By Connie Juel Clausen, City of Odense
Cycling as a sport has grown increasingly popular in Denmark over the last years, as more and more people jump in the saddle for the sake of exercise. But many people don’t just cycle to get the exercise; they also do it for a range of good causes.
This summer, 45 riders in “Team Odense Integration” joined the Tour of Denmark, and 15 riders from “Stjerne fra Vollsmose (The Star of Vollsmose) cycled around the island of Funen.
Exercise is not the sole purpose of the two cycling teams, though. The Star of Vollsmose teaches girls aged 12-18 about healthy diet, exercise, and Danish culture, and of course it has introduced the girls to the bicycle as a means of transport.
To “Team Odense Integration”, the major aim is to promote integration and show that no matter where we come from, we need to be able to accept each other’s differences and cultural backgrounds. The team also focuses on the health benefits of cycling, both physically and mentally, and on showing non-ethnic Danes the advantages of the bicycle in contrast to the bus or car.
It all started when…
The number of cycling teams in Denmark has exploded in recent years. It all started 10 years ago in the town of Ringe on Funen. Eight riders cycled to Paris with Team Rynkeby, and since then the team has generated an increasingly large profit that is donated to the Children’s Cancer Foundation.
Today, Team Rynkeby consists of 13 teams from Denmark and Sweden, and more than 1,000 riders are on the waiting list to join the team’s trips to Paris. Not everyone can go, so many people create their own teams.
Team Odense Integration
Three years ago, the man behind the idea for Team Rynkeby, Knud Vilstrup, got the idea for “Team Odense Integration”.
The project focuses on mutual integration. It is not only the non-ethnic Danes who are taught about Danish culture, it is equally important that the Danish members on the team learn about foreign cultures. The team practices twice a week and has lessons in correct diet and bike maintenance so everyone can be ready for the trip around the country.
This year, “Team Odense Integration” went on the Tour of Denmark for the second time. After the tour, several team members joined a cycle club, which in Denmark is integration on a high level precisely because participating in association activities is considered very Danish.
The Star of Vollsmose
On last year’s Tour of Denmark, two riders from “Team Odense Integration” got an idea for yet another project – this time directed at young non-ethnic girls from a part of Odense called Vollsmose. The girls have been practicing twice a week since early spring, and a large part of the project has a social and cultural aim. Among other things, the girls have learned that they are an invaluable part of a group.
In addition, the parents have been very involved in the project, which is considered a special success because many of these parents don’t even attend parent-teacher conferences, but this project was followed with interest.
The tour around the island of Funen also became somewhat of a media event in Denmark due to the girls’ untraditional outfits: veil, cycle shorts, and a specially-designed long skirt.
The greatest impact of the tour, however, has been on the girls themselves who, in addition to the experience of really seeing the island they live on, have gotten more self-esteem from the trip.
Previously, several of the girls were taken to school by car. Now they go by racing bike. Do we need to mention that the boys from Vollsmose are jealous? Another positive but unexpected effect has been that the girls’ mothers have begun to ask for cycle training. So in a way, the girls have become role models for their mothers.
On a final note, it is worth mentioning that on day two of the project, one of the girls wrote in her journal that her happiness was as great as the sea! There is no better way to describe a project’s success.