National Bike Challenge Gets New York Couple Rolling

Jack and Corinne Wlody went from non-cyclists to accomplished distance riders in just a few short years.

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Early in their NBC journey, Jack and Corinne show off the Team Wlody decal on the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens. Photo courtesy of the Wlodys.

Jack and Corinne Wlody didn’t own their own bikes when they joined New York City’s bike share program Citi Bike in 2013. Within two years, they had joined the National Bike Challenge and each logged enough miles to cross the United States and keep going.

After not riding bikes since they were kids and never riding together, the couple, who run a fitness coaching business together, became members of Citi Bike in 2013 and started taking their clients out for rides. “We’ve taken a lot of our clients on Citi Bike adventures,” Corinne said.

In 2014, they began a deep commitment by volunteering with Bike New York, teaching kids and adults the basics of bicycling. “We enjoy teaching people how to ride because we love it so much. We love introducing them to this passion of ours,” Corinne said.

In 2015, they bought their own bicycles so they could join in the 5 Boro Bike Tour, a fundraiser to support Bike New York. They trained for six weeks to prepare for the 40-mile car-free ride that takes cyclists through all five New York boroughs.

The 5 Boro ride inspired them to up their cycling game. “We want to inspire people so they can accomplish anything,” said Jack. “You just need a goal, a plan to execute that goal, and then to pursue it relentlessly.” This is what they teach their clients. They saw bicycling as a way to lead by example and challenge themselves.

The National Bike Challenge (NBC) provided the perfect opportunity for the Wlodys to put some miles on their new bikes. From May through September, riders log their miles and earn points for the number of days and the distance they ride. In 2015, more than 92,000 riders participated, racking up almost 38 million miles – the equivalent of more than 1,500 trips around the equator.

The Wlodys joined the NBC in mid-May and jumped in with gusto. “We upped our goal as we went along. Before you knew it, we were riding 60 to 70 miles a day,” Corinne recalled.

The pair began spending four or five hours in the saddle every day. When asked where they rode, Jack said, “Everywhere and anywhere.”

We got to discover parts of New York that we wouldn’t have seen if we hadn’t been on bikes,” Corinne added. They started doing errands by bike and riding to their volunteer commitments. For longer trips, they took the subway and hopped on a Citi Bike at the other end.

Regulars at their local bike shop - ADT Bike and Skate Shop in Queens<a href=

Their favorite place to ride was Floyd Bennett Field, an old military airport in Brooklyn that is now a national park. They loved riding for miles along deserted runways; Jack noted that they did their first century (100 mile ride) at that airport.

Jack, 49, has been a trainer for 21 years, working with clients to overcome disabilities, lose weight, or meet personal fitness goals. Corinne joined the business after they met 14 years ago. That background came in handy in ramping up to meet the physical demands of riding long distances every day.

We used to visualize our rides, map out our rides beforehand and it helped us achieve some of our goals,” Jack said.

I was surprised how seamlessly it fit into my life,” said Corinne, who is 56 years old and a two-time breast cancer survivor. She found that her age was not a barrier and she liked pushing her physical limits. “When you challenge yourself, you live fully,” she said.

Corinne found that cycling – and even just imagining herself on a bike – reduced her stress level. This helped her when her mother passed away during the NBC. As soon as she returned from the funeral, she got back on her bicycle. She found biking therapeutic; she calls it “cycling through grief.” Corinne added, “You can choose to be stuck or you can choose to move forward. We choose cycling forward.”

The Wlodys were the only NBC riders from their Howard Beach neighborhood. This added to their motivation, said Corinne: “We felt a responsibility to represent our town.” In the end, Howard Beach (in Queens) came in fifth out of the New York City neighborhoods in the NBC, beating out communities with more riders.

Jack and Corinne placed third and fourth, respectively, out of the 1,117 National Bike Challenge participants in their area, riding a combined total of 11,131 miles in 96 days. They achieved this in part by a push during the last week, when they rode over 700 miles each, pulling a century each day for five consecutive days.

The couple liked the structure and the community they found in the NBC. “It elevates your feeling about cycling,” said Corinne. “There’s a place for you to go to share what you’re doing.”

Since the NBC ended at the end of September, the Wlodys continue to incorporate bicycling into their lives, continuing to bike through the New York winter.

The Wlodys have a new perspective from the bike seat. “We’ve experienced a lot of things through all those miles. We see the deficit of awareness in the motorists,” Corinne said. Jack added, “New York just needs to work on their infrastructure a little better. We have plans for that, stay tuned.”

They plan to return to the National Bike Challenge in 2016 with the goal of surpassing their 2015 totals. In the meantime, they will keep biking, “anywhere we can go,” Corinne said. “Sometimes you don’t want to have a destination. You want to get on the bike and keep going.” The Wlodys’ experience proves that it’s never too late to fall in love with bicycling.

Laura McCamy writes and rides in fabulous Oakland, California, where she’s happy to report that new bike lanes are popping up every day. Follow her on Twitter @lmcwords

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