Hi! My name is Melisa Jennings and I was asked to tell you my story of becoming a cyclist. It really began when I became a co-sponsor of a hiking and biking club at a school I taught at in the River Valley. The biking component of the club was an annual 18 mile ride at the Tour de Pumpkin Fall Festival in downtown Russellville, in which I would take a handful of students out (on questionable bikes, including mine). I rode the course on a Gary Fisher MTB for 3 years and finally decided to purchase a used KHS commuter bike. One day finishing up a 9 mile ride around my neighborhood, I hit some gravel and wrecked fracturing my elbow. Cycling was therefore put on the back-burner as I healed and moved to NWA.
Once here, I realized just how bike-friendly NWA is and I wanted to get over my fears and ride again. So one evening, The Bike Route hosted a women’s night to introduce a new women’s cycling group, Monday Night Spins with Finn. This group was a safe-haven for novices like me to learn and feel comfortable asking questions without feeling intimidated by others who were more proficient in their cycling knowledge and skills. Finn encouraged me to join the Fayetteville Wheelmen Thursday Night Beginner no-drop ride at Owl Creek. I remember seeing the team photo of everyone in their kits and thinking ‘I’m not going to be able to hang with them but what the hell, it’s a no-drop beginner’s ride’.
My first ride I felt inadequate standing there watching everyone socialize and get their bikes ready. People would ride by on their fancy beautiful bike and look at me and just nod; I was extremely nervous. I mustered up the courage and decided, “just do it” and suffered on my first ride with the Wheelmen. Once the ride began, my feeling of being inadequate continued as I quickly learned my flat pedals and tennis shoes robbed me of power and I struggled to keep pace.
So, I visited with Finn at The Bike Route about transitioning out of flat pedals. She asked me what my goals were for cycling and I was caught off-guard because I really didn’t know. I responded, “I think I’d like to eventually do a century ride.” She quickly advised me that I could do it on my current bike but it would be uncomfortable and difficult. She asked me if I was interested in racing and again, I was completely caught off-guard because I didn’t even know that was possible for someone like me. So I responded maybe. That was all the answer she needed, as she offered me to purchase her Specialized Amira road bike. I quickly said yes!
I remember the first time I picked the bike up and it was so light! I rode it and it felt so much more comfortable than my current bike; I was so excited to ride it! The next Thursday night ride everyone noticed my new bike and said, “I caught the bug.” They were so right! That bike was still difficult to figure out but I could tell a major difference from my KHS.
Eventually I decided to check out road racing by signing up for the NWA Spring Classic without any real knowledge of racing. I completed the race and everyone was so supportive. I decided to join the Fayetteville Wheelmen after that. I have been a member of the club for a year now and have participated in other races/events, which include the Rogers Cycling Festival, Ladies DU, BDB100, volunteering at TriFest for MS and other events. I have learned so much about myself through cycling. I’ve become stronger and slightly faster, and more involved in the community. I am currently in pursuit of my Level I & II NICA coaching license to transition into learning and teaching mountain biking skills for the Springdale School District team.
The diverse group of Fayetteville Wheelmen has become more than a cycling club; I have developed awesome friendships and I’m thankful for all their support, motivation and shared knowledge. There’s something for everyone in this club. Although I was first intimidated at joining, I was reassured “everyone has to start somewhere,” which comforted me and I continue to remember those words as we begin this year’s spring rides and races. Living in NWA where cycling is so prevalent is a blessing and I look forward to many more exciting miles on my newest road bike, a Specialized Allez!!! It’s been one hell of a terrific year!