our team is going to have that feeling (of training alone) because we’re the first to experience something like this,” she said. “Training by yourself is just a whole new ballgame, and you really realize how much your team backs you up and how much strength you have together as a group.”
She wants people to know that the bike ride is not just about riding the Trail of Tears because the nine cyclists are learning their language, history and culture, and they will soon find out if they are related when they receive their genealogy packets. In their weekend classes they also learn about the “atrocities” their ancestors endured to bring the Cherokee people forward to where they are today.
“And I thought I knew a lot about it, I really like history, and then I got into this program and it was nothing like I thought. There is so much more to the story that people have not been told in history books,” Roach said.
She said she is thankful the CN funds and supports the “Remember the Removal” program because it has changed her life, and she has made “life-long best friends.”
She said she has new a family or su-da-ne-lv. She wears a bracelet with the word family written in the Cherokee syllabary that the team’s mentor rider gave the team.
“It just reminds me we’re stronger together, and we’re stronger as a group. Even if I’m training alone I’ll look down at that bracelet and I’ll just remember my team and why I’m doing it (ride).”
Will Chavez is a Cherokee/San Felipe Pueblo Indian who has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 25 years. During that time he has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a writer, reporter and photographer for the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers.
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