A while back I asked readers for their perspective on cycling when overweight as a response to some interactions I have had here in Huntington with people who believe they are unable to get on a bicycle. This was in conjunction with the locally infamous declaration of our fair city as the most unhealthy city in America in 2008. What I didn’t let on to was that one of those interactions was with my own sister Shannon.
Thanks to @WomenBikeBlogs and other unknown cyber connections I received a few responses. I have continued correspondence with some of them to help put together a larger post for later. Much of the information these cyclists were introducing me to was forwarded onto Shannon. Here is her story.
As a teenager I received a red mountain bike for my birthday. My father preached the importance of waxing the bike and other necessary maintenance. I remember getting the bike out and trying to get onto it. When I finally found my way onto the saddle and journeyed up the gravel lane and back I was scared to death. I didn’t feel light or free in the way I anticipated. All I heard was the gravel pinging against the metal frame and the crunch of rock as my bike waded through.
I took the bike out a handful of times with similar experiences. Then the contraption took up residence in the family shed. Biking was not my thing. I did however enjoy rollerblading. This did give me a light-as-air-dare-devil feeling. I loved to go to our local park, slap my blades on and listen to the world whistle by. I didn’t stop roller blading until my freshman year of college when I had packed on some pounds and thinking I was still my agile 15-year-old-self, went down a steep hill at night and landed knees first in a ditch. Haven’t been on blades since.
Fast-forward 9 years. I lead a very sedentary life and have gained a lot of weight since my activity filled, high school years. My days are filled with couch sitting or sitting in class or at work. I got this nifty idea that if my husband and I had bikes we will become instantly trim and insanely happy. After a few weeks of pressuring the husband he gives in and we get a mountain bike for him and a Schwinn cruiser hybrid for me–both from Walmart. At this point we are living in an upstairs apartment. My bike weighs a ton (a whopping 40+ pounds–which I feel is a ton).
After purchasing the bike it stay in our living room gathering dust because I’m too lazy to take it back down the stairs to attempt to ride. When we finally get our bikes downstairs I attempt to pedal through our parking lot. I swear all the children are laughing at me –ha, ha, fat girl who can’t ride a bike–. We ride, maybe a block… my body is hurting, I am so out of breath I think I’m going to throw up. I’m sweating and I want to curl into a ball and die. So I walk my bike back home, husband takes it up the stairs where they both remain for the next 2 years.
I finally give up on the bikes and post them on CraigsList. No one wants my bike but my friend makes an offer on my husbands. Around this same time, my oh-so-influential-older-sister (Stacy) has picked up this strange new biking lifestyle. Me, being the baby sister, I love to do whatever I can to look good in my eldest sister’s eyes. I had scheduled a trip down to Huntington to hang out with them in October but canceled because I was afraid she would want me to bike and walk with her (and other reason).
So, my baby nephew’s second birthday is coming up. I am able to get the time off work and am not in school this quarter so I jump on the chance to go to Huntington. I even offer to bring my bike down in hopes my sister can adjust it so it doesn’t feel quite so much like a torture device. Stacy mentions a women’s only group bike ride and asks me if I’ll attend. I want to please her, so I say yes.
With the bicycle adjustments made, I take a ride up and down the street and I am not so optimistic. I’m out of breath due to the Huntington hills and wrestle with the fact that I feel like I should be in a sumo suit to protect me from demise-by-bike.
On the day of the group ride I get up early so I can go out on the bike and play around. I begin by stretching for a good 20 minutes and get dressed up in layers. I make some final adjustments, strap on my helmet and off I go. This isn’t so bad.
My heart pounding and anxiety in my throat.. afraid I’m going to fail… OFF WE GO! The cool breeze feels good in my hair. Slow but steady. Stacy, then me, then London. Anxiety about hand signals but Stacy seems to be doing that for everyone. She calls out directions and words of encouragement. Pedal, breath, pedal.. oh it’s so pretty. Pedal, stop. Pedal, start. Maybe this isn’t so bad.
We get to the park to meet up with everyone. I hang back with London while Stacy plays hostess. About 15 minutes later we are off again, this time with more traffic, stop lights and all. All the women around me call out things like “car behind,” “pedal fast the via-duct is coming,” “bump ahead.” These women I had never met before, we were a team on this ride. Helping and encouraging, never leaving anyone behind. Once we arrived at our destination I wanted to keep riding, but I hung around drinking coffee and looking at shops. The trip back was more wearing and up hill. But at last, I made it!
Soreness was less than expected on the next day. Surprisingly the palms of my hands brought me the most pain and lasted the next two days. When I returned home, I went riding a few blocks one afternoon. Riding by yourself is very intimidating for a newbie. I think if I was more comfortable with biking, solo wouldn’t bother me. Right now I feel a need for extra eyes and words of encouragement. I never realized before that the roads around here (Mid-western Ohio) do have some incline to them–they aren’t flat. The things you notice on a bike!
The day after my short ride the rear tire was flat and it remains this way. I’ve watched the video’s on how to change the tire, purchased the new inner tube but I am waiting for my husband to bring home the right size bolt remover thingy to get the tire off. I hope to add riding to my list of leisure and stress reducing activities. I loved the high I felt the rest of the day after my group ride. “I feel like I could climb a mountain.”
If you have some advice or encouragement for my sister, please leave it in the comments. If you would like her to keep writing about her cycling experiences as they occur, and I know I would, let her know. Anyone who has ever tried to do something new or taken on a health challenge can sympathize with the need for support. It sometimes feels more simple to give up and give in, but the longterm costs of such a choice are insurmountable.