Bike Life: Sami is Here to Help
Meet Samantha Maldonado, a.k.a. Sami
Sami has been a part of the Norte family since 2018 when she arrived from Ecuador as an exchange student. In those two years, she’s volunteered as a coach for Norte’s Farm Team and has played a lead role in The Great Traverse City Can Return. Sami is also on our Varsity Mountain Bike Team, an alum of the Explore Academy, and our Youth Leadership Council. She rides everywhere and smiles nonstop. She’s fantastic. We’re incredibly lucky to know her.
As Sami prepares to head off to university this fall, we sat down with her to discuss her time in Northern Michigan, her life back home, and what’s next for Sami. If you see her out-and-about (likely on her bike), give her a big hello and introduce yourself–you won’t regret it.
Norte: To start Sami, I have to say you’re super popular at Norte. Some words I’ve heard describe you include sweet, compassionate, exceptional, tireless, positive, athletic –and more. What is one word you’d use to describe yourself?
Thanks a lot. Those are very sweet things to say. The environment that the Norte people create has made me feel welcome and appreciated since the first day. Excited is one word I will use to describe myself. I’m always looking for new adventures, happy to meet people, and eager to learn new things.
Norte: We are really happy you ended up in Traverse City. Tell us where you’re from and what brought you to northern Michigan?
I come from Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. It is a big city with a population of 18 million, lots of mountains, and traffic jams. The center of the city has architecture from the Spanish Colonial period, including museums, churches, and mercados. Quito was the first city in the world declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and has tourists from all over the world.
Quito is an interesting place, but during my Sophomore year in high school, I started to show interest in becoming an exchange student in an English speaking country. I wanted to improve my English, have a cultural exchange experience, and learn new things. My family was supportive of this idea, which helped me become an exchange student in Traverse City. Even though Lousiana, Florida, and California were my three states of preference, my exchange program coordinators suggested Michigan. This was the best option because of the great family match they had found. Since then, the Yeatts (Jordan and Jennifer) have become my second family, and I just love them.
Norte: You obviously have ended up finding a community here. How has Northern Michigan treated you? What kept you here for both your junior and senior years?
Northern Michigan is awesome. The members of the community, natural places, and learning opportunities have made this a productive experience. Thanks to everyone who has made this possible. Staying for two years in the U.S. was not the initial idea. Plans changed after learning about the opportunity to enroll in the TCAPS international program as an international student to take college classes while still in high school. This allows me to continue into college with a more hardcore curriculum than the one we currently have in Ecuador. I plan to study business and political science.
Norte: Besides your family, what’s something you miss from Ecuador?
Besides my family, traditional food is something that I miss from Ecuador. My favorite dish is Fanesca, a soup prepared during the week before Easter (Holy Week). Among the ingredients for this recipe are twelve types of grains, fish, sweet plantains, and tiny pasties. Not very easy to find all of these in the United States.
Always a Delight
Norte: You were a competitive bicyclist back home. How’d did Norte get so lucky to connect with you? What all have you participated in with Norte?
Yes, back in Ecuador, I was part of the Pichincha state cycling team since 2015 and became part of the Pre-Junior national cycling team in 2016. When I became an exchange student, I totally thought I would have to give up cycling during my year abroad. Luckily when I arrived, my host parents Jennifer and Jordan, told me about this fantastic community focused cycling club called Norte and their programs.
I showed up the first day of the 2018 Fall after school program to help with the Farm team as a volunteer assistant coach and did the same during the Spring of 2019. Getting to teach some of the things I had learned and watching kids grow as individuals and cyclists was gratifying for me. I continued to volunteer in the Norte after school programs for the rest of my first year. Later, I was invited to form part of the Varsity team and raced the Iceman Cometh Challenge for the first time. During my second year in Traverse City, I continued to race with the Varsity team. I also participated in the first Norte youth Explore Academy. Right now, I have been doing some can returns for Norte’s bike library.
Norte: You’re a super volunteer in support of the Great Traverse City Can Return. You put in the miles picking up cans and continue to help by returning them–thank you. Any idea how man cans you’ve returned?
I have very much enjoyed helping with the Great Traverse City Can Return. It is incredible how much power something as simple as a can has when you multiply it to provide bikes to kids for free through a regional bike library. Thank you, Norte, for the initiative during these crazy times.
I have returned a little over 1,000 cans so far, but I plan to continue doing it a couple of times per week throughout the summer. My host family and friends have also been helping with returns since the current daily return is a maximum of 200 cans per household.
Norte: Did you also participate in extracurricular activities at Traverse City Central?
Yes, I first became part of the International Club. Later I joined the Cross Country Ski Team during the winter of 2018-2019 during my first year experiencing winter with snow and did it again to race during the 2019-2020 season. During my senior year, I joined the National Honors Society to participate in volunteer activities with the community. We worked with organizations like Tart Trails, Central United Methodist Church, Vasa Ski Club, and the State Theater, among others. Helping others when I can is something I just love doing.
Norte: You’re also one of our community heroes for biking year-round. Was that a habit you brought with you from home? Or did something inspire you after you arrived to bike year-round?
I would say it was a mix between a habit I brought from Ecuador and inspiration from my host family in the United States. Back in Quito, my siblings and I were taught by my parents at a young age to commute using public transportation and whenever it was safe to bike. In Ecuador, you have to be eighteen years old to obtain a license. Many children and teens find it useful to learn to use public transportation. Before I came to Traverse City, my host family told me they had decided to sell their car two years ago to bike everywhere. I was excited to join them and become a year-round bike commuter in Northern Michigan.
Norte: How do you find the biking conditions here? What are we doing, right? Where do we need to make improvements?
The bike conditions in Traverse City are definitely safer and more accessible than those of Ecuador. Commuting by bike in Quito can be very dangerous. Protected bike lanes, shared streets, trail systems, and traffic signals are some of the key elements I have noticed around Traverse City. Public awareness is also important. Creating a culture where different types of commuters, from walkers and bikers to motorcycle and car drivers, can safely arrive at their destination. This could not be easy, but it is definitely worth it to prevent crashes.
I believe that Traverse City is on a good track. But some improvements could be made in street crossings, bike lanes and sidewalks around construction sites, as well as working on awareness addressed towards seasonal tourists. They might not have similar commute systems in their home towns.
Norte: You’re moving on to university this fall. Where are you going and what’s taking you there? Are you going to keep biking?
I will be attending Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky, this Fall. Business and Political Science will be my primary subjects of study. You bet I will keep biking. Cycling just keeps following me everywhere. I am joining their competitive cycling team to race in three disciplines: road, track, and mountain bike.
Norte: That’s awesome. And, perfect. We’re so happy for you. You are going to come back and visit us, right?
Thanks. I believe I will be back in Traverse City during winter and summer break, if possible. But I will always take in my heart and mind all those who have made my time in Traverse City a memorable experience.
Norte: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just one last thing I would like to add. A very special thanks to the community members of Traverse City for being so welcoming, making me feel at home, and sharing this beautiful place with me.
Norte: We’re going to miss you, Sami. Thank you.
Bike Life profiles highlight neighbors in our community who roll (or walk…walk life) that extra mile and deserve their story to be shared. If you’d like to suggest someone, let Norte’s Advocacy Director know at Gary@elgruponorte.org.