Fifty years after leaving Burma and 25 years after launching a teaching career in physical education, Bellevue College faculty instructor Stella Orechia is celebrating life milestones with a cycling sabbatical, pedaling 1,000 miles in the Northwest and 1,000 miles in Burma to increase support for refugees from Burma in the Northwest and on the Thailand/Burma border.
Stella Orechia training on San Juan Island
The first leg of Stella's Northwest journey is on Saturday June 1, from Lake City to Kent, a 50-mile route with a total ascent of 682 feet. She invites you to ride along and/or join the picnic at the end of the ride. The unsupported ride is free, but you must register and sign the waivers. Learn more on Stella's blog, Riding for Refugees.
A former Olympic-level athlete, Stella recently shared thoughts about goals, milestones, her remarkable mother and the community that helped her family settle in America after fleeing Burma.
Wellbody Blog: Who and what inspired this epic cycling sabbatical?
Stella Orechia: After 25 years of teaching, 15 at Bellevue College, I wanted to create a sabbatical project that would enrich my classes and expose the work of our Health/Physical Education department. I also wanted to document an active humanitarian effort that would benefit Burmese refugees. As the elements of this project developed, I realized that it's been 50 years since I was in Burma and wanted to make a trip there. (Cycling 1,000 miles in the Northwest and 1,000 miles in Myanmar) came to me as a way to support refugees both here and there. I would cycle the Northwest to benefit a local organization, Northwest Communities of Burma, and then I would cycle a loop in Burma to fundraise for a medical refugee clinic at the border, the Mae Tao Clinic.
My parents fled Burma with nine of us in the 60's. Their story of sacrifice and hardship is similar to other refugees and immigrants coming to the 'land of opportunity'. We resettled with help from the Catholic Church, other charity groups and very generous neighbors. I will never forget the kindness of so many as we resettled and will be forever grateful to this amazing country. I hope to give back in some way with this effort.
WB: Why did you decide to use fitness to mark a milestone and reconnect with your roots?
SO: As a health and fitness educator, I expect to walk the talk, or in this case, 'cycle the chat', to model what I profess. Fitness is also a way to honor my Burmese mother who was a multi-sport athlete and PE teacher in Burma. She danced, swam and played competitive field hockey. My sport favorites are volleyball, track and now cycling. I was fortunate enough in 1984 to compete at the Olympic Trials as a track athlete in the 400 meter hurdles. Now in my late 50's, fitness is all about a love for movement and play.Stella at 6, passport photo
WB: What do you hope to gain (physically, emotionally) from the rides?
SO: I expect this endeavor to improve my overall wellness, in all dimensions:
- Physical –Increase cardio-respiratory fitness, muscular strength and endurance, improved sleep and immune function, just to mention a few of the physical benefits.
- Social – Communicating and exchanging ideas with diverse groups of people- refugees, website supporters, picnic volunteers, relatives in Burma, medical and healthcare employees. This is where I gain a sense of 'community' as it relates to wellness.
- Intellectual – I am learning Burmese, I have developed a website, I can now fix more than a flat tire, and I can discuss Burmese culture and history. All these have stimulated mental function and improved self-efficacy. Gains here provide additional life experiences that I can share.
- Environmental- My pedal powered travel not only reduces emissions by not driving, I am gaining a better appreciation for our amazing NW environment and nature.
- Emotional – Distress is reduced and my ability to express emotions appropriately improve.
- Spirituality – I can identify a purpose in life. I seek to help others and practice prayer with gratitude, just as my mother did. I feel her presence as a guardian angel on my handlebars. The Christian community where I live also provides support and identity.
- Occupational – I am appreciating the balance and integration of professional and personal work. "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." ― Confucius
WB: What has your work in health and physical education taught you about setting fitness/wellness goals?
SO: Wellness pioneers Travis and Ryan say that wellness is a process that begins with awareness. I have learned that success in reaching goals begins with assessment and awareness. Understanding the stages in behavior change also assists in the process. When a person is ready to set goals, using a tool like SMART is helpful. Here is an online SMART worksheet by sparkpeople.com.
I have also learned that goal setting is not for everyone. Sometimes it places unnecessary pressure and distress. We can practice behaviors that reduce the risks of disease and disability without setting goals. Let's appreciate our individual differences with awareness and strive to engage in attitudes and beliefs that promote positive living.
WB: What are the most meaningful lessons you teach your students about fitness/wellness?
SO: Along with the above, I think the most meaningful lessons are the ones students personalize and share with each other.
WB: What have been or will be your biggest hurdles?
SO: I haven't had or expected any real hurdles, maybe just a few puddles to ride through. The greatest challenge so far has come from creating a website from scratch. My task now is to:
1. Get the word out to support the cause
2. Encourage cyclist to sign up for a ride-along (any distance in any segment throughout any of the northwest rides).
3. Recruit volunteers for the picnics and for the NWCB summer youth program
4. Enjoy my training and to savor each ride.
For a schedule of Stella's summer rides in the Northwest, see Riding for Refugees or http://stellasbiking.wordpress.com/ Viewers can subscribe to follow her weekly blog from the home page.
Visit A Lifetime of Milestones and the Journey Gallery in The Loft (on the second floor of Wellbody Academy), to explore how others in our community are using life milestones to focus their efforts and make healthy behavior changes.
Want to share your RealLife story about wellness and healthy behavior change? Doesn't have to be a monumental thousand-mile bike ride! Tell us about your efforts to walk instead of drive, or order herbal tea instead of sugary soda, or get more sleep, or meditate while you floss! It's all good and will help inspire others. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.