Slow athletes have some amazing stories – there’s a lot of inspiration to be found at the back of the pack. Slow athletes deserve to have places to tell our stories, and to have (and be!) role models. The Celebrating Slow Series is a place to do just that. If you have a story that you would like featured here, e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org.
Today Madeline shares her story of personal victories while Cycling Slow
The cyclist who is cycling up a hill never looks glamorous. You are dripping sweat, grimacing, your legs and maybe your lungs are working harder than ever before to climb the hill as fast as you can (because the faster you climb, the sooner you get to stop climbing), but when you weigh three hundred pounds like I do, it feels like someone is holding onto your bike, digging their feet into the ground, pulling you backwards.
As a beginning cyclist, it only took me one attempt at going up the tallest hill in my city, situated in the exact center of my daily route, to make me contemplate going an extra two miles out of my way to avoid it. Climbing hills, among other challenges, made me wonder if I should accept defeat and stick to walking, not only because of the typical travails of taking up any new past time but because cycling as a sport is not meant for people with bodies like mine.
I first started cycling when I went to college and a bike proved necessary to make it across campus in time for class. I enjoyed it, but I did not ride enough to really appreciate it. When I started commuting by bike to work, however, I really discovered my love for cycling.
I took the plunge and first bought a hybrid, upgrading from my Huffy cruiser, and soon after purchased a road bike for a cool thousand dollars. That is when I realized I was not the person the bike was designed for. The saddle (seat) was narrow, and my bottom hung over on either side substantially. The resultant chafing was severely uncomfortable. The stem to which the handlebar is attached was angled down to the road, lower than the saddle, to give the cyclist an aerodynamic shape as well as to optimize leg power, but it did not take into account the possession of a gut. My first (and second and third) attempts to ride my road bike resulted in pain, as my stomach fat was pinched and squished by my thighs, and I could not breathe because every internal organ that previously resided in my abdomen was displaced to the interior of my rib cage.
After crying over it, I went back to the bike shop and talked to the owner (a kind man who never once made me feel uncomfortable or insecure) and we came up with a solution. Turning the stem so that it was angled up resulted in the handlebar being high enough that I could comfortably lean forward while riding. We replaced the saddle so that I had a more supportive seat and raised it some so that even at the top of a pedal rotation, my thighs were not pressing uncomfortably into my stomach. I also ended up, at a later date, replacing the standard plastic pedals with metal ones following an incident where the right pedal completely broke off in the middle of a ride because it was not built to support my weight. After these changes were made to accommodate my body (rather than changing my body to accommodate the bike), I was ready to ride.
Since then I have become even more committed to cycling. I taught myself how to do all sorts of maintenance on my bikes (using YouTube tutorials like a proper millennial), and I am in the process of upgrading all of my gear so that I can be a more efficient and safer cyclist when I’m sharing the road with cars. But for all my devotion, I am not fast. I average about fifteen or sixteen miles an hour in ideal conditions and can get up to twenty or twenty-one for a short amount of time when sprinting. Conditions are rarely ideal.
I live just outside the seventh windiest city in the nation, according to The Weather Channel, and my wide body acts as a parachute, while my weight makes it feel like I’m pedaling through wet concrete at times. But still I ride. Even if I am going only 8 miles per hour and dismounting my bike and walking would get me to my destination faster, I stay seated and pedal. I like to have music going while I ride, and it is especially helpful when climbing hills, because I can pedal to the rhythm of the music and steadily make my way to the top, even as cars zoom past, or, as in one memorable instance, I am passed by a group of runners on the sidewalk. By the time I make it to the top of the hill, I feel like I have not had a full lungful of air pass my lips in twenty minutes and my legs are simultaneously numb and on fire. If I were to dismount, I would be unable to stand or walk. But I never feel so good and successful as when I have slowly climbed to the top of a hill or biked home against 12 mph winds without taking my feet off the pedals.
Now, even though I have not entered (and likely will not ever enter) a public race against other cyclists, every day is a personal race. Some days I strive to beat my own record, some days I stick to the side and don’t push myself at all. Regardless, I am just about as happy as I can be whenever I am on my bike, moving forward at any speed. When I was first starting out, and had not yet built up strength in my legs, I would tell myself “You can’t go forward if you stop.”
That has become my mantra, not just in cycling but in life. No matter how slow it feels like you are going, the continued endeavor places you ever further ahead of where you were before.
If you can’t get enough of the awesome inspiration from slow athletes, check out the other entries in the series:
Have your own story to tell? I would love to feature it here. E-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org