Woman skating across U.S. to prove stranger kindness exists
Yanise Ho is 5 foot 4, 117 pounds and speaks Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese, English and Spanish.
The Hong Kong native is seeing America in a unique way — she’s skating from the East Coast (Miami) to the West Coast (Portland, Ore.) with no money and no safety net, all to prove that the kindness of strangers still exists. And to show that one girl can make a difference.
The 23-year-old has already ventured thousands of miles solo and, in the process, raised over $13,000 for girls in Africa to continue their secondary education via the Canadian-based nonprofit One Girl Can. Her goal is $20,000, and The Bladress, as she calls herself, firmly believes she can do it before her November deadline. (An anonymous donor has promised to match the $20,000 and contribute an additional $20,000 to the cause, she said.)
“It’s called the Bladress scholarship, and it mainly supports girls in Kenya and Uganda ... support them in secondary schools and help them find meaningful employment and have a mentor to tell them, ‘Hey, you can be whoever you want to be’ — that’s the main goal of it,” Ho said. “To let them know if you dream it, you can do it.”
Ho came to the United States for school at 17 and is one class shy of getting her journalism degree at University of Massachusetts Amherst online.
“Yanice is the embodiment of everything One Girl Can stands for: the ability of One Girl to overcome any obstacle in the pursuit of achieving her full potential,” said One Girl Can’s founder and CEO Lotte Davis. “All she needs is a little help to get her started. We’re so proud to have Yanice representing us in this incredible journey.”
With a smile and her 43-pound backpack (filled with three changes of clothes, extra wheels, energy bars, water and a tent, just in case someone doesn’t host her for a night), Ho started her skating endeavor March 14. She learned inline skating in 2016 but still doesn’t consider herself a good skater, despite the thousands of miles in her past.
Her impression of Indiana: “a lot of crops.” Her takeaway from New York: People don’t really engage — they may make eye contact, but they don’t come up to talk. Her thoughts on Ohio: It takes folks a while to warm up, but they do; things fall in place. Next up: Iowa.
“I think what makes my journey successful is that I don’t have much expectation,” Ho said. “And I’m still trying not to have much expectation, so that I’ll be grateful for the simplest thing.”
Ho rolled through Chicago last weekend, and the Tribune caught up with her after her stop in Crown Point, Ind., to ask about her one-woman endeavor.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How did your trip come about?
A: I’ve always been very aware of child marriage. I saw this article and how this girl died because of being too young to have sex, and they were forced to do it, and it broke my heart. I’ve always wanted to do something to end child marriage, so I found One Girl Can — they believe that one girl can achieve more, so this is what I’m doing – just one girl. So our missions just aligned with each other, so we partnered together.
Q: Why inline skating?
A: I bought my first pair of inline skates in 2016. I just thought, it’s got to start somewhere, so I’ll just learn on my own. And within two months, I had over 50 road rashes and 10 stitches on my head.
Two months after I learned, I joined an inline skate marathon in Minnesota, and four months after that, I started my first journey in 2016 skating from Savannah, Ga., to Miami. That was sort of a test run. Savannah to Miami was a huge success. Every day people hosted me, and I didn’t spend $1 because people were just so hospitable.
It’s amazing how they would just trust a stranger in their home. Also, I just didn’t like biking — it’s been done too many times, and a bike was just bulky. Rollerblades are just so special. Faster and easier to control. Most practical transportation of them all.
Q: No money, no weapons, how do you keep the safety aspect in perspective during this trip?
A: For some strange reason … I just can tell. I can go into a barbershop for some water, and they would be like, “We’re having a meal; do you want to join in?” I feel like I can trust everybody. Everyone is my family. I feel like people aren’t trustworthy only because you don’t trust that they can be trustworthy. I feel like if I trust them, they’re not going to let me down.
Q: How long did it take to prepare for this journey? Are you a natural athlete?
A: I didn’t do any physical training at all before taking off. It’s more mental. It took me almost two years, but every day I thought, “I’m going to start soon,” and just one day, I felt I would never be ready, so I might as well just go. I literally bought my backpack the day before I took off.
I’m not particularly athletic. I’m an all-or-nothing person. Before this, I didn’t feel like exercising at all. Everybody was telling me I should start working out and build up my endurance, and I was like, “No, I’m not going to do that.” My thinking was: I’ll know what to do when I get on the road. I felt like you can prepare as much as you want, but things can still happen, so you might as well go and learn on the way. So the key is to just go, just start.
Q: Do you get lonely on the road?
A: I actually kind of like being solo because I meet a lot of people along the way, and I get to take time to really know the person. My favorite moments are when people trust me enough to tell me their deepest secrets that they can’t tell their friends and family. I never feel lonely.
Q: When did your wanderlust begin? What inspired you?
A: My childhood inspired me. I didn’t get to go to places when I was a child, and I lived in a high-rise building — I didn’t like it. I just looked out the window every day, hoping I could go somewhere and smell fresh air and see an open sky. I just felt very trapped.
The first time I traveled on my own, I was 15 and went to New Zealand. And it changed my life entirely. After New Zealand, I didn’t have insomnia anymore. The first day I was there, I slept very well, and when I woke up, I just wanted to keep running and running and not stop, kind of like Forrest Gump. And I couldn’t stop — I was like: This is freedom. When I got back home, I just became the happiest person ever. I didn’t care about anything else.
Q: Walk me through an average day on the road.
A: I just go with the flow. Every day is really a surprise — every day random strangers offer me places to stay. Sometimes it’s a combination of people reaching out from the internet — “Hey you can crash at my place” — or just meeting people randomly, or families from my previous hosts. When I feel hungry, food always comes my way. It always happens at the right moment, so I don’t worry about things. Sometimes I want to spend more time with the host. Sometimes I just set a destination: “This is where I want to end the day today (20-30 miles from here)” and when I reach the town, that’s it. But sometimes I meet the right person — I call it “the one” before I reach a town, and that’s OK too. I get hosted, and then I continue on the next day.
Q: Your most vivid experience to date?
A: I skated into this restaurant in South Carolina. Everyone was just so nice — they all chipped in to pay for my meal, and then suddenly there was one man who came up to me and said, “I don’t know you, but I love you. I love you for what you do.” His son was murdered three months ago (in a robbery), but he said, “I still believe in love, and that’s what you’re showing the world, so keep doing what you do and don’t stop.” And then he gave me a big hug. He was just so positive, and I started crying because his son just died but he still believes in love. I couldn’t stop crying.
Q: What’s the next leg in your journey?
A: Iowa. Right after this trip I want to hide out to write my book about this journey because I want to write everything down before the memories fade. I think I’m going to go home and see my family for two months in Hong Kong. But I also see myself moving to South Carolina eventually and opening a tea shop. And I think I want to do documentaries about people.