Tennis has been my passion since the age of 13, playing competitively through my high school and college years. Except for injury time-off, I have not stopped playing. I captained a women’s 4.5 USTA league team for sixteen years, traveled to many 4.5 national championships, placing as high as 2nd in 2004. In addition, I captained a World Team Tennis 4.5 division team, winning the national championship in 2003. Over the years, my joints have endured much stress, resulting in shoulder, foot, and multiple knee surgeries. For several years I have been working with Cheryl Richards to devise a 3-day per week personal training program in order to maintain a high level of fitness and strength while working within my limitations of mobility and flexibility.
However, in order to decrease the amount of stress to my joints from high impact sports such as tennis, cycling seemed to be the perfect answer as a low-impact, joint friendly companion to my continued love of tennis. After participating in many of Cheryl’s spin classes, I embarked on my first cycling adventure in the fall of 2012 with my daughter, Lauren, and six other friends to South East Asia, including North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. We traversed the rugged, mostly unpaved, potholed, orange-dusty terrain on mountain bikes over the course of three weeks. From this trip my excitement for experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, people, and culture of a region from the seat of a bike grew into a passion for additional cycling adventures.
Early in the Spring of 2014, I entertained the thought of participating in a cross-country bike trip planned and organized by Trek Travel. After much consideration, I brought the literature and itinerary to one of my personal training sessions and posed the question to Cheryl….”Do you think I can do this? I’m a tennis player and athlete, but not an ‘avid’ cyclist.” Cheryl expressed every confidence in my abilities both physical and mental to complete this “adventure of a lifetime”. The first step would be to alter my personal training program over the next four months to target more cycling specific muscles, a challenge which Cheryl embraced with incredible excitement. Having Cheryl’s confidence and incredible support behind me, I signed up the next day.
This was the inaugural year for Trek Travel to offer a cross-country ride over the northern tier of the USA. The six-week passage would begin on August 24th from Astoria, Oregon, and conclude 44 days later in Portland, Maine on Oct 6th, traversing 3700 miles and spanning 16 states. Along with the forty ride days, four “rest days” were included in the itinerary: Missoula, MT, Rapid City, SD, Madison, WI, and Cleveland, OH. For the first time in 30 years, my name was not on the roster of any USTA league summer tennis team. Instead, I retired the tennis racket for a few months and committed to “time in the saddle” and a new personal training regimen.
Over the next few months, Cheryl’s commitment, dedication, energy and encouragement to pushing me to achieve my goals was endless. By mid-August she had fueled my confidence, energy and strength to a level beyond anything I could have imagined when I signed up for this trip.
The physical challenge of riding cross country was obvious with stage-4 arthritis in my knee and joint replacement looming in my not too distant future. The biggest unknown was how well and how long my knee would hold up, riding multiple century rides, over 20 during the course of the journey. During the 7-day stretch from Marshall, Michigan to Lake Pleasant, NY the itinerary featured rides of 100 to 125 miles each day. In addition, the itinerary included a total elevation gain of approximately 141,000 feet over the course of the six weeks. Equally as challenging were the mental obstacles to overcome, not only the reservations in my mind, but the doubts among “outsiders,” to which Cheryl responded with every assurance that I had what it takes and I would surprise a lot of people.
In the realm of the cycling world I would be considered a “newbie.” As nervous as I was to embark on such an arduous and demanding challenge, Cheryl assured me that I was certain to find a riding companion with similar cycling experience and training. Luckily, within the first few days of the trip I connected with two other “newbies,” both highly successful athletes with similar lengths of training for this ride. We met as strangers from different parts of the country but worked together well as a team. I felt certain that, no doubts, this would surely be an incredibly unique and amazing experience. Together, along with a very accomplished cyclist who was indispensable in providing helpful hints, techniques, and support to us, we infused each other with confidence and encouragement, pulled strength from each other, and summoned the mental tenacity each day to pedal 3700 miles across a network of roads and bike paths connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
From the outset, this journey would require an ambitious combination of physical conditioning, endurance, mental strength, a positive attitude, and a healthy sense of humor and adventure. As a testament to the training program which Cheryl had incorporated into my weekly training sessions, I achieved every goal to prepare me for the many challenges of the ride and experienced no problems with my knee or shoulder. The countless rewards of the spectacular scenery, extraordinary memories, and lifelong friendships formed through the camaraderie of the experience were truly incomparably amazing.