After dipping her bicycle wheel into the Atlantic Ocean in Charleston, S.C., as a symbolic start to her journey to come, Leah Adelman ’17 set off with ten other teenage girls to bike across the country. A few minutes into the trip, and a few miles from from Charleston’s Folly Beach, she looked back and realized that the next time she would see the ocean would be once she arrived in San Diego, CA, 2,740 miles away.
The six week trip across nine different states was organized by Girl Up, a United Nations campaign for supporting the development and empowerment of adolescent girls in developing countries, by focusing on girls’ education, health, safety and documentation.
During the ride, Adelman biked for nine to 12 hours each day and slept in school gyms and on church floors, stopping occasionally at motels and campsites.
While biking across the country, Adelman spent much of her time reflecting on her life and appreciating the many privileges she has that many girls in other countries or communities do not.
“I was thinking about how I was doing this for Girl Up, about those girls and what their life experiences would be like, and about how lucky I am and how fortunate I am to go to school,” said Adelman.
Adelman first discovered her love for cycling during her freshman year at Andover. As part of the Andover Cycling team, she rides 15-30 miles during each practice in the spring. Adelman said she often feels transported from campus as she rides.
“[Biking] really gives me a sense of freedom and independence and I feel powerful and I feel strong. I love to race and I also love the accomplishment that comes with it. I love being outside and experiencing nature and my surroundings that are in a way very different from being in a car,” said Adelman.
She remarked how the routes the cycling team takes – racing down winding roads and passing small farm houses on the sides – remind her of Europe.
“It is really special to be able to step – or rather, ride – outside of the Andover Bubble each afternoon of the spring as a reminder that there is so much more to this world than homework and grades,” said Adelman.
When Adelman was introduced to Girl Up for the first time last year by Sydney Baumgardt ’16, she immediately felt prompted to get involved by fundraising and raising awareness for promoting the development and empowerment of girls around the world.
Now, Adelman hopes to introduce a Girl Up club on campus along with Baumgardt and Carmen Bango ’16. The club will focus on raising awareness for Girl Up and will run fundraisers for the organization.
“I think [this club] is unique because we are looking at women’s and girl’s issues pertaining to other countries. That is what Girl Up focuses on. I think that is kind of a new thing to have on campus because there are a lot of feminist discussions but looking at it from a global perspective is the [main] idea,” said Adelman.
Through this event, Adelman raised a total of $5,756 to donate to Girl Up. Adelman will continue to stay involved with the organization by attending summits and by sharing ideas with teenagers around the country who are also committed to empowering girls around the globe.
“It was really great to use this passion I found at Andover and use it for good. It was meaningful for me to prove that adolescent girls can be strong,” said Adelman.
She added, “Accomplishing this was proving to myself and everyone that a 16-year-old is capable of powering herself through the country. Sometimes [society] looks at adolescent girls as being weak or being unable to do things and to say that I biked all the way across America, it goes right along with empowering girls in other countries and showing them that they are strong.”