“Toot toot! All aboard” - for many years, this is what Willow heard as she commuted to work everyday on the train. OK maybe not those exact words, but that was her commuting routine. Finally one day she had enough and made the switch to cycling to work, 5 days a week. And now, this 38-year old from Melbourne, Australia who self describes her self as “Fatbulous” is our July Featured Plus Size Athlete, and was gracious enough to share her experience in becoming a commuter cyclist.
1. You self describe yourself as an urban athlete, because you commute on your bike to work each day. How or why did you decide to starting doing this?
I started using my bike to commute to work when I lived roughly 17km from work and couldn’t stand how boring the train was. I began by participating in a ‘ride to work day’ and from then on, absolutely loved riding to work and have been doing it ever since.
2. You’ve cycled your entire life, including from a lower to a heavier weight yet never allowed your weight to stop you. Weighing more can be a litter harder going up hills (but on the inverse more fun going down). What did you tell yourself to never stop commuter cycling, when it became tougher?
I haven’t been injured whilst riding, but my bike has. I was riding a carbon road bike (when I weighed less) but found (after putting on weight) the spokes could not cope with the weight and as such they would regularly break mid-ride. Aside from being expensive, I got sick of this happening. In the winter I decided to get a tougher bike (CUBE Hyde, German model) with thicker tires for riding in winter conditions. As it happened, this was the best thing I could have done. I love this stronger bike. Mind you I still had to get a new back wheel built to handle the weight and conditions of urban cycling.
I tend not to ride when it rains. I like to enjoy my ride and riding in the rain seems more like a chore and rather dangerous. There are mornings where I cant really be bothered riding and have to push myself to but half way through the ride, I feel so glad I changed my mind.
I used to wimp out when it was windy but during a charity ride where the more hours I clocked up, the more money I earned for the charity, it was a very wind time of the year. I HAD to ride through the wind otherwise my hours would have suffered so in doing so, I felt like a rode through a mental wall that was keeping me back from thinking I wasn’t strong enough to battle the wind.
3. How do you feel when you’re cycling, what goes through your head, sensations that you feel in your body?
I find cycling can be a bit lonely if you don’t have anyone to ride with. I actually don’t mind riding by myself because I don’t have to keep up with anyone except myself. I do give other cyclists a wave, smile or head nod on occasion but they mostly seem surprised by this. Occasionally I have a conversation about the weather or their bike with someone at an intersection which is always nice. I do wish fellow cyclists were more friendly towards each other but I guess they are in a hurry to get to work like everyone else.
4. Have you noticed a change at all in your self-talk, since embracing the athletic lifestyle?
I try not to let the negative opinions of others regarding my size affect me so much. Its difficult some times but I remind myself that this is MY body and we have to find an exercise that suits us (being both body and mind). The notion that you can’t be fit if you are fat infuriates me and I challenge anyone who says this to ride with me everyday.
5. Do you have a mental mantra that you live by, to get you through tough challenges?
I’m fat and I can do this. I carry way more weight than your average person and I can still do this! I’m tougher and stronger because of my weight. Let the speed freaks pass you by, riding to work doesn’t have to be about speed, to me its about movement. It’s about being an urban cycling warrior that challenges myself physically and mentally and at the same time challenges other people’s misconceptions of a fat person.
6. What advice do you have for people who are just starting out, are nervous and haven’t developed their self-confidence and belief in themselves?
Small steps first. Its great to have aspirations but don’t get overwhelmed with distance or numbers. Find a beautiful place to ride and plan it out on a map so you can see the end point. It’s a good idea to have a break point too. I find when I’m riding recreationally; a café is a great brake point to recharge your batteries. If you are commuting to work, try riding the first morning then getting a lift or public transport home then the same thing to work the next day and then ride your bike home.
Make sure you are comfortable. I’m tall (6ft) so I have to make sure my bike pants are long enough to cover my bum and also that my top is long enough. It’s a disaster when both these things are the incorrect length. I spend half my time pulling them down or up.
7. Anything else you’d like to share?
Enjoy your ride. If you are finding it a bit monotonous then mix it up a bit, find a new route, challenge yourself to ride faster up the hill, get that sweat happening.
Willow, thank you for sharing your athletic life with us. We wish you save travels as you continue to commute to work everyday.
About the Author:
Krista is the Founder of Born to Reign Athletics, a blog + portal website dedicated to motivating, educating and celebrating plus size women who unleash their inner athlete as a means of living a healthy life. She is an award-winning multi-sport athlete in triathlon and indoor rowing, and is recognized as a global leader in plus size fitness and athletics.