Service, Training and Travel Are a Winning Combination for Student Athletes

Student athletes are notoriously hard-workers, dedicated to achieving success in both school and training. So it was no surprise to me when one of my cousins, Tyler Andrews, a senior on the cross country and track teams at Tufts University, decided to combine his passion for running, travel and volunteerism. He’s doing that by furthering the mission of STRIVE, a international service program for student athletes. Tyler recently took over as one of the owners of the company and I sat down with him to learn more about this new venture that now calls Somerville home.

Somerville Beat: Tell me about STRIVE.

Tyler Andrews: STRIVE is a program uniquely designed to give high school student athletes a chance to give back to communities abroad without missing a day of training. Our goal is for our students to see the world in a new light. This may happen through the experience of working and living in impoverished communities and realizing the impact and power of sharing your time and energy with like-minded people. We hope that each student comes away with something different from our program but still learns the values of hard work, commitment and community.  Ideally, we want to create a community of future leaders and athletes that influence, shape and change the world in positive ways.

We’re unique because of our combination of international service and athletics. There are a million programs out there now for high schoolers to work on service projects abroad–and that’s not meant to minimize them. Each one of them is doing important work in helping developing communities and exposing kids to new cultures. Ours, though, is the only one that does this and caters particularly to athletes. It’s amazing what these kids can do if we can funnel that same energy they have for training toward service and helping others!

Strive Peru Running

SB: Tell me how and why you got involved in the program.

Tyler: I found STRIVE through a member of my high school graduating class who is also on the Tufts cross country and track teams. After I transferred to Tufts sophomore year, he told me about this program that he had worked with in Kenya that combined international service with training for endurance athletics. This piqued my interested, as I had a strong passion for running, travel and service. When I heard that STRIVE was trying to start a second program in Peru, it seemed like the absolute perfect match. As a 20-year-old sophomore in college, it’s easy to get a bit cynical at times; I often found myself thinking that I had no real “marketable skills,” despite the plethora of knowledge I’d gained up to then. So, when I heard about STRIVE in Peru, the opportunity struck me as too perfect. I had been involved in running and coaching, was passionate about service, spoke Spanish, and had experience running and training at altitude in the exact area they were going to be! Somehow, this weird collection of skills that I had come to possess matched perfectly with what was needed for the job.

SB: How did you go from being involved originally in STRIVE to the role you have now?

Tyler: I was hired as a group leader for the first ever STRIVE Peru trip in 2011, where I met now co-owner Nic Windschill. Nic and I got along incredibly well; he had been traveling the world as an international teacher for close to 10 years since he had graduated from college and really acted as a mentor for me. We both had a ton of fun that first summer and decided to return the following year.

At the end of our second summer–which I figured would be my last one with STRIVE, as I would graduate from Tufts the following year–I got an email from the previous owner and founder, Katherine Trotzuk. She had emailed a few of us veteran group leaders–including me, Nic and some of the Kenya group leaders–to let us know that she no longer had time to oversee STRIVE. She made it clear that she wanted the organization to continue in its work, though, and so we were offered the opportunity to take over.

It’s funny, because Nic and I had actually talked about how great it would be if we could get involved on the administrative end of STRIVE; we felt that we had a lot of knowledge from seeing the “on the ground” side of the company that could help improve the operation as a whole. So, as much as it was sad to see Katherine unable to continue–she’d done a great job building up STRIVE from scratch–we we’re immediately excited about the opportunity. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, so Nic and I teamed up with Kenya group-leader, Rob Martin, and signed the papers in November 2012.

Strive Peru

SB: Who should go on one of the STRIVE trips? What can they expect? What’s the application deadline?

Tyler: Any high school student or college freshman-to-be that is interested in travel, helping a community in need and training at high altitude. The Peru program has the added benefit of being immersed in Spanish, while the Kenya program teaches the basics of Swahili in addition to allowing participants to experience first-hand the community that produces the world’s best distance runners.

Attendees can expect to be overwhelmed by generosity from a community of people that have much less, possession-wise, than they do.  Their bodies will be challenged to the max while adjusting to the lower levels of oxygen at high altitude.  The sport of running, in particular, requires great sacrifices to the body  and we find that this translates well into providing for the needs of others.  They can expect to see something new, exciting and mind-boggling every day of their three-week journey. These experiences could be: watching a barefoot 10-year-old pass them on the running trail, seeing a fried guinea pig for the first time, seeing a school with dirt floors, or being mere feet from a wild zebra.

We have a rolling enrollment, so we generally accept kids on a first-come, first-served basis. Right now, the first session of Peru (June 23 to July 14) is almost full, but in general we take applications through the end of April.

Strive Peru MP

SB: Why is STRIVE such a valuable program?

Tyler: STRIVE is important because like many service programs, we are helping communities in need, and the community is giving back to us with an experience unmatched with many other travel experiences. We feel the added element of training for serious athletes helps students pair their dedication to their sport with dedication to a community, giving more meaning to both. We find not only are we greatly helping these communities by investing our energy, we are able to take the energy they give back to us and relate their stories to our communities at home.

To me, one of the most important things we offer is the exposure for kids who might otherwise never get it. After I graduated from high school, I took a year off from academia before going to college. I spent a lot of that year living in Quito, Ecuador, which was my first time traveling abroad and exposed me to a culture I’d never seen. After that first trip, I fell in love with the culture and the people I found there and I’ve gone back every year since, traveling, meeting new people and working on service projects giving back to those communities. If I can get a few kids to be as inspired as I was who go back and give back to the communities we serve, that’d be the most fulfilling thing to me. It’s amazing the things that can be done by a few passionate young people–the library that our group built in Peru last year is the perfect example of that.

SB: What’s your favorite part of working for STRIVE?

Tyler: My favorite part of my job is getting to know all of these kids and then keeping in touch with them after the program. I get messages from past participants all the time with questions about running, about college–I even had a student from this past summer’s group in Peru who was so moved by his trip that he decided to take a gap year and is spending it volunteering in Chile. This is the best possible result for me–seeing kids fall in love with these communities that they encounter with STRIVE. If I can have just a couple of kids do that each year, I’ll be satisfied!

Strive Kenya Run

SB: What have you enjoyed about living in Somerville while attending Tufts?

Tyler: Somerville has been a great place to be a college student, a runner and a young 20-something. Tufts has been great to me–particularly the cross country and track teams–and have exposed me to much of Somerville. Thanks to running through Somerville every day, it’s cool to have a perfect map of the entire five-mile radius around Tufts. Every time I’m in a car, I have to think more about where I’m going because I’m used ignoring one-way streets while on foot!

Tufts and Somerville have been super supportive of me. I’ve had a lot of local high school coaches reach out and offer referrals and support. And all of my team-mates, coaches, and even professors at Tufts have all been great. It’s awesome to have such a terrific support network all around me.

SB: Thanks Tyler and good luck with your new venture!

If you have a high school student athlete (or know of someone who does) who is interested in STRIVE, you can click here to learn more and sign up for one of the trips.

All photos courtesy of STRIVE.

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