Why I’m a Freedom Ambassador
By Suzanne Monaco
Posted June 28, 2016
With roots in NYC, Suzanne Monaco now lives in beautiful Bend, OR, where she enjoys an outdoor lifestyle year round: from winters snowboarding and Nordic skiing around Mount Bachelor, to mountain biking, trail hiking, lake-swimming, and most importantly a wonderful community of friends. Besides playing outdoors, Suzanne manages strategic partnerships for Visa, and lives with her husband Tim of 16 years and two children Simone, age 11, and Torin, age 8.
In this interview, Suzanne shares about her passion for ending human trafficking one mile at a time as a Freedom Ambassador.
How did you first learn about human trafficking and what caused you to get involved?
This is a topic I have heard about but never thought was as huge of a problem as it is in the USA. Over the winter when I was at an indoor cycling class I met Lisa Bowman who told me about her experiences dealing with victims as an ER nurse, as well as what I could do to raise awareness and prevent this crime. I later attended an informational presentation at Recharge (a local gym) and just had to get involved. There is absolutely NO excuse for what is happening and for the fact that this is not being treated as a top crisis in America.
What is a Freedom Ambassador and how can someone qualify?
I was so excited to figure out a way to be involved as I don’t road bike so won’t be joining the Freedom Ride in September. But since I will be racing in a few long distance mountain bike events, I am so excited to be an Ambassador and wear my jersey! If you are a long distance athlete like me, I want to share with you what is going on with human trafficking, and hope you will get involved too.
What is your vision for the Freedom Ambassador Program and why should someone become a Freedom Ambassador?
We are looking for riders who are committed to the cause, will fundraise to support this organization and maybe even get involved in their community. I know we are all busy with life, jobs, kids, etc, but if you can leverage a race or event to support raising awareness for human trafficking, you have found a great organization that will support and promote you in doing so! I feel like I can make a difference just by educating one person, as this could change a life dramatically.
Tell me about your upcoming races and what you hope to accomplish?
My first race is on July 3rd and I will be riding for 6 hours. The course is loops about 6 miles long near Mt. Hood. It is a beautiful single-track course and challenging. This is a great “training race” leading up to my goal of the High Cascade 100 miler on July 16th. Most of the trails in this race are what I ride on a regular basis, so that is very helpful. But it is challenging with long climbs at altitude and sandy, very rough sections where I will most likely “hike my bike”. I look at this event as a way to push myself mentally after many years of not training much. Honestly, finishing under the time cut off is my goal and having a cause to push myself through will help keep me focused. So many people like me, have no idea about what is happening or don’t want to talk about it, so I will be proudly wearing my jersey and raising awareness.
What’s in store for you beyond your two races? How would you like to continue to be involved in the fight?
After my two races, I am looking forward to a nice recovery period. First off I will be volunteering for the Freedom Ride the weekend it starts in Bend. My husband will also be offering massages to the riders. I also want to get involved with the Bend LaPine school District to help raise awareness. As my daughter is heading off to middle school, I think I am hyper sensitive to this issue. Recently, I went to a presentation about Internet Security that the KIDS Center (which works with children who have been sexually abused) put on hosted by my children’s elementary school PTO. It was frightening and so eye opening.
I honestly feel that with the amount of access kids have to the Internet, the naiveté and sometime poor regulation by well-intentioned parents, and the media/movies around us, it is no wonder human trafficking is on the rise and our teenagers are prime targets. Also, with the constant cut in public service funding (police/fire) there are just not enough resources on the street to help. If we aren’t talking about what is going on, how can anyone know what to be aware of? These predators have a power of manipulation that most of us cannot even understand and, if we spent the time to educate our kids, it will help tremendously. Parents need to be aware what is happening and understand it is in their backyard and could be their neighbor! I am excited to learn more, be an advocate and become involved as best as I can and feel thankful that I found a great group of people to work with to help in this fight. As a community we need to come together to face these issues and there are many wonderful and supportive non-profit organizations to help, but the lack of money and resources continues to be an uphill battle.