Understanding the culture of “Uso Bike Ride”
Improving the health of Polynesian people through cycling.
Uso Bike Ride is a platform for Polynesian people to connect and be inspired through cycling – you don’t need a flash bike. As long as you have two wheels a helmet, a sense of humour and willingness to learn you’re good to go.
USO is a Samoan word that means brother. The term is gender specific, which means it can be used amongst men and women but never between men and women. Men can call each other USO but Men cannot call women USO. Women can call each other USO but women cannot call men USO.
The USO philosophy is:
Understanding Strengthening Overcoming
Simply put, through Understanding causes of what leads Polynesian people to have poor health we can identify, create and Strengthen actions to Overcome current levels of poor health.
To understand the culture of USO Bike Ride we must go back to the beginning and re trace our journey.
In 2011 Chris Te’o (Samoan-Porirua) cycled with his brother in law Mark Lerwill (Palagi- Porirua) from Auckland to Wellington to honour his father who passed away from Pancreatic cancer. His passing reflected what our health system experiences that we wait until the last minute to see the doctor and often it can be too late.
I joined Chris on this ride. At a café’ in Bulls we talked and dreamed about sharing the message and nek minute USO Bike Ride – a group of Polynesian men were cycling the length of New Zealand in 2012 to raise cancer awareness. Things haven’t been the same since.
In the beginning we spent a lot of time shaping our thoughts- the Kaupapa-the drivers for better health and wellbeing.
• We knew that our parents are trailblazers. They came to New Zealand with little English at a time when the New Zeala then is not as we know it today.
• We knew that our forefathers were the navigators of the Pacific by waka using the stars, the winds as their compass.
• We also knew that “we” are the determinants of good health and wellbeing
• Finally we knew that as men, as USO we needed to do something
USO Bike Ride is made up of a combination of New Zealand born Polynesians-Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Tokelau, Maori as well as those born in the homelands. We also have Palagi too as many resonate with the cancer journey. We have different socio economic and ethnic backgrounds, faiths, cultures, languages, genders and riders with disabilities too.
Family is the core of USO Bike Ride. Our men are encouraged to play a leading role in our own health and the health of our partners, wives and families. Too often we leave it to the women.
We embrace a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. This includes “Commutacating”- Active transport to work 3-4 times a week, regular health checks, balanced nutrition, spiritual/faith and mental health and wellbeing and of course Language and Culture. There is no one size fits all approach. We are not all the same and each journey is yours. We recognise that as men, the hardest thing for us to do is to Talanoa-to talk. The “doing” stuff is much easier. We provide an environment to speak openly and confidently with each other in a private setting or in a more open forum.
Our USO Bike Ride whakatauki is
“Kei mate ururoa, he mate wheke”
“Fight as the hammerhead shark fights not as the Octopus which gives up too easily”.
See the image of our cycle uniform. It’s what drives us. We know that our challenges via the bike be it a 5km ride or 50kms ride pale in comparison to the cancer journey that individuals and families go through.
The colours and design stand out. We have been seen cycling all over New Zealand. We have cycled abroad in Samoa-Savaii, Upolu, Australia, Hawaii. This year we cycled in France at the Tour de France and Amsterdam.
We have training camps. Our Kaupapa is the foundation. We learn new waiata-pese, chant and pray. We talk and share issues that are important to our families. We learn aspects of each other’s culture’s as well as our own though immersing ourselves and just doing it. When we ride we gossip “talanoa” we chant, sing and of course we laugh.
Earlier this year Chris and I were cycling up a mountain in France and another cyclist commented how he could hear some laughter. He looked down the valley below and there were the two Samoan USO Bike riders cracking up as they cycled up the mountain. He commented that in all his years of cycling in France he had never seen or heard people laughing as we were that day. It’s a memory that will stay with him for years to come.
Our culture is our gift to our People and the cycling community around the world.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this. We are indeed humbled and privileged to serve our people through this article and our exploits on a bike. The biggest thanks of course to our father above for giving us the strength, faith and commitment to keep the wheels spinning.
USO Bike Ride