For the past 13 days, Matthew Cuesta has had the same morning routine. He wakes up at 4:30 a.m., drinks two glasses of water, eats a bit of sugary food and rides to Toronto’s Exhibition loop, either riding 46 km or running 4.6 km if it’s raining. He’ll continue the ritual for 33 more days—one for every year Geroge Floyd lived.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds
When Cuesta saw the video of George Floyd struggling through his last breaths as a police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, he was deeply personally affected. “It hit close to home,” he says. Cuesta is Jamaican and Maltese, and says he’s experienced racism growing up in Toronto.
He decided he wanted to do something tangible in response to the murder of George Floyd. Cuesta loves a challenge, so he chose to ride 46 km or run 4.6 km every day for 46 days to honour Floyd’s memory. He didn’t have much of a plan beyond that, but he hoped that he could spark a conversation and encourage some of his followers to engage in uncomfortable discussions about racism.
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The last week has been pretty overwhelming. Firstly, I want to say thank you to everyone around the world participating in #46FORGEORGE I never would have imagined that 6 days ago we would be here. The main purpose of this initiative as I've said to @cbcnews & @bttoronto is to "get uncomfortable". In order to grow, we have to break habits, we have to push past pain and face it dead on. I understand for many that facing that pain is scary and that is why I invite you to DM me if you have any questions you are afraid to ask. The website that my good friend @momentstop created for me will eventually have a space for open dialogue and blogs where we can all talk freely about our pain, fears and insecurities on this matter. I started this 6 days ago, I never had a plan, but I do have a vision and that vision is to end racism. I am growing and learning with you through this, together we can accomplish so much, together we can change the world. I love you. ❤️ 📸@chinseye . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #biketoronto #Toronto #bmcbikes #wahooligan #wahoo #tocycle #cyclelife #cycling #bikelife #selfisolation #ridebikes #mybmc #ride_bmc #cyclingphotos #cyclist #loves_road_bikes #hypebeast #lovesroadbikes #photooftheday #cyclingsnob #streetsoftoronto #potd #blogto #assosofswitzerland #cycling #bikeporn #wymtm #cyclingimages #getuncomfortable
Discomfort is the motivation. Cuesta compares the physical pain of pushing through a hard threshold effort on the bike to having uncomfortable conversations about privilege and race. “There is pain and discomfort in the mental space when you examine yourself and the people around you,” he says, “but you have to push through that.”
Cuesta’s rides, using the #46forGeorge hashtag, quickly blew up. After a segment on CBC’s the National, cyclists across Canada have been tagging him in their 46 km rides. “I’ve received messages from people in Vancouver to Newfoundland,” he says. “People are riding and messaging me, asking how they can do better with their privilege and how to teach their children about privilege. It’s an important conversation to have.”
Although there has been an outpouring of support for #46forGeorge, not all the feedback is positive. “It’s a lot of extreme emotions,” says Cuesta. “I’m getting a lot of love but also a lot of hate and anger. In the past two weeks I’ve become a sponge for people’s emotions— I’ve gained a lot of patience.”
One Facebook commenter complained to him about keeping Black Lives Matter out of sports. “There are two sides to every story […] I run/train to get away from the world, thanks for dragging me back,” says the commenter. “I can’t escape the world, even on my bike ride,” said Cuesta in a video reply. “It stresses me out when I’m on my ride at 5:00 a.m. and I see police drive by. If I get pulled over, there may be two sides to that story, but, if I don’t have a camera recording me, only one will be told.”
Racism is not a debatable issue, he says, but he wants to create a safe space for people to learn and speak about it. “I’ve had some people angrily DM me and we talk and they end up apologizing,” says Cuesta. “They were just angry and didn’t understand.”
Strangers and friends have joined (while keeping two metres distance) for many of the #46forGeorge rides. “When people ride with me on the loop we have meaningful conversations,” Cuesta says. He thinks it’s important to talk about racism in predominantly white circles like the sport of cycling and on apps like Strava. He cites the experiences of Justin Williams and L39ion of LA and the work the team is doing to make the sport more inclusive.
“I had an emotional day yesterday…But it’s because this is working,” says Cuesta. “People are messaging me, asking for help, and talking about racism.”
With 33 more days and hundreds of morning laps to go, Cuesta says he’s a bit tired.
“I know I can do it, I just have to pace myself,” he says. “Physically, I’m ok. Mentally, eh, I could be better—but I use this time every morning to clear my head.”