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First Person: Second Wind

I’m not a jock. So what am I doing racing down a bike trail?

We glide in on our bikes for our Wednesday ride. Helmets reflect the sun as we wait for the group of women to form. I’m dressed in a bright yellow windbreaker, my bottom half in bike pants. I stand astride my bicycle, tipping my head back to drink from a bottle of water.

I am not a jock. Those words echo in my head. They come from junior-high gym class, where there was a line between athlete and klutz, and I knew on which side I belonged.

My biking started slowly, with rides on the hybrid bicycles my husband and I bought ten years ago. Then I started biking with a friend. Each Friday, we’d take the Washington & Old Dominion Trail a few miles, rest on a bench, then return home.

One day, a group of female bicyclists sped past, their bodies leaning forward, their hands comfortable on the curves of their drop handlebars. The air seemed to shimmer around their sleek forms.

“Join us!” they called, yelling out their group’s Web address.

My friend joined first. By the next spring, she was moving easily on her new road bike while I pushed and panted, my nonbiking clothes flapping like pennants.

She urged me to join the group. I decided to give it a try.

Still riding my hybrid, I discovered two things. First, I could keep up—if not with the fastest, then with the kind souls who didn’t mind my pace. Second, these women weren’t like the seventh-graders who had made fun of my lack of coordination.

I biked farther than I ever had. On one ride, I pedaled by the bench I used to rest on. I told my friend, “It was like breaking the sound barrier.”

“You’re really strong,” my fellow bikers said, noting that my bicycle was heavier and slower than theirs. The idea of buying a new one began creeping into my head, but I wasn’t sure. Who was I to cross the line between jock and nonjock?

I stepped timidly into a store. Road bikes were lined up like a still life of racehorses.

The salesman fit one to my frame. “This kind of bicycle is more athletic,” he said. I perched on the seat and tried out the word “athletic” in my head. As I pedaled out for a test ride, price tag dangling from the handlebars, I pretended that these narrow tires belonged to me.

Should I get the bike? Would I ride it enough? “Oh, buy it,” my husband said.

Now I join these women with their sleek bicycles and clothes, and I have a bicycle and clothes to match.

My bike seems to like going up hills, and as I pedal along with my friends, no one would know about my not-a-jock feelings. Junior-high insecurities are hard to shake.

One day, the group zips along a hilly part of the path, calling out to walkers and joggers: “On your left!” I feel comfortable—braking, shifting gears, enjoying the feeling of strength in my legs.

I find myself in front when a longtime biker comes up beside me and says, “You’re setting quite the pace.”

For a moment, I indulge in a fantasy: Wasn’t that one of my junior-high classmates gaping at me as I zoomed by?

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