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caption: Diana Nguyen used to be lazy. Then she got on a bike. 
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Diana Nguyen used to be lazy. Then she got on a bike.

A pep talk from a recovering 'lazy' teen

Meet Diana Nguyen. She's 17-years-old, she's a proud Asian-American, and she can't go anywhere without her best friend, Gertrude. Gertrude is the name of her bike.

Nguyen doesn't really take anything seriously, which used to be a problem for her. In middle school, she had a history of quitting things easily.

"I would say laziness ruled my life," Nguyen said. "It was just me looking at it and thinking about it and saying, 'Oh I wish I could've done this or I wish I could do this,' but never really taking the initiative to do anything."

When high school started, Nguyen had enough of laziness. It prevented her from doing the things she wanted to do. So when her friends told her that their bike club was looking for new members, she tried it out. Although she didn't have much experience in sports, biking didn't seem that hard.

But when Nguyen had to ride from White Center to Alki, reality hit her.

She hadn't exercised in years. "All of a sudden I'm on a bike rushing down a hill, going up a hill," Nguyen said. "Not knowing how to change gears on my bike was one of the worst parts of it."

The sun was shining, her legs couldn't keep up the pace, and her energy level was tanking. It was so bad she found herself on the ground with her bike leader standing over her asking if she was OK.

Nguyen realized she had pedaled way outside her comfort zone. But she was set on making this the one thing she didn't quit. "If my friends can do it, why couldn't I?" she reasoned.

Two months later, Nguyen took part in her first official ride, Red-Bell. It's 100 miles from Redmond to Bellingham. When she got there, Nguyen thought, "Oh man, this is serious! People have two water bottles instead of one!" She and her bike also got a number, "which was really cool because I've never had an experience where I had a number pinned onto my back."

Unlike her first ride to Alki, this was a timed event. Although Nguyen had trained for it, she wasn't prepared to ride the great distance.

The pressure was on, but the biking conditions kept her at ease. 

"When we got into the more closed and quiet roads it was just wind on leaves and it was very relaxing," she said. "It wasn't an uncomfortable silence between everyone who's riding, it was just everyone appreciating the nature around."

Recall that Red-Bell is 100 miles long. When the sky grew dark and bikers zoomed on by, Nguyen knew the race was ending. With 18 miles still to go, it would be impossible for her to finish in time. So she got into one of the support vehicles and drove to the finish line.

Nguyen was disappointed, but she looked on the bright side: "Wow, I was able to go 82 miles and if I had more time I would've been able to really finish it."

She didn't care if she failed or succeeded. The action of riding in Red-Bell made her feel accomplished.  

A year later, Nguyen tackled 200 miles from Seattle to Portland in two days. It was a tough ride: She had to deal with thousands of bikers – and angry drivers in traffic.

But she finally crossed the finish line. "I just thought that if I could do Red-Bell, I could do this too. And after I could do this, I could do anything else," said Nguyen.

No passing out, no support vehicles. It was just her and her determination to go the extra mile. And this attitude had impacts beyond Nguyen's biking career.

Instead of getting picked up from school, her mom now drops her off with Gertrude so she can ride back home. Some days she might bike to downtown Seattle with friends, or head to wrestling practice to prepare for her next match.

The choices are endless for Nguyen, and it keeps her busy but happy. If she hadn't taken the risk of joining bike club, none of this would have ever happened.

"It's so cliché, I'm cringing," Nguyen laughed before sharing her advice to others. "Just do the things that you want to do. And if you don't know what you're doing with your life, just start small at first even if you're not very sure if you like it or not.

"It's better to start it and try it out before you just don't try it at all and regret."

This story was created in RadioActive Youth Media's Spring 2016 Workshop for high school students at the Southwest Branch of the Seattle Public Library.  Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.