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Cycling as a lifelong sport

Jennifer Klein | Published on 10/2/2022

Now that I’m old enough for Medicare, I often reflect on my love of cycling and its continuing place in my life. I hope you are lucky enough to enjoy the passion and camaraderie of cycling throughout your life as I have. Keep at it! I rode my first Century with the Nashville Wheelmen in 1975, and am still at it in 2022.

My love of cycling began in college riding on the Cumberland plateau and mountains near Sewanee and Monteagle TN, a perfect escape from regular college life. After four years in Chicago, Mark and I settled in Greenville, SC, which even in the 80s was cycling nirvana. I rode with the Greenville Spinners up the Watershed to Saluda NC (If you’ve done the Greenville Hincapie Gran Fondo you know those roads). On a lark I entered a race, and won wearing maroon shorts, which almost disqualified me, as only black shorts were allowed at the time. Soon I joined the Greenville Spinners/Albertos race team as the only woman. We all did the Assault on Mt Mitchell, a 103 mile race with the last 27 miles uphill, and for seven years I held the women’s record. And back in the day we did it with plain water in the bottle, a banana and Fig Newtons in the handlebar bag, and on gears I can’t believe I used for climbing.

Time for motherhood, and finding time for myself and cycling became a lot more challenging. I dialed back the intensity through my pregnancies, then with kids I rode mainly for my sanity and to have friends who didn’t have toddlers. Our babysitters were for my riding and Mark’s tennis rather than date nights. For my 40th birthday I did Bike Ride Across Colorado, leaving our 10, 7 and 3 year olds at camps and Grandma’s for a week. I loved the climbing and fellowship and dreamed of a day I could ride to my heart’s content.

Fast forward, and with kids more on their own, I got back in shape, lost some weight and caught the bug again. You can always come back to cycling! It became even more of a passion, a time where everything was possible, and was always ‘my thing’ that was different. Carol Lipinski and I started our Chastain Tuesday Hill Climb in 2001, which continues to this day with a cast of regulars that has varied only a little through the years. She and Janet Good and Linda Rathje introduced me to Sorella, and Kim Nelson pulled me onto the race team in 2013. I made myself line up that first race season, scared after my 25+ year hiatus from racing, then found I liked it and adored the team fellowship.

Then the part where you do something big and crazy: for me it was the 2015 Race Across America (RAAM) , a 3000 mile bike race from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland. Our team of four Sorella women covered the distance in just over seven days, taking turns riding 24 hours a day with an incredible support crew and RV. The riding was the easy part compared to the lack of sleep and showers, days of rain and thunderstorms, bad food, and dirty wet kits. The big event bug next took me to USA Cycling Masters Road Nationals for 3 years, where I managed three Silver medals. The National Senior Games are always an inspiration -- when Kim and Diane Schleicher and I saw the 80+ women’s category, we thought hey, we’ve got 20 more years of this! Then with more time to travel, I was fortunate to follow the Tour de France on two different cycling trips (2016 and 2019), truly living the dream.

In the past few years I’ve discovered gravel riding and racing, for something different but also to enjoy the woods and a more relaxed vibe. I also love maps and figuring out routes, bonding with Sorella teammate Julie Gazmamarian finding secret gaps and gravel roads in the Suches area. I still get in the miles each week, but balance my hard rides with chill ones, visiting on the bike with amazing friends of all ages, whether it’s road or gravel. Who knew that cycling would become such a defining passion and integral part of my life all these years, but I am so thankful, and wish the same for other Sorellas.