Today’s post is written by Trudy Hussman, a RLAG Cycling member, avid cyclist for 9 years, and a professional writer for much longer! She tells the story of Penny Clouser, who was recently awarded Ride Like A Girl’s “Most Inspirational Rider” (selected by the 2014 RLAG bicycling girlfriends). It is a story of overcoming the odds, rebuilding confidence and restoring the spirit after a series of life’s toughest challenges. It is also a poignant example of RLAG’s theme for 2015, “Come as you are!”
When Penny Clouser’s friend Susie told her about Ride Like a Girl in early 2014, Penny knew in her heart that she wanted to go for it. A few years earlier, she had retired from a 32-year teaching career. Now she had time to pursue more fitness activities, and inside her was the soul of an athlete itching to bust out.
Penny raced on the Mt. Hood and Oregon State University ski teams during her high school and college days, often placing in the top ten. While attending college at OSU, she wheeled around town on her green Schwinn 10-speed. Over the years, she’s also been into swimming, kayaking and cross-country skiing.
When Penny started teaching, she became so dedicated to her career that she had little time for other interests. Soon the skiing and biking fell away. Penny taught low-income and multi-lingual kids how to read, and she also taught teachers how to teach reading.
As the years ticked by, pounds crept on, and Penny gained a significant amount of weight. A bout with breast cancer in 2005 was her wake-up call. After surviving that ordeal, Penny committed herself to improving her health and started working out regularly. Before long, she had lost almost 100 pounds. More recently, she had two knee replacements. Once recovered, she was ready to tackle almost anything.
Enter Ride Like a Girl. Penny admits to feeling both excited and a bit skeptical when she first thought about taking part.
“I didn’t understand how Carolyn meant ‘Ride Like a Girl,’ but I realized later that it was all about empowering women,” she says. “The teacher in me was immediately impressed with Carolyn’s opening presentation, and that made me feel more comfortable. I liked the focus, pacing and lack of pressure.”
Penny jumped in with both feet and doggedly worked on increasing her strength and skills on the bike. Being at the tail end of the group on hills didn’t bother her — her tough determination to keep going took charge.
“I like working hard to get up hills,” she says. “I like it when my body feels strong and powerful.”
Riding down from Rowena Crest on a challenge ride, Penny rediscovered that, for her, speed was fun. The feeling of “flying downhill on wheels of boundless joy” reminded her of the thrills she experienced in her skiing days.
Cycling has renewed Penny’s confidence and allowed her to recapture her old competitive spirit. But nowadays, she mainly competes with herself, always trying to improve.
“Participating in Ride Like a Girl has been so validating at my age,” Penny says. “It’s given me something to hold onto, a reason for getting into cycling. And it’s made me feel proud to ‘ride like a girl.’”
It’s also created a new network of girlfriends whom Penny plans to continue riding with in 2015. She aims to take part in some organized local rides, including Reach the Beach in May. She’ll train for either the 50- or 80-mile route – distances she never dreamed she could ride just a year ago.