The wind is blowing in my hair and cooling my face. The hot ashphalt has a toxic rubbery smell mixed with all the flowers of summer.
Gross—I’m pedaling so fast I swallowed a bug. Spit. Spit. Spit. My legs are strong pushing up the big hill. My lungs are burning with exertion.
I’m 15. My bike is my steed: a silver 10-speed that gives me the freedom to go wherever I want. My body is young, fit, strong, and doesn’t mind cycling for hours. Whether to swim practice, Amy’s house, the grocery store, the movies, the video arcade, or dance rehearsal, it’s summer and my perky butt can pedal me anywhere.
My love affair with my bike was cemented that hot 80s summer. Even after I got my car the next summer, my sturdy bike always had my back. Like an old friend I haven’t talked to in a while, my bike and I would pick up right where we left off.
Our relationship got serious again when I moved to New York City in the 90s. Being athletic was my social life, my identity, and my comfort zone. I ran marathons, did the Century Bike Tour, swam relays around Manhattan. I was buff and strong.
Then life happened. The burbs, a kid, a long commute. My bike got dusty in the basement waiting to be friends again.
Then I got “incurable” cancer. Every day became a feat of survival. I started a rigid chemotherapy protocol that slowly made my body alien and weak. I looked at my bike longingly, but I didn’t even have the strength to pull it off the rack, much less ride it.
Today, a year after I was supposed to start dying when I stopped chemotherapy, I’m a thriving, walking miracle. With baby steps, I’m rebuilding my body with exercise. At first, it was 10 minutes a day, then 15, now 30, soon 60.
On family vacation this summer, I hopped back on my bike for the first time since I was sick. Riding around our Lake Erie campsite, I laughed with my bike like I used to. Reconnecting with that old, dear friend who never lets me down.
Up, down, up, down the pedals went. I might as well have been Lance Armstrong powering through the Tour de France. My legs feeling the push and pull, my back holding me strong, my hands remembering which brake was slow and which could send me over the handlebars. My body tucked in perfect alignment for speed. My heart singing. My face feeling the fresh breeze.
Riding my bike that day revealed secrets about healing not just my body, but also my soul. Secrets that we can all use to heal whatever needs healing and to bring more joy into our lives.
Celebrate Every Victory.
We take our ability to walk down the street, cycle to work, or hop over a puddle for granted. At least, until we can’t do these things anymore. At first, I would beat myself up when I couldn’t walk a full block. “You were a marathoner, now you can’t walk down the street. What a loser.” As I started coming back, I realized I needed to celebrate the first time I walked down the street or the day I was strong enough to go to the grocery store and the library in the same day—or the day I got back on the bike.
We’re too hard on ourselves. Who cares what we used to do or what other people can do? We must love ourselves enough to celebrate our accomplishments, big and little.
It’s Never too Late to Go Back to What we Love.
Our bodies are like the internet: once something goes live it’s posted forever. Whether we once loved ice skating, dancing or cycling, our muscle memory remembers the movements. The expression is “just like riding a bike” for a reason. Whether we need to heal our body, mind, or spirit, returning to the physical sensation of our favorite activities will improve all three. When we’re missing something in our lives, sometimes we just need to get back to what our body loves.
Healing takes many forms because it is never caused by just a disease. Our bodies manifest the wellness of our mind and spirit. Getting back on my bike that day was an affirmation that, “Yeah, I got this.” I can ride my bike for pure joy. I can ride to get stronger. To have time alone. To heal.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go celebrate my new body by riding my bike with the freedom I had when I was a kid.
Author: Tracy White
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis