Bicycle Riding

My hubby loves to ride a bicycle. He spends all summer being paid to ride. But he wasn’t always such a bicycle nut. His fascination with it didn’t begin until our son took up mountain bike racing. Hubby and I took him to races and cheered for him. Whenever Son got a new bike, he would pass his old one down to his dad. He and Hubby would go biking a lot together, leaving me home to come pick them up when they got too far from home to get back. I didn’t mind. I had the house to myself for a little while.

Occasionally they would invite me to ride along. I would creep along on my old bike, and my son would be gallantly cheering me on. I would tell him to go on ahead of me but he assured me that he enjoyed my company and wanted to ride with me. He was so sweet to do that!

In time, I got a one of his hand-me-down bikes. I could barely ride for 5 minutes without burning lungs and leg muscles. The trail closest to our house was uphill but that meant going downhill to get back home. That’s a good way to do it.

I tried my best to follow my husband and son, but there was no hope of keeping up. Thankfully they left me behind and weren’t there to hear me sucking air like a jet engine. In cadence with my cranking, I repeated to myself, “This—is—good—for—me!” The farther I went, the more it became “This—is—not—fun!” Finally, just before turning around, it became “This—puff puff—is—puff puff—killing—puff puff—me!”

And indeed, it felt like it really was killing me. My chest was heavy and tight and streaks of pain went down my arms. I could not take a deep breath and in fact, could not breathe deeply enough to get enough oxygen. I figured there was something wrong with my heart. There was no other explanation. Bicycling was literally killing me. When I insisted my doctor give me a stress test, I found out I had exertion asthma. I’d probably had it all my life but it had never been diagnosed. That explained a lot of my failures at athletics.

Relieved my heart was in good shape, I took my newly-prescribed inhaler and started working out on a bike trainer that fall. At first, I could barely mange 10 minutes. The secret to making longer workouts, I found, was to read a book to make the time go faster. I read four Lord of the Rings books, three Harry Potter books, and an assortment of other books and magazines on that bike. By then end of that winter, I was in the best shape of my life.

The first ride of spring was a test. Riding up an actual hill is much harder than riding a trainer. My son rode along beside me, cheering me along every inch of the way. I told him to go ahead of me but he refused. He said he needed practice balancing while riding at slow speeds. Whatever…but his encouragement made me determined to make it all the way, and I eventually made it up that steady grade of 6 miles, resting numerous times along the way. It was a moment of triumph. The couch potato had reached the top of a hill, physically and emotionally. I shed a lot of sweat that day but most importantly, I shed a lot of fear of failure.

My most empowering moment came that fall. There was a bike event that covered 114 miles in 3 days. Hubby and I signed up. My fear of not being able to do it almost overwhelmed me but it was too late to back out, with a refund. Day One nearly did me in. It was 96 degrees and part of the ride was across treeless plains. Dehydrated and over-hot, I finished the 46-mile ride and had a bowl of ice cream to celebrate. Day Two went well but it was a long ride. By Day Three, I was dragging. I faced 11 miles of uphill grade and it was really hard to make it. I almost didn’t but was close enough to see the top so I toughed it out.

I cannot describe the overwhelming emotion I felt as I crossed the finish line. In one year, I had transformed myself from someone who could barely ride 100 yards to someone who had completed 114 miles. I had conquered my greatest enemy—my own fear. It was one of the most empowering moments of my life. My eyes filled with tears as my hands brushed the finish line banner. The crowning triumph came when my son told me he was very proud of me. They were the sweetest words ever spoken to me.

I still ride my bike occasionally. The ground is flatter but more crowded. More than once I’ve heard “porker on a bike” warning coming from someone behind me. Why is that necessary? I’m working out, trying to get into shape, and improve my health. If I were sitting on the couch, stuffing my face with chocolate, the comment might be justified. However, as my granny always said to us, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, keep your tater trap shut!” To paraphrase, if you can’t encourage someone who is trying their best, keep your snide comments to yourself. You have no idea how much courage and effort it takes to get that far.

My bike riding experiences have taught me several things:

1. A kind word and encouragement is a good motivator and can change a person’s attitude and life.
2. Cheering and praise from your child is precious.
3. If I, the former asthmatic couch potato, can do it, anyone can.
4. The biggest obstacle to success is my own fear. I must conquer myself before I can achieve my dreams.
5. In the end, all the hard work is worth it.
6. Reading books can get you into shape.

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