From leather to lycra: troubled youngsters are swapping gang life for off road racing

Reformed criminal Reon Nolan, left, is mentoring Chance Hurinui and Connor Phillips (right), to help get their lives ...
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Reformed criminal Reon Nolan, left, is mentoring Chance Hurinui and Connor Phillips (right), to help get their lives back on track.

Five years ago, Chance Hurinui aspired to be a patched gang member.

These days he rolls with a different kind of bike group, having chosen lycra and not leather.

Hurinui will take to the start line of the 2017 Motatapu mountain bike race on March 4 alongside Olympic cycling medallist Hayden Roulston and Olympic and World Champion rower Mahe Drysdale.

The spills and thrills of off road cycle racing is helping these teenagers.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

The spills and thrills of off road cycle racing is helping these teenagers.

The 19-year-old was among a group of five young people selected for the event and who is being mentored by Reon Nolan, the founder of Te Rangatahi Tumanako Trust - The Youth Hope Trust. 

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"I like challenges. I like pushing myself to the limit," Hurinui said.

Cycling New Zealand endurance rider Hayden Roulston is taking part in the Motatapu mountain bike race.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Cycling New Zealand endurance rider Hayden Roulston is taking part in the Motatapu mountain bike race.

The race will take the young men on a 47 km route between Wanaka and Arrowtown.

On a blustery Sunday, before the devastating wildfires swept through, Nolan, Hurinui and 17 year-old Connor Phillips met at the top of Rapaki track in Christchurch's Port Hills for a three-hour ride in preparation for the race, which they were only able to do with the support of The Believe Foundation and numerous sponsors.

The helmets went on, amidst laughter and brotherly banter.

Endurance cycling events are offering troubled teens a new pathway to escape gang culture.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Endurance cycling events are offering troubled teens a new pathway to escape gang culture.

"I hung out with gang members and now look what I'm wearing. I get put down from them a bit but it doesn't worry me," Hurinui said.

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Hurinui first met Nolan, a top cyclist and reformed criminal, while undertaking Corrections' youth rehabilitation programme, Mauri Toa Rangatahi. He was required to do it as part of his sentence for aggravated assault on a police officer.

"I didn't think I was going to do anything like this in my life. I wanted to but I didn't think I had it in me," Hurinui said.

In his first competition at Mcleans Island, he wore sports shoes but still kept up with his competitors, who had clip-in shoes.

"You could see in his eyes he was fizzing. He said to me in the car after, and it almost made me cry, 'that is the most socialising I've done in my whole life in one day'," Nolan said.

"And when we were in this big tent, Chance said to me 'everyone is just leaving their wallets, bags and bikes round and they trust each other' … So it's about the bike racing but it's also about learning that trust and being round people and seeing these normal behaviours," Nolan said.

When Connor Phillips first took to the bike a year ago, he would cycle for 10m and then stop or just find an excuse to avoid doing it altogether.

"Now he is doing 20km before a race," Nolan said. 

It was on May 21 last year, and while in police cells, that Phillips woke up to his behaviour, which hurt those closest to him. 

"I was wanting to be someone I shouldn't have been. Just bad influences and I was trying to be accepted by the wrong people."

Nolan stepped in and introduced Phillips to road biking. As a volunteer at race meets, he marshalled and picked up rubbish.

"Now Connor is making some pretty awesome decisions in his life. He's working, the relationship with his family is way better and he's a youth leader," Nolan said.

Phillips says he has made positive changes in his life.

"Instead of using all my energy in violence, and staying up late and all that, I just put it into my bike riding," he said.

"It keeps me occupied, rather than just be a drop kick and find something to do, which was usually an illegal activity and hanging with the wrong people.

"Now I choose who I connect with and bring into my life."

Nolan said adventure therapy deserved more Government support and recognition for its part in addressing crime.

"We're changing lives now."

"You're doing something physical together and it's building a bond and relationship that you can always look back on and talk about it. The key thing is we're having small therapeutic moments - discussions about work, family, drugs and alcohol and negative thinking - on the bike."

 - Sunday Star Times

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