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Forget Everest: How a Tiny School in Tai O is Raising Resilient Champions (and You Can Too!)

Updated: Apr 4

Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney 2023 - 100km

Imagine this: a group of teenagers, some with behavioural issues, anxiety disorders, and even special needs, conquering a 2500km cycling odyssey from Tai O to Beijing. Not a dream, but the incredible reality at Buddhist Fat Ho Memorial College (BFHMC)! My recent visit wasn't your average school tour – it was a heart-pumping adventure into resilience, grit, and the power of movement.

Leading the charge is Principal Eric, a man who lives by Ernest Hemingway's "never defeated" spirit, and John, the passionate PE teacher with a rugby champion's fire in his belly. Together, they're not just educators, they're architects of resilience.

Navigating Trails as a Team

Forget Everest – these students are scaling mountains of their own. Here's the thing: it's not all about physical feats. The "10km Life Project" has them walking, running, or cycling 10km daily. This isn't just exercise – it's a daily dose of determination, a reminder that no matter the obstacle, you keep pedalling forward. And for these students, that obstacle might be social anxiety, managing emotions, or just finding their place in the world. The 10km Life Project isn't a punishment, it's a therapy session in motion.

Tai O School Interviewing the Students and the Selection Process

And it works! Witnessing the students chosen for Trail Walker UK (100km, anyone?) and UTMB Jeju (20km) was electric. These students, some juggling school with work, weren't just pushing their limits – they were beaming with the thrill of new experiences. It was clear: exercise wasn't just building stronger bodies, it was building stronger minds and shattering social barriers. Anxiety didn't disappear, but it became a hurdle they could leap over, not a wall that confined them.

Jo Lodder with Principle Eric - Tai O School

The story of BFHMC is a punch to the gut – in the best way possible. It's a reminder that a little sweat, a lot of heart, and a supportive community can unlock a world of possibilities. Principal Eric, John, and their students are an inspiration – a beacon showing that resilience isn't some mythical superpower, it's a muscle you can train.

Team Spirit

But wait, there's more! Remember those cycling warriors? They didn't stop in Beijing. They took their grit global, tackling the Sydney Trail Walker – a gruelling 100km ultramarathon. Now, picture this: Principal Eric, leading by example, twists his ankle. What do they do? Quit? Not a chance! This team walks alongside him, finishing a portion of the race together, earning a standing ovation from the crowd. Talk about resilience! This wasn't just about the finish line; it was about teamwork, loyalty, and the unwavering spirit of "never defeated."

Finish of Trailwalker 100km Sydney

So, the next time you reach for the snooze button, think of the Tai O warriors. Your morning jog isn't just about burning calories, it's about building the strength to conquer your own personal Everest. Lace-up your shoes, embrace the challenge, and remember – you too can be a champion of resilience, no matter what obstacles you face.

A huge shoutout to the generous donors who are sponsoring these incredible students, giving them the opportunity to compete on the world stage. Their kindness fuels these journeys!

Finally, to Principal Eric and Teacher John, a heartfelt thank you for your incredible work and the care you put in every day. You are making a life-changing difference for these young people.

We all wish the BFHMC students the very best of luck at the upcoming Trail Walker UK and UTMB Jeju Island!

Go forth and conquer!

Excerpt from my upcoming book - "Tiny Steps, Big Results: How Small Changes Can Transform Your Life"

"As we reflect on the remarkable journey of Tai O School and the countless other institutions leveraging the power of exercise to enrich the lives of students, one question begs to be asked:

What if every person embraced a similar approach, prioritizing physical activity not only for its physical benefits but also for its profound impact on mental health, social cohesion, and overall well-being?

Indeed, the benefits of exercise extend far beyond the realm of fitness—they permeate every aspect of our daily lives, shaping our experiences, relationships, and outlook on the world.

From boosting mood and cognitive function to fostering resilience and camaraderie, regular physical activity has the power to enhance our quality of life in ways both tangible and intangible.

In a TedEx talk by Wendy Suzuki on the brain-boosting powers of exercise, she explains, “Exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today. Number one, it has immediate effects on your brain. A single workout that you do will immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. My lab showed that a single workout can improve your ability to shift and focus attention, and that focus improvement will last for at least two hours. And finally, studies have shown that a single workout will improve your reaction times."

Suzuki continues, "The most common finding in neuroscience studies looking into the effects of long-term exercise is improved attention function, dependent on your prefrontal cortex. You not only get better focus and attention, but the volume of the hippocampus increases as well. The most transformative thing that exercise will do is its protective effects on your brain. Here you can think about the brain like a muscle—the more you are working out, the bigger and stronger your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex get."

She adds, "Why is that important? Because the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are the two areas that are most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and normal cognitive decline in ageing. So with increased exercise over your lifetime, you are not going to cure dementia or Alzheimer's disease, but what you are going to do is create the strongest, biggest hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, so it takes longer for these diseases to have an effect.

The good news: you don't have to become a triathlete to get these effects. The rule of thumb is you want to get three to four times a week exercise minimum of 30 minutes in an exercise session, and you want to get the aerobic exercise that gets your heart rate up. Bringing exercise into your life will not only give you a happier and more productive life today, but you will protect your brain from incurable diseases, and in this way, it will change the trajectory of your life for the better.”

So, as we ponder the lessons learned from Tai O School, Wendy Suzuki and other trailblazing institutions, let us consider how we can integrate the transformative power of exercise into our own lives and communities. 

Whether it's taking a swim, biking to work, or simply taking a stroll through nature, each step we take towards a more active lifestyle brings us closer to a brighter, healthier future—for ourselves and for generations to come."

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Jo Lodder is a trail runner, business leader, and philanthropist. He's the co-founder of JNW Asia, a property marketing company based in Hong Kong focused on Niseko projects, and a master agent of SnowDog, a hospitality brand. He also became the first person in history to complete the HK5Trails in Hong Kong with the Run for Freedom challenge to raise money for charity.

With a passion for helping others and a drive for success, Jo inspires through his love of adventure and entrepreneurship.

Jo Lodder Quote of the day:

"If all I achieve in life is that I have given more than I have taken then I will have succeeded"

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