Home » Blog » Inspiring Stories » People Helping People » My Hundred-Mile Bike Ride

Author

Share this story

My Hundred-Mile Bike Ride

One woman’s life-changing adventure strengthened her faith and helped her achieve success in a sport she never thought she’d participate in.

Race
GP-Inspiring Stories Tag Content GP-Inspiring Stories Tag Content GP-Inspiring Stories Tag Content GP-Inspiring Stories Tag Content GP-Inspiring Stories Tag Content GP-Inspiring Stories Tag Content GP-Inspiring Stories Tag ContentGP-Inspiring Stories Tag Content

The road wound relentlessly up. Pine-scented air burned my lungs. In the distance, to my right, the sapphire waters of Lake Tahoe glinted in the afternoon glare.

I was on my bicycle, trying to make it up a 700-foot climb in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At the top, a road junction near the 7,000-foot elevation mark, I’d still have more than 10 miles to go to the end of my ride—that was 10 miles in a 100-mile bicycle ride that, at this exhausted, demoralized moment, seemed like one of the dumbest things I had ever agreed to do.

I forced my aching legs against the pedals. I gasped for air. I can’t do it, I kept thinking. I can’t do this on my own.

I looked down. Gray, sun-baked pavement rolled past in agonizing slow motion. The Lycra on my cycling shorts bit into my none-too-svelte, 44-year-old thighs. Three colored plastic bracelets stood out against my sweaty arm. There was hardly a sound, just wind sighing in the pines and the vague noise of people cheering far ahead. No other riders on this short stretch of curvy road.

I was way, way in the back of the ride’s 3,000-strong pack. I’d already dismounted and walked part of the way. Should I get off again? Maybe sit down at the side of the road and let one of the support cars pick me up? A drumbeat of give up seemed to sound in my head, in rhythm with each painful stroke of the pedals. I slowed. It would be so easy to stop. End this misery. Right here.

I thought back wonderingly to the day six months before when I’d happened upon a triathlon on TV one lazy weekend afternoon. I was taking a break from school work—I’m a biology professor at Missouri State University.

The sight of all those toned, fit bodies made me suddenly, painfully aware of just how un-toned and unfit my own body was. I could have easily stood to lose 60, 70 pounds.

Watching the cycling portion of the race took me back to one childhood Christmas, when my dad, who never made loads of money, gave me a used bike he’d lovingly restored, complete with a banana seat, butterfly handlebars and a fresh coat of blue paint. What freedom I’d found on that bike, riding all over town with my friends! I miss that, I thought. I miss being active, in shape. That’s it. I’m getting back on a bike. Heck, I’m going to do a bike race!

Okay, I didn’t get on a bike that afternoon. Nor the next day, when I walked into my office and told my colleague Kathy about my new resolution.

“Interesting you should mention it,” she said, lifting a brochure from her desk. “I just got this in the mail. It’s from an organization called Team in Training. You sign up with them and they train you to do a big race, like a marathon or a hundred-mile bike ride. They take care of everything, the coaching, race fees, transportation. All you have to do is raise four thousand dollars for charity—the money goes to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Want to take this?”

I took the brochure. And with it, my life swung in a totally new and unexpected direction. The change started slowly, with informational meetings and a presentation by a cycling coach who looked so much like me—as in, not a stunner in Lycra—that I thought, Hey, I can do this, and signed up for a 100-mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe.

It progressed to spinning classes at the gym—this was February, when Missouri roads are no place for a cyclist. By spring I was taking exploratory rides on the new bike I’d bought, complete with the cycling outfit I’d had to order online because local bike stores didn’t carry my size.

I got up very early for my workouts, before my husband, Brian, and my two girls, 10-year-old Amy and eight-year-old Stephanie, saw me. Brian and the girls were really supportive of my cycling, but that didn’t mean I was going to embarrass myself and work out in front of them. At least not until I was in shape. Which, of course, was why I was putting myself through all this in the first place.

The rides got longer and harder, especially the group rides on weekends, which started at 20 miles and worked their way up to 80. I buckled down on the fund-raising—and found I knew way more people touched by leukemia than I’d ever thought. Colleagues, former students, former teachers, all responded to my e-mails with stories of their own struggles, or a relative’s or a friend’s struggle with the disease.

Four people in particular moved me—Greg, a fellow professor at Missouri State; Becky, a woman I’d worked with on a commission; Deanna, a student of mine; and Ethan, the toddler son of another Team in Training rider. All had a form of blood cancer. All, in a way not quite in sync with my weight-loss and get-fit goals, felt somehow that I was riding for them.

Well, I thought as I ground up the hill in the Sierra Nevadas, maybe soon I’ll be quitting for them. I really didn’t see how I was going to make it up this incline, let alone to the finish. Would it really matter if I packed it in?

Finishing would be a thrill. Brian and the girls would be there waiting for me. But I’d already raised the money. I’d already ridden almost 90 miles. Impressive, right?

I looked back down at my shorts. To my chagrin, six months of exercise had not ended up making a huge difference in my shape. I felt fitter, and I’d dropped a few sizes. But no one was going to mistake me for a toned athlete. No one was going to mistake me for anything but a middle-aged woman on a bike who was huffing and puffing like an overtaxed steam engine.

I blinked away some sweat and called on a favorite Scripture passage: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Still my pace slowed. God did not seem to be strengthening me on this climb.

Suddenly the cheering ahead grew louder. I looked up. Three people were at the side of the road, waving handmade signs and yelling their heads off. I looked closer. I pedaled a little harder. No—wait—could it be? It was! It was Brian and the girls! How had they gotten here? They must have driven back up from the finish line.

I bolted the remaining yards and pulled up beside them. “You can do it!!” Amy’s sign read. “Go, Mom, Go!” read Stephanie’s. They crowded around me, patting me on my soggy back. “Looking great, honey,” Brian said. “It’s almost all downhill from here.”

I caught my breath and then I happened to notice again the bracelets on my arm. Each was marked with names—Greg, Becky, Deanna, Ethan. I thought of all the people I’d seen along the route, riders wearing loved ones’ names, cancer survivors with signs reading, “You are my hero.”

Suddenly the size of my thighs seemed ridiculously insignificant. Maybe I’d started this whole adventure for myself, to get fit. But I was going to finish it for a whole lot more people. In a way I’d been right to think, Can’t do this by myself. I couldn’t do it alone. I had to do it for someone other than myself—with Christ strengthening me. And he was strengthening me. Through Brian and the girls. Through Greg, Becky, Deanna and Ethan. Through everyone I’d seen that exhausting, exhilarating day.

I ground my way to the top of the hill. An hour or so later I crossed the finish line. Cheering crowds there saw a middle-aged biology teacher roll past. But I knew who was really powering my ride—and I knew I wouldn’t have made it otherwise.

Share this story

Community Newsletter

Get More Inspiration Delivered to Your Inbox

Scroll to Top