News & Stories

Paso a Paso group bikes with Trips for Kids
August 18, 2011

Learning to mountain bike one step at a time

Creating a healthy and active lifestyle can seem like a 1,000 piece puzzle. Trying to assemble all the pieces that contribute to the overall health and well being of a person can seem like a daunting and impossible task, especially amidst the busy and complex lives we lead. If you sit down and try to complete the puzzle all at once, you will feel frustrated, tired, and may give up. Therefore, it is best to break up your work, tackle one section at a time. Soon the pieces begin to fall into place and the work does not seem so daunting. The further the picture is developed, the easier the work becomes. Piece by piece, the picture begins to emerge until finally, the puzzle is complete.

This measured approach is exactly what Paso a Paso, a public health initiative run through Hennepin County Public Health Promotion, is trying to accomplish. Literally translating to “step by step,” Paso a Paso is a 4 week fitness challenge encouraging the Latino community to become more physically active in their daily lives. The participating congregations log their hours and churches compete for the most time recreating over the course of the month. Activities have included walking, dancing and zumba. The goal of the program is to initiate active habits that ultimately contribute to lifelong health.

Program coordinator Liliana Tobon-Gomez has been working for Paso a Paso for 4 years. This year is the first year she has incorporated mountain biking into the campaign. “I wanted to introduce something that was new for our community.” Liliana ran across Trips for Kids on the web while searching for new activities. Run through the Nordic Ski Foundation, Trips for Kids outfits and leads mountain biking excursions in Theodore Wirth Park. Liliana’s eyes lit up when she saw that equipment would be provided. “Many kids have access to bicycles, but not mountain biking.”


Working with program coach John Swain, Liliana directed the various leaders of the participating churches to set up mountain bike rides in the park. The two participating Churches included Ascension Church in north Minneapolis and Church of Nazarene from Brooklyn Center. Registration forms were translated into Spanish, and three mountain bike excursions were planned for the month of May.

The groups arrived over the course of the month enthusiastic about the rides, unphased by inclement weather and undaunted by the new experience that lay a head. Parents accompanied younger children on the trails, while Coach Swain was able to lead the able teenagers deeper into the woods. “I think it challenged them a lot,” remarked Swain regarding the experience. “They hadn’t had a lot of off road experience, but they left feeling really psyched about the sport.”

Nordic Ski Foundation director John Munger was pleased Paso a Paso reached out as well. “So many kids these days get their thrills from video games, but mountain biking is better. It brings the video game to life. It puts the kid in the driver’s seat – steering and living the game in the real world. It’s thrilling for them.” One young participant from Ascension church concurred and summed up the experience enthusiastically, “This is way better than staying inside and playing video games!”

Care giving and providing for family members can push physical activity and sports to the back burner and leave little room in busy schedules for recreation and play. Juggling responsibilities both at home and abroad, many Latinos in Minneapolis have found it difficult to prioritize physical activity amidst more immediate family needs. Even when opportunities to be more physically active arise, they may surface as isolated instances; a spur of the moment sweat and then back to the grindstone. Paso a Paso recognizes that lifestyle changes do not happen in a day, but rather by piecing together new experiences that contribute to a healthy lifestyle over time.

While participants spent just a single afternoon on the trails, they came away with an experience that extended far beyond the 5 kilometer loop. “Not only did it give them a new experience, but it taught them to be more confident in trying something new,” reflected Liliana. “Many of these kids have parents who never mountain biked, so they have to come to these sports on their own.”

Liliana hopes to continue working with the Nordic Ski Foundation in the future, initiating more diverse programming for the Latino community. “This was very foreign to them, and they loved it”.

The Nordic Ski Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving cross country skiing opportunities in the Minneapolis area, especially among under-privileged youth, inner city youth. The Foundation runs the Minnesota chapter of Trips for Kids, a program offering mountain bike excursions in Theodore Wirth Park. Contact info@cityoflakesloppet.com for information on our programming and events.