Fitness and Friendship – Women’s group achieves goals, stays fit though cycling
By Debra Roberts, Contributing Writer
NORTHBRIDGE – On a cold, January day, amid the ongoing pandemic, Kathy MacNeil of Northbridge daydreamed about warmer, happier days ahead. She thought of “her people” – the Worcester County Women’s Cycling (WCWC) group. WCWC is a group of Central Massachusetts women that meets up for weekly bike rides as well as other planned trips.
MacNeil decided on that dreary day to plan something big to challenge herself for her upcoming sixtieth birthday. Her plan was a spring trek across the entire state of Massachusetts from West Stockbridge to Provincetown.
“I’m a very goal-oriented person,” she said.
Promoting her birthday challenge
She started with an inquiry on WCWC’s private Facebook page about a plan to ride across the state of Massachusetts. The response from the group was overwhelming. “The funny thing is, it was early January, and everybody’s got their New Year’s resolutions. I was getting like 60 people interested–and I was like, what did I get myself into?” she recalled.
However, the actual number of participants gradually whittled down to 10 women committing to the full ride and eight more that joined one of the four legs of the trek.
The one-way aspect of the four-day trek, which took place June 10-13, involved dropping off cars at the end location of a leg of a trip and being dropped off at the starting point. A friend of a daughter of one of the participants towed a trailer with the bikes, water, ice, and changes of clothing. During the trek, some members stayed overnight in between trip legs and others went home after each day.
“Price is important to a lot of people,” MacNeil said. “So we weren’t talking about a lot of money. This was a way to do it on a really low budget.”
The WCWC group, MacNeil emphasized, has been instrumental in her ability to stay fit. A runner since high school, she found that she had to seek alternatives after she tore her meniscus.
“I had to lose weight. My cholesterol was up. I didn’t want to go on medication,” she said.
Someone she knew suggested biking. She found the biking group online and was intimidated at first. “I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t think I was good enough,” she said. “I had to keep pushing myself and then I slowly found my people. I found people that were my pace and a similar age group, and it really kicked off for me. That was six years ago.”
“The nice thing about group rides,” she explained, “is it motivates you because you told somebody you’re going to be there, so you’re more likely to show up. Finding a group of women to exercise with was a game changer.”
Everyone is welcome
Though MacNeil said WCWC welcomes members of all ages, the women she rides with are predominantly in their fifties and sixties. She attributes this to the fact that women in this age range are no longer “carting kids around to soccer games on the weekends” and finally have more time for themselves.
“I didn’t start riding a bike as an adult until I was 56 years old,” said Ellen Bond, another WCWC member. “Joining WCWC has given me the opportunity meet new friends with shared interests and explore new geographies. I challenge myself to achieve goals that I would never have thought possible.”
Helping a friend
One of the WCWC women who had signed up for MacNeil’s trek was Neide DosReis. DosReis was diagnosed with lymphoma in March and had to drop out. MacNeil made a pledge to donate one dollar for every mile that each woman completed in the trek to help cover DosReis’ chemotherapy copayments. In the end, $2000 went to DosReis, and another $2000 was raised for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in DosReis’ honor.
DosReis did manage to join the other women in Provincetown to cheer them on at the finish line. “These women are my best friends, my family, my sisters,” she said. “The support and love they are giving is beyond me. I feel blessed to have WCWC in my life.”
“Each of the participants had their own story and reason for this challenge,” MacNeil said. “Unlike a charity ride, there were no lush rest stops, t-shirts, or bragging rights. But like a charity ride, we dedicated the ride to Neide, our member who had her own challenge, fighting cancer.”
“The ride became a symbol to me of the power of women, agelessness, dedication, caring and support of each other.”