From six to sixty: how one Fraser Health staff member transformed her physical and emotional health, one kilometre at a time.
Between March and June, Green+Leaders will be encouraging co-workers to make more active and clean transportation choices. We hope this story will inspire everyone to think differently about how they get to and from work.
Think you need to be a fitness pro to get on a bike? Jennifer’s story will show you otherwise. In her own words Green+Leader Jennifer Jarvis describes how she transformed her values of environmental responsibility and her personal health goals into a life-changing commute.
This is my journey, the story of how I went from biking six kilometres a day to 60 kilometres a day in four months.
Four years ago, I went back to work after the birth of my first child, Violet. The only daycare I liked was three kilometres from my home, and I spent the first two months walking three kilometres a day, five days a week. It was time consuming and exhausting. I don’t drive and, at that point, I didn’t want to get my driver’s license. So I had an idea: what if I bought a bike and trailer!?!?!?
Easter weekend of 2010, my husband, daughter and I went to the bike store, Westwood Cycle in Port Coquitlam, and walked out with a double Chariot trailer and Norco Citadel. And so my bike riding journey began.
That’s how I started, at six kilometres a day, five-days a week: ride to Coquitlam station, lock up bike, catch West Coast Express, go to work … take West Coast Express home, ride four kilometres to daycare, pick up Vy, go home. Repeat. I remember thinking to myself: “Wow six kilometres a day! That’s amazing.”
When I got pregnant with my second child, Oliver, I rode the same route until I was 30-weeks pregnant. Bike riding was pretty much a thing of luxury for the next year. When Oliver was almost one, he was old enough to go in the Chariot. Oh, the thrill of getting around town again without having to walk! Riding my bike, with the two kidlettes in the back, was heaven. On a bike it took me 10 minutes to get to the mall instead of the 30 minutes it would take me walk. Life just seemed so much easier.
When I returned to work in September 2012, I was moved to a new health authority. I had a new boss, a new office, but the same old bike route; six kilometres a day, five days a week.
How did I go from six to 60 kilometres?
After Oliver was born, I lost 70 pounds through diet, exercise and breast feeding. In the spring of 2013, I knew I would have to stop breast feeding eventually, but I wanted to find a way to stay at my current weight in a way that would fit into my lifestyle. Lifestyle being a full-time job, two kids, a husband, a dog, and a socially conscience outlook on life.
If I wanted to exercise it would have to be between the hours of five a.m. and five p.m., and during that time I would need to get to and from the office, work eight hours and keep it cost neutral.
A couple things happened that started my brain turning
- In April of 2013, there was the Climb Up High Stair Challenge contest at work that got me running up and downstairs for six weeks.
- I was taking Vy to sport classes at the community centre; which left me 60 minutes of free time, so I used the elliptical machine while I waited for her.
It all came rushing back — how much I love to exercise. I totally forgot how great it was to sweat and feel your muscles push through pain and then recover.
Then I got this idea. What if I took the bus less and biked more? What if I used the time allocated for commuting for exercising? It made complete sense.
Soon I was riding 10 kilometres every day.
Then I thought, “Well if I can ride 10 kilometres a day, then could I ride 15 kilometres?”
Fifteen came easy. “Can I do 18 kilometres?”
“Ok. Can I ride 20 kilometres in one stretch?” It was hard, but I learned that I could do it, and I felt amazing afterwards.
Within two months I was riding six days a week. I would set a goal, reach it and instantly set a new goal.
What’s it like to ride that much?
Barnett Highway is my favourite route. It’s beautiful and has a wicked bike lane. I remember the Sunday morning I made it up the final hill without feeling breathless. I got to the top and felt like I had climbed a mountain. For the first time in a very long while I felt strong, and physically and emotionally unbeatable. For the rest of the summer I referred to myself, when I was riding, as She-Ra, Princess of Power, and my bike was Swift Wind.
In May, I set a goal to ride to Vancouver by the end of the summer. I met that goal in June. I was still working in Vancouver one day a week, so on a warm summer morning I set out with the goal to ride all the way to Vancouver before work: 29 kilometres starting at 5:30 a.m. Before I left home I told myself, “If the ride is too hard or I get too tired, I can catch the bus.” But I didn’t take the bus. And when I arrived in Vancouver, I felt a rush of calm come over me, before feeling invigorated and elated.
I didn’t stop there. I had a burning desire to be the best I could possibly be. August 2, 2013, four months after starting this crazy bike riding journey, I rode the full 58-kilometre Vancouver commute! After that, I started riding the full commute to Surrey: 42 kilometres but a much tougher route.
Then in September, my bike broke and I had to buy a new one. I upgraded from my Norco to a Cannondale Road Bike. I basically went from a station wagon to a Mustang.
October 15, 2013, I rode 100 kilometres just to see if I could. It took me five and half hours and I had a back spasm that left me immobile for two days. But I also knew I had done something that only eight months ago, I had thought was unachievable.
What are the benefits?
The first thing I noticed after I started cycle commuting was how much my focus improved at work. For the first time in years, I had 90 minutes of no phone, no Blackberry, no internet; just me, my thoughts and the road. By the time I got to the office I was ready to work. On the ride home, I was able to clear my head, so by the time I arrived, I was ready to focus on my family or that evening’s events.
I had always believed in sustainable commuting, but by riding to and from Vancouver or Surrey, I felt like I was actually living by my beliefs, and that’s an empowering feeling.
After only a few months, I felt physically strong and healthy. And by September 2013, I was in the best shape of my life, at 38 years old. I had finally shed my non-athletic identity to become someone who could ride fearlessly for two hours straight, on a daily basis.
Some practical tips that I’ve learned
- Make a decision to change. I found making the decision was the hardest part. But once I made it, everything fell into place.
- Set achievable goals. Baby steps … Even now I still set small achievable goals. Set my focus on one task, once that’s achieved, set a new one.
- Take care of your bike. A bike that is well maintained is much easier to ride. “Love your bike and your bike will love you back.”
- Buy a good bike lock and investigate if your work site has bike cages or lockers. had my Cannondale stolen in December because I had a “pretty” but flimsy bike lock.
- Bike commuting is dirty and smelly. I am fortunate that both my worksites have showers. So when I arrive at work all sweaty, I take a shower and feel refreshed. But I always have a supply of baby wipes on me just in case of emergencies.
- Be safe. Invest in good bike lights, a proper fitting helmet and reflective gear. I’ve had two falls where I hit my head and both times I was only going two or three km/hour.
So what’s next?
- I have a new Cannondale Ride Bike; her name is “Bestie.”
- I hope to increase my speed up to 26 km/hour. I’m currently at 24 km/hour.
- I am riding the 100-kilometre Eagle Ridge Foundation Wheels to Heal in May.
- My ultimate goal is the Gran Fondo Vancouver to Whistler ride, in September 2014. It will be the one-year anniversary of my original 60-kilometre goal.