UN World Bike Day

by Becky Furuta

The laser-like focus that keeps your eyes trained on a narrow tread of singletrack in front of you. The way you delight at the challenge of ambling your bicycle over roots and picking your way around rocks along the trail. The quiet sounds of nature or the buzz of your friends’ carbon wheels skating across the tarmac. Hurtling yourself down a steep descent or the raw gasps of air as your huff your way up a mountain. There’s something about riding a bike that feels almost therapeutic.

I first harnessed the healing capabilities of the bicycle at the age of fifteen. My mother was critically ill, and spent her days sitting on the bed, staring at the television and quite literally waiting to die. My father was working three jobs to make enough money to pay for her healthcare and medications, and to keep her alive just a little bit longer. All six of us – my parents, myself and my three sisters – were living in a one-room motel on the outskirts of a small Colorado ranching town. I was desperately lonely and viciously embittered. I cradled my resentments like a sickly infant, only occasionally letting them spill over into the rage that left holes in doors and through paper-thin walls from either my own fists or the fists of my father. Our lives were perched on the edge of disaster, and I was always waiting for the next explosion.

I rode, simply, to get out of there.

I quickly realized that I rarely returned home feeling worse than when I left. There was something about riding my bike that felt calming, rejuvenating, and imminently normal when I was living in circumstances that were anything but. I would curl up at the foot of a bed that wasn’t mine, wrap myself in the stiffness of the brown and beige patterned motel bedspread, and think about the world outside and all the roads left to explore. The bike gave me the freedom to dream beyond those four walls.

The decisions I made on my bicycle were intuitive and instinctive. Even as the waters of my tranquility were muddied by the sounds of traffic or the adrenaline of near-misses, I found a kind of peace in the focused activity of turning pedals. I didn’t fall in love with cycling so much as I was kidnapped by it.

The bike empowered me, gave me an outlet for my anger, challenged me and, ultimately, shifted my identity from “troubled kid” to “talented athlete.” It provided me with a community of riders, and that fostered a sense of wellness, too. Years later, it would help me manage my health when I was diagnosed with type one diabetes, and cycling would usher into my life some of the finest people I could hope to know in the form of my teammates. My earliest introduction to business management was running a women’s’ cycling team. Somehow, at every turn, the bicycle managed to level the playing field of my life and throw open the doors to opportunity.

It was without hesitation, then, that I agreed to participate in the United Nations inaugural World Bicycle Day event on Sunday, June 3rd. A week earlier, I was seated at the desk in my office when I glanced down at the illuminated text message from my Team Director, which read, simply, Could you be in New York next weekend? Nothing is finalized, but it would be for an event at the UN. And then, days later, I was sending in my information for background checks and to receive my visitor credentials.

I often think back to the first time I traveled to race a bike for the team. I remember sitting on the airplane, staring out the window at the runway, considering the situation and thinking about the miracle that had unfolded to create that moment in time. People will think you are crazy if you tell them you’re going to be a professional athlete, that someone will someday pay you to ride your bicycle, and that you will travel the world and speak to scores of people and inspire them to dream. They will tell you it will never happen. In that moment, I had chased the impossible and I had caught the dream. I remember wondering if it would ever grow tired….if I would ever stop feeling like it was a kind of surreal magic. In fact, as I have grown older and realized the days of doing this are less and less, I have only become more enamored by the process and grateful to those who have made it possible.

I looked over at the Development Team Director, Daniel Holt, as we wheeled two bicycles through the iron gates of the United Nations, and in silence, surveyed the courtyard before us. The grass was a bit too long and wet from the rain. Statues and staircases cropped up from the ground in unexpected places. We just stood there for a bit, taking it all in. Like that first instant of my cycling career, seated on a plane and considering how my life had turned out like this, I found myself steeped in magic all over again.

Team staff and riders gathered together for photos. We laughed, we examined the most iconic images of the UN with a kind of academic inquisitiveness, we took goofy pictures in the damp, cold air. We listened to UN delegates talk about how bicycles promote sustainable development goals and foster human health. The delegate from India made a witty crack about using his immunity to break the rules and ride his bicycle within the confines of the UN grounds, giving way to peels of laughter. A blind man talked about his experiences as a guided athlete, speaking eloquently about what it was like to sit captive to creeping darkness as the details of the world faded away, and to find freedom and community again on the bicycle.

We shivered in the breeze, smiled, applauded. We stood before spectators and representatives from all over the world and listened to the founder and CEO of Team Novo Nordisk, Phil Southerland, talk about how cycling has become a platform to educate, empower and inspire millions of people impacted by diabetes. He said, It is my dream that because of World Bicycle Day you will see every person with diabetes in your country as a capable and powerful member of society.

In the middle of it all, I pulled out my phone, and sent my father a text message. It was a picture of my teammates and me, standing in the UN rose garden, and read, I guess it turned out okay.

All the miles I have ridden and the mountains I have climbed on my bicycle have helped to erode the bitterness and isolation of my youth. In so many ways, the bike has de-complicated my life. A few years ago, my father took to getting up early each morning to ride his bicycle, too. We are both better for having found the space to recreate our respective lives. And as a parent myself now, I have come to appreciate even more the luxury of long, solo rides.

The story of my life is the story of turning pedals. It is the story of how something so simple became a force bigger than poverty or isolation or illness or gender. It is the story of why World Bicycle Day is important and meaningful.

As I was boarding my flight home, the screen of my cell phone lit up with a message from my father: It turned out even better. I’m proud of you.

Recent Articles




Random Posts You might like

Pin It on Pinterest