Finding Myself on a Bike

By: VIDA Ambassador Jennifer Petersen

I remember going on a bike ride around our neighborhood with my parents when I was probably around 10 or 11 years old. My mother, who would describe herself as a "non-athlete," crashed on our ride, slipping on some pavement made wet by a nearby sprinkler. She fractured her elbow on that ride and had her arm in a sling for longer than a mom can reasonably suffer.  I'm pretty certain that was the last time I saw her ride a bike. You see, we were not an outdoorsy family, despite growing up in Colorado. I'd never hiked a 14'er, skied only a couple of times as a child and camped primarily in KOA campgrounds with pools and grocery stores onsite (which are undeniably fun, don't get me wrong). All cardinal sins by Colorado rules.

But we were an athletic family, overall.  My father played baseball in college and it was expected that my sister and I would play a sport, though we could choose what we pursued. I started playing "butterfly soccer" (where you only hunt for bugs on the field) when I was 6, graduated to T-ball shortly thereafter, tried golf and tennis, and eventually settled on volleyball and basketball as my activities of choice. I even played at the collegiate level! Playing sports and being active was a part of my very being. 

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When I became pregnant with my first child, though, everything changed. Previously, I had been in "control" of most every aspect of myself physically: how I worked out, what strength I developed, what I ate, and therefore, how I looked and felt. For years I had been in charge of my body and my physical performance. For the first time I could remember, being pregnant took all that away. Suddenly, I had no control over what happened. Obviously, I wanted to maintain my health and provide the best environment for development for our child, but that kid was going to grow and take what it needed from me, regardless of how I felt about it.  My body was no longer just my own, and, as any mom will tell you, that continues well past the birth of your child. After having two kids in two years, I felt like I no longer even knew the person I used to be, who thrived on activity and competition. I missed that part of myself, but didn’t know how to find her again. 

While I was busy growing people, my husband had taken up mountain biking and had started to enjoy it immensely. So, of course, he was bugging me to try it, as well. When I pictured mountain biking, though, all I could imagine was my mom in her sling with a fractured elbow, only ten times worse! Surely, mountain biking was not something a 30 year old mom of two with limited biking experience took up in her spare time. Broken bones were a certainty, and I can't imagine caring for a baby while wearing a cast. Luckily, friends of ours, also parents of little people, were big into mountain biking and helped me ease into it. They advised us to invest in a good bike from the get go (thank goodness for full suspension!), and showed us around the front range trails. 

Biking with this family, I also discovered the power of women teaching other women to ride.  Where my husband would (lovingly) push me on the trails, my friend was happy to take her time and enjoy the scenery, without any pressure or perceived disappointment in going slow.  As I grew stronger and more confident in riding, I discovered a whole new side of my competitive spirit. Rather than needing to be better than someone else or beat someone in a scored game (still fun!), I found a huge sense of thrill and accomplishment in conquering the climb and obstacles of the trail. When I discovered a VIDA MTB Series clinic, my fledgling enjoyment of mountain biking turned into a fully developed love for riding. Not only could I enjoy the accomplishment of the climb, but now I could smile on the way down, as well, knowing how to control my bike and push myself further. 

Even more importantly, in VIDA, I found a huge community of (badasss!) women in Colorado and across the country, who not only love mountain biking, but are truly passionate about spreading that love for riding with other ladies. I have seen firsthand when professional racers set aside their time on a ride to spontaneously coach newer riders through hard features and new terrain. In an "individual" sport, I have found the camaraderie and team mentality that I loved so much when I was younger and competing in basketball and volleyball. And, on the side of a mountain, dirty and exhausted from a tough but satisfying ride, I found myself once again. Of all the places possible, I found my true self on a bike - where I never imagined I would be, and could never have pictured myself. 

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Surrounded by an amazing community of women (and the men who ride with them), I discovered a part of me that I didn't know existed in that capacity. Yes, broken bones are a possibility, though with the right coaching and protection, they're not a guarantee like I once thought. I've also discovered, however, that I feel an odd sense of pride on a Monday morning rocking a pencil skirt and heels with some bruises and scrapes leftover from a weekend ride.

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