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HOW A NAPLES WELLNESS EXPERT IS HELPING TO ESTABLISH HAITI AS A WORLD-CLASS DESTINATION FOR HARDCORE ADVENTURE TRAVELERS. by LEORA NOVICK photograph by STEVE ZDAWCZYNSKI
n Jan. 29, 2013, 26 amateur and professional mountain bikers from around the world flew to Haiti to participate in the firstever MTB Ayiti Ascent Stage Race, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to blend authentic cultural immersion with an insanely challenging mountain bike course through some of the most rugged—and breathtaking—terrain in the Western hemisphere. But MTB Ayiti is more than just a race; it’s part of a bigger picture. The goal is twofold: to give extreme sports tourists a chance to explore Haiti by bike and, in turn, to begin building a sustainable adventure tourism market in the economically devastated country. When word of this unique excursion made its way to Naples, Jill Wheeler knew she had to be there. Wheeler, the founder of Wellfit Institute, a holistic center for yoga, fitness, wellness and adventure in Naples, joined the MTB Ayiti team in January as its wellness contingent, bearing a tangible gift of 40 donated yoga mats as well as an intangible one: her knowledge of massage therapy and, more importantly, how to market it. By helping create a niche in an emerging market for a small team of Haitian workers, she enabled them to transform their newfound knowledge into a chance at a new career. Here, Wheeler shares her weeklong journey through Haiti’s rocky mountain ranges, river valleys and coastal plains, all in the name of goodwill and the ultimate adventure.