My name is Rita Nehme and I am from Steer North. Three words to describe myself would be resilient, spontaneous and spirited. If I could be a hybrid of any two animals I would be a dolphin and a wild horse, because I love the ocean so much and I want to always feel a deep sense of freedom. One thing people would not guess about me is that I am the eldest of 4 sisters. I am passionate about social and health equity, and empowerment through sport and dance.
NW: Have you always been interested in cycling?
RN: I have always enjoyed cycling, especially when I was a kid. But it wasn’t until recently that I really experienced the incredible opportunities that cycling can bring. Cycling for me is the perfect way to improve physical and mental well-being while bringing people together and providing an accessible and environmental friendly transport option. It can open up a whole city and a countless range of opportunities. I also just love being on a bike and seeing the world from its perspective. When you’re riding a bike, you’re in direct contact with your environment. You are going fast enough to get to your destination but you have the time to enjoy your surroundings and take it all in!
What is Steer North?
Two years ago, I founded Steer North, a health promotion charity that aims to advance health and education through cycling based events. Our health promotion programs are delivered to local communities through epic cycling journeys. They aim to inspire and empower people to lead healthy active and creative lives. Our funds support critical medical research education and patient care.
Had you done anything similar before? How did that inspire you to establish Steer North?
Three years ago, I cycle for 70 days from Texas to Alaska for over 8000 km. I embarked on this journey with 78 other students at the time to raise funds and awareness for cancer. I wasn’t a cyclist before and I trained specifically for this journey. This experience really inspired me, changed my life and ignited my purpose. After the journey, I was set on dedicating my time and efforts to contributing to the advancement of health and education, two causes very dear to my heart. I wanted to do that through my passion for cycling, sport and adventure. Steer North was the first step towards that.
You recently completed a ride from Melbourne to Cairns with Steer North. What was the experience like for you? Were there any particular highlights?
Two months ago, 19 Steer North riders and I completed the inaugural Steer North ride, a 4000 km cycling journey from Melbourne to Cairns. This ride became the longest annual charity bike ride in the Southern Hemisphere. On the ride, we engaged with 40 different communities and raised more than $100,000 for cancer research, education and patient care.
I loved exploring the amazing natural sights and beautiful towns across the country. But the biggest highlight for me was meeting and interacting with the diverse communities along the way. It was really special hearing people’s powerful stories and being introduced to their lives. We experienced incredible generosity and kindness and were able to meaningfully connect and create amazing memories with these people.
What does a standard preparation/ training program look like for you?
Preparation for the first Steer North ride included route mapping, community event planning, and establishing community partnerships with councils, schools and local organisations in 40 different communities.
When it comes to training, we have programs designed for people from all cycling levels. We wanted the ride to be accessible to all people, no matter their fitness or cycling abilities. The training program included weekend rides that were also an opportunity for us to explore new places and spend quality time together as a team.
Steer North present community workshops to promote active lifestyles. What do these involve?
The workshops that we held in local communities were different from one community to the other and were tailored to every community’s needs and priorities. Programs ranged from cycling mechanic and safety workshops, to trivia nights and physical activity evenings.
A lot of great community engagement also happened in very organic ways, over dinner with community members or when meeting people around town for example.
Steer North have just announced two new rides. Can anyone sign up and what can they expect from the experience?
We have introduced 2 new rides this year: One from Melbourne to Sydney and one from Sydney to Brisbane. These are for people who want to experience a purposeful adventure but cannot take 45 days off work or studies to do the Melbourne to Cairns ride.
Anyone can sign up! Whether they are professional cyclists or occasional commuters! Based on the previous riders’ experiences, they can expect to build lifelong friendships, experience different parts of the country in a unique and meaningful way, go on a journey of self-discovery, and build great memories while supporting the advancement of health and education.
A lot of Steer North’s work is made possible by strong community partnerships. What advice do you have for young people wanting to approach a business or individual to partner with?
My advice to approach a potential partner would be to start by establishing a genuine and meaningful relationship with them. When approaching a business or organisation, it’s always good to remember that businesses are made up of people who often want the same things that you do. Don’t try to impress anyone, be yourself and genuinely connect with people (no matter how intimidating or ‘important’ you think they are). This will allow you to find that shared goal and purpose which will result in more fruitful and impact-driven partnerships.
Let’s be real, healthy lifestyles are more difficult to maintain on a tight budget. For example, healthy food options always seem more expensive. What are your tips for finding a balance that doesn’t break the budget?
These are my tips:
Take some time to learn about the different opportunities that your council and local organisations have to offer. A lot of local governments are funding some great initiatives and very accessible programs that promote healthy living!
Also, outdoor is free! We are lucky here in Australia to have a lot of parks (some with outdoor gyms and facilities!) and safe areas where we can be active and social without really spending money. Make use of them!
Find a partner or join your local running/walking/hiking/cycling group. You don’t have to do it alone! Exercising or cooking a healthy meal is more fun and motivating when shared!
And finally, keep your health at the forefront of your mind when spending your money. Spend your grocery budget on fruits, veggies and healthy food, spend time outdoors, join a community sport group. I think investing in your well-being (physical, mental and social) is one of the best things you can do, and provides a strong base for everything else.
Did you choose social entrepreneurship, or did social entrepreneurship choose you?
I think I chose social entrepreneurship without really knowing it at first. My primary goal is to spend my time and energy doing something meaningful that contributes to society. Social entrepreneurship was a means for me to do that. I found a purpose, started working on a project I believed in, and I found myself in a field called social entrepreneurship.
It has been a big start to the year in global politics. How do you choose hope?
There are so many sources of positivity around us and people doing incredible things and making this world a better place every day. I choose hope by focusing on what these people are doing, and by highlighting and supporting their work. I also try to surround myself with these people to be inspired by them and learn from them.
How can readers find out more about you?
Readers can find out more, and register for our rides on our website: www.steernorth.org.au
All images courtesy of and copyright Steer North.