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Cycle for Smiles: Q&A with Brigette Clifford and Victor Mansure

Along their journey toward new smiles, our patients and their families often travel hours – even sometimes days – from their homes.

Now, riders can partake in a journey with Cycle for Smiles to support patients and Operation Smile’s work around the world. Cycle for Smiles is a global series of cycling rides across more than 20 countries that will raise funds to support Operation Smile and celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary. 

Brigette Clifford, director of student strategic initiatives, understands how aligning yourself with people who inspire you can empower others to overcome unexpected barriers.

“It’s a chance for us to raise awareness that, though we are very global and this pandemic has kept us apart, we are still very much together,” Brigette said. “And we are still focused on the same thing we have always been focused on – our patients.”

Alongside Brigette, Victor Mansure, Operation Smile’s global cycling event manager, champions how a shared purpose enables individual people to make a global impact.

“Cycling is a common language around the world,” he said. “Cycle for Smiles can be the movement that elevates our community awareness, allowing us to raise funds and positively engage our Operation Smile’s mission.”

We recently connected with Victor and Brigette to learn more about the motivation behind Cycle for Smiles and the work that went into orchestrating this event on a global scale.

Salah Eddine is the captain of his Cycle for Smiles team in Morocco. Before working his way to becoming a championship-caliber professional cyclist, Salah Eddine was a young child, living each day with a cleft lip and palate. Now, each time he races toward the finish line, he proudly wears the Operation Smile logo – a reminder of who helped him get to where he is today. Photo courtesy of Salah Eddine.

Q: Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind Cycle for Smiles? 

Brigette: “These rides represent the compassion and commitment spanning three generations of Operation Smile as we gear up for another decade of work. The inspiration behind Cycle for Smiles came from our Team Hope initiative where I was able to rally 30 students from three different high schools in January of 2021 to orchestrate a 52-mile bike ride from Richmond, Virginia, to Jamestown, Virginia, on the Virginia Capital Trail. Start to finish it took six hours for us to get the last riders in. Together, the team raised $32,000 in support of Sending Hope. The money raised went to the Operation Smile families in Guatemala to provide them with supplies and nutritious foods during the pandemic.  

“I was also inspired by Rodrigo and Marcela Vargas who, along with four other friends, went 620 miles over seven days to raise money for their children in northern Colombia – an area where we will be taking care of children. They did this last summer, and I guess they had the same frustration of not being able to do much during the pandemic so they started spinning their creative juices and came up with this incredible ride. Another tribute to the dedication of our volunteers and not letting anything stand in their way to help our children.”

Q: How do you hope to empower people when they see the positive change Cycle for Smiles is making around the world? 

Brigette: “It’s a chance for us to raise awareness that, though we are very global and this pandemic has kept us apart, we are still very much together. And we are still very much focused on the same thing we have always been focused on – our patients. We are pedaling together. We are going the distance as we will now look to go farther into our countries to take care of more children.”

Q: Why do you feel that cycling is such a great sport to choose for a global initiative like Cycle for Smiles? 

Victor: “Sporting events have the magical ability to unify us. Cycling, specifically, allows us to go together and access further distances, explore places, reach our patients and physically boost our health. Cycling is a common language around the world, and Cycle for Smiles can be the movement that elevates our community awareness, allowing us to raise funds and positively engage in Operation Smile’s mission.”

Q: Who are some of the teams that are pioneering the format and are off to an early start logging their miles and kilometers? 

Brigette: “In Colombia in June, Rodrigo and Marcela are prepping for another big ride to fulfill their fundraising goal set prior to their inaugural ride. There is also an awesome group in Colorado that’s organizing a three-stage ride through Aspen, Boulder and five mountain passes. That’s more than 200 miles long. Cycling enthusiasts will be taking to the mountains for us! 

“In South Africa, 10 teams will be hosting four separate rides with each team having the goal of raising funds for one surgery, which can cost as little as $240. Though the training may be taking place, the actual logging of miles has only been started in the Philippines.”

Q: As the global cycling event manager, what kind of behind-the-scenes work goes into orchestrating an event of this magnitude? How are things progressing as Cycle for Smiles kicks off?

Victor: “The key to our success is organization. Being able to clearly communicate our movement, set the calendar, engage interested parties, answer questions that come up, talk through details on meetings, revise what has been done to improve, and follow up with tasks and assignments. Moreover, it is important to synchronize a world effort by ‘shaping,’ allowing for an event template with enough flexibility to work in the local community.”

Q: How can people get involved with Cycle for Smiles?

Victor: “Cycle for Smiles is open to anyone who wants to join the movement. Including patients, parents, staff members, recreational and professional cyclists, volunteers, public and private organizations.

“You can sign up directly on our website or contact us at victor.mansure@operationsmile.org.”

Read Salah Eddine’s Story

Salah Eddine is a patient who received cleft surgery as well as orthognathic care from Operation Smile Morocco. Today, he is achieving his dream of being a championship-caliber professional cyclist. Photo courtesy of Salah Eddine.
After connecting with Operation Smile Morocco, Salah Eddine received the comprehensive cleft care that he needed to pursue his dreams.
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After connecting with Operation Smile Morocco, Salah Eddine received the comprehensive cleft care that he needed to pursue his dreams.
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