My younger son, Shane, was Chad’s shadow. Whatever Chad did, Shane did. Their lives always seemed to be intertwined as best buddies. After Shane graduated from college and was unhappy with his chosen career path, he decided to try his brother’s dream career. Shane, too, became a professional bicyclist, before he quickly realized that was Chad’s dream—not his. Here are excerpts from what Shane wrote in 2014 (shared with his permission):
By Shane Haga
Over the past year, I've noticed a frustration that seems to be a common theme regardless of what I do. When training and racing was my profession, I'd wake up, eat, train, eat some more and then go to bed thinking, "Is this all there is?" No matter what I was doing I felt like I was meant for something more—something more important, more challenging, and influential. This past weekend, I finally did something truly worthwhile.
Just over a year ago, I picked Chad up from the airport on his return-leg from Tijuana, Mexico, where he, along with a group of other professional athletes, built a home for a family that could not afford one of their own. I expected to hear more about the people he was with, but instead he kept gushing about how incredible the home-building experience was. This year, he offered to bring me along, and there was no way I could turn it down.
A week or two before the start of our trip, we learned who else would be joining us. This year there were enough athletes to build two homes in a single weekend, including numerous professional cyclists, Olympic medal-winning speed skaters and gymnasts, a professional race car driver, rugby player, and past Miss America contestant. In all honesty, I felt way out of my league as someone who could barely be called a professional athlete in the first place and gave it up after just a few months. As excited as I was for the trip, I was equally nervous about meeting people I had watched on TV.
Chad and I flew out of Denver Friday morning alongside Todd Henriksen, a sports chaplain with the Athletes in Action Organization, who was also coming on the trip. It's incredible how quickly scenery can change. Just past the US border lies Tijuana, where all Mexican deportees are being sent, and where thousands live in a canal, homeless, jobless, and eventually dependent on drugs—too embarrassed to return to their homes defeated, if they even have the ability to leave in the first place. The stark contrast between the beautiful seaside village where we had just eaten, and this destitute area was a great reminder of the purpose of the trip that lay ahead. Guy East and his wife live in Rosarito, Mexico, where they work for the Homes of Hope organization, building houses every weekend for families in need. As we drove, Guy told us heart-breaking statistics about the area. It's easy to become desensitized when you constantly hear about the fight over the border and immigration, but seeing things first hand makes it all so much more real.
We eventually made it to the YWAM (Youth With A Mission) compound where we would be staying for the weekend, and we were given a chance to mingle and get to know our roommates before eating dinner. After eating, we got to hear from Guy, as he told his personal story about struggling with the decision to quit cycling, and his struggle to figure out what he was supposed to do in life. As I sat there listening, I felt like he had taken my story, changed the names for the sake of my protection, and then regurgitated it word for word. Everyone else then gave a brief introduction and background, at which point I learned that I was one of four or so formerly professional cyclists. Suddenly, I didn't feel so out of place anymore.
Saturday was the first day of building. Our drive out to the build site passed a lot of reality checks. Homes built with random pieces of lumber and plywood—obviously just a matter of whatever the residents could get a hold of—served as a reminder of how privileged we all are. When the bus finally reached the site, the two families were standing there waiting to greet us. They had not learned until two days prior that they would be getting a home. You could see the excitement in their faces as they rushed to welcome us off the bus.
The family we would be building for had lost their home in a fire. In addition to the house, the fire had also consumed all of their papers, like birth certificates, etc., which are necessary for employment. So unable to afford new papers, and unable to gain employment, they were staying in a borrowed room in a friend’s home. Nearly a dozen people in a single room.
The teams were quickly sent to their respective build sites, just a few feet apart. As we stood in a circle on the foundation, introducing ourselves to the family, I couldn't keep my eyes off the concrete pad under our feet. At best, it was a couple hundred square feet. We would be building a single-story house for this husband and wife and their five kids. This "house" would be the size of a small room, but it would change their lives.
We got to work quickly thereafter, which was good because I was itching to put the "construction foreman look" I'd been cultivating for the past few months to good use. As part of the framing crew, I measured out the studs to be cut for the walls and then started swinging the hammer.
Before we knew it, the first build day had come to a close with the walls in place and the beginnings of a roof.
The next day, the finish line was in sight with the home build. Dry-walling, roofing, and electrics were the main tasks for the day, and everyone was just as excited to get it done as the day before. At lunch, everyone pooled money together to help furnish the house and buy groceries for the families. Each house was split into three rooms, with a bunk bed, kitchenette, and additional room. When all was said and done, we stood in a circle just as we had before the build started. Everyone got to hold the keys to the house while speaking to the family about the home and their experience, before finally giving the family the keys to their brand new home. It was during this time that the full impact of the weekend really began to hit me. I realized that at the start of the weekend, we all thought we were coming to give something great to a family in need, but by the end, all we could do was thank them for the blessing the building experience was to us. Everyone seemed to have been humbled by the experience, their interactions with a family that had so much joy and energy despite their circumstances, and the chance to work alongside great people who recognized that there is more to life than being good at sports.
After giving the keys to the family, we all got to watch as they unlocked the door and walked into their new home for the first time as a family. We then got to knock on the door and be their first visitors. As we all stood inside, nearly thirty people in the space of a college dorm room, we got to watch their excitement. To me, it would have been a cramped space difficult to be grateful for. To them, it was hope, security, and the chance of a new life. I must have looked really interested in the ceiling with as often as I was looking up to avoid crying. We prayed over the house and family before saying goodbye. No one left the site the way they arrived.
As cliché as it may sound, this experience was truly life-changing. Everyone on this trip had to pay to be there. Were it not for the help of others, I would not have been able to afford to go. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was truly a part of something bigger than myself. In a single weekend, I got to be a part of not only sharing God’s love, but also helping a family's circumstances change completely. When we showed up, there were two concrete pads. When we left, there were two homes filled with hope.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the organizations I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."