Pat Fudge/Lisa Perry/Gina Bullock/Sallie Hagens
Cycling In Black America At A Glance
Cycling means different things for different people. At a time it was as simple as a ride around the corner to sweet shoppe, pulling up out front, engaging the kickstand and getting a bag of Red Fish for a quarter. For others a ride with a group of friends out to take in a little fresh air and expel a few calories. For others, a contest of power, endurance and sheer will to go just a little faster than the next person. African Americans are ingrained as part of the lore of just about every sport in this country. From Jack Johnson to Gabby Douglass, our mark on society is indelible.
We have had successes in cycling dating back to the late 1800’s with Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, a world champion track cyclist. Our successes have been few in the years since. Part of the reason is the actual finance to own and maintain a bike. With the costs of bicycles ranging from from several hundred to several thousand dollars, interest has been slight. Combine that with basketball and football maintaining the lions share of our athletes, cycling has suffered more. That said, cycling in black communities is gaining in popularity. Rahsaan Bahati is a racer from Compton, CA and is amongst the top national cyclists. He not only races because he loves the sport, but to raise awareness of the sport amongst inner city youth. Thousands of African American’s have incorporated the sport into their lives today. From diet, to training, to purchasing competitive gear. In the largest cycling event in the world, The Tour De France, Team Europcar has fielded a squad containing two members of the African diaspora, Yohan Gene (Guadeloupe) and Kevin Reza (France).
The Longest Day Double Century
The Longest Day is a ride hosted by the Central Jersey Bicycle Club, that starts out in Port Jervis, NY and ends in Cape May, NJ. The event name, “Longest Day” is a misnomer. Months of sacrifice and dedication go into taking an impressive bit of cycling mileage and then doubling it. This voyage to madness started in June of 2013. I had just completed my 4th effort and started thinking of ways to improve upon the experience. My answer was to help take a group of riders and turn them into a team. Then take that team and turn them into a family. One that trained together, encouraged and supported one another and like any other family, occasionally fought. A true family, not Mansons nor Cosby’s. Somewhere safely in between.
Our club, “Major Taylor Cycling Club of New Jersey” has a varied membership of riders that stem from the average racer to the average Joe. We also have our fair share of not-so-average Janes. Twelve women began the journey and through circumstance whittled down to four. These four women mothers, grandmothers and professionals. They trained through frigid temperatures, freezing rain, their own doubt and life in whole. The elements are far easier to overcome than what one believes they can actually do and soccer practice.
The training had to match the terrain of the actual event. The northern part of New Jersey is sprinkled quite liberally with undulating rollers and valleys content on making you work to escape their bellies. The central and southern parts of the state are mainly flat. Above anything that the road had to offer, the concept of working as a unit had to be paramount. Pacelining is a method in group riding where the cyclists ride single (or double) file in an effort of having the lead riders break the wind ahead to cause a draft for the riders behind. These women have near 10 years of riding experience between them, so the concept was not foreign but the execution of riding to improve efficiency over an extended period of time still had to be practiced. Believing in the wheel ahead of you takes a willingness to trust that the rider ahead of you is not only competent, but conscientious of the people they steward behind them.
On June 14th at 3:19am the culmination of their efforts was to begin. Top athletes have bad days and usually at the most inopportune times. I believe that the heart and dedication these ladies put forth wouldn’t allow for anything short of a collective success. That is what a team does. That is what a family does. They were one anothers rocks.
The pace set out of the gate was fast. The hills of the first 70 miles were of no consequence. With every turn of the crank every hill gets reduced. Tap out a sensible cadence and recharge on the descents. They rode in unison. The climbers set the pace and the others responded. On the back half of the ride the work was shared with work-woman like precision. On a ride of this distance, fatigue will eventually set in, fatigue will welcome in it’s buddy doubt. Doubt found no refuge, just 4 women with an objective of reaching the Atlantic
Cyclists do events for every reason under the sun and then some just do it because. I asked these athletes a few questions about their reasoning in attempting to complete the event, their motivations, inspirations and their methods:
I just wanted to stay in contact with the rest of the group. So my push was to be able to keep up. In regards to my motivation to do 208 miles…. I didn’t think about it. It’s too much to conceive so I just focused on getting stronger.
“I’ve tried different ways to complete this ride over the last 4 years. Either I started my training too late, or my training wasn’t varied enough or I wasn’t fully committed to training or something would prevent me from being ready. I’m turning 50 this year. Enough with the trying, I just wanted to get it done. Happy 50th Birthday to Me!
Wanted to accomplish what seemed to me the impossible!
I just wanted to see if this was doable for me
The methods involved A LOT of riding, accompanied by strength training and relearning their bodies. “During the winter months I would take indoor spin class 3 days a week and 2-3 days I would body resistance exercises & calisthenics (push-ups, sit-ups, jacks, lunges, squats etc)”, Gina Bullock. Long distance riding involves not only training for the actual purpose of propulsion, but for that of fatigue; physically and mentally. “Whenever the going got tough, we compensated with a commitment to our goal and then overrode it”, Pat Fudge.
These women in the end refused to let one another fail. They found strength within themselves, their faith, family and inevitably themselves. That bond maybe greater than anything else, helped them to push just a little bit harder. They started out as cyclists, mutated into a team and eventually flowered into a sisterhood, joining the ranks of the few crazy-cool enough to have ever accomplished a goal and then pushed further.