Saturday, June 2 was a normal day in Rochester for me. Our weather had transitioned from really warm sunny weather to a bit overcast and a little windy, but I decided to go on a walk on the Erie Canal trail.
It was peaceful, less bicyclists and less walkers than usual, but the day wasn’t as warm as preceding days so it made sense that there were less using the trail. As my walk progressed, the sun started to shine and more people came onto the trail and into view. As one rider came into my vision, she caught my eye more than most riders usually do. Why this rider caught my eye I will get to, but first let me preface with some knowledge I gained this day.
What I didn’t know was June 1 marked the day to get on bicycles for thousands all over the U.S. who signed up to ride their bikes for the Great Cycle Challenge USA. Great Cycle Challenge began in 2015, and in three years has gained momentum and has quickly become one of the largest cycling events in the U.S. This is a national charity ride for Children’s Cancer Research Fund. whose vision is a world without cancer where kids are living, not fighting for their lives. Riders choose how many miles they will ride in the month of June, set a goal for themselves and collect donations for their ride. If riders hit the $500 donation mark, they earn a Great Cycle Challenge riding jersey.
I was unaware of this event, but I really think it is fantastic. Riders can ride 1 mile or hundreds of miles; it is their choice. I learned even kids who have battled cancer were on their bikes for this event.
As for the cyclist that popped up in my radar on the Erie Canal Trail on June 2, she is a woman who lives in Greece. She works in downtown Rochester as a paralegal for LaDuca Law Firm, and displays an appetite for life. As she was riding, I motioned to her as I wanted to ask her some questions. I mean, it is not every day you see a person riding a rather large unicycle on the Erie Canal. She was kind and willing to jump off her unicycle and talk to me. I had so many questions, and I was thankful she took time from her ride to chat with me.
Maybe now is a good time to mention that I have always wanted to submit an article to the Post just to see my thoughts in print ,but never found my inspiration to do so. June 2 changed everything, I had my inspiration. It rolled into my life on one wheel, a small skinny lady riding a really big wheeled unicycle.
Mary Jane, familiarly known as MJ, decided to ride for Great Cycle Challenge, and chose to ride 100 miles in the month of June. One hundred miles on one wheel! That is what my family described as hardcore. She has raised over $600, and is still actively seeking contributions throughout the month. She tells me the unicycle she was riding on June 2 is a Nimbus Oracle 32-inch wheel. That is a large diameter, and I wondered how she even got on it to ride, but she did when she rode away. MJ told me during one of our conversations that when she first started to ride, she put a homemade a sticker on her helmet that read “One Life, One Wheel.” It is pretty appropriate for this ride.
During her stop, she shared with me a story of a young girl named Callie, how she was riding on a team called Callie’s Crew and how Callie was involved with Great Cycle Challenge. Riders decided to form a team this year called Callie’s Crew, as Callie was still battling cancer. MJ proudly displayed the team shirt that she received after joining Callie’s Crew, and said Callie designed the shirt.
MJ then told me that sadly in April at the young age of 10, Callie lost her battle to cancer, less than two months before the ride began. At that point, I had a lump in my throat, a tear in my eye thinking of my kids, people’s grandkids and I thanked MJ for riding and recognized the importance of her ride and the compassion this woman had for her life, the kids she doesn’t even know and people around her.
I knew then what story I wanted to submit to the Post — MJ’s story. I believe we need more stories of people who are out giving of themselves for others and of the compassion they have for everyday life. It was then I asked her for her email to find out more about her and the ride, she graciously gave me an email that will be etched in my mind for years to come; unicyclemom@gmail.com sums up everything she is doing.
I noticed there is an extra effort riding on one wheel that bicyclists don’t share. There is no coasting, there is constant pedaling and I imagine you must have to have good balance and quick reflexes. MJ said that people generally embrace the unicycle and it brings a smile to nearly everyone’s face as they see her ride past. She doesn’t mind stopping and talking to people, and that was evident in my experience with her. MJ is, in my opinion, a great representation of her unicycling sport. She told me that this day, one little boy told her that her bike was really cool. He asked if she won a prize or something to get the special bike, but when she said it was just her bike she bought and that she didn’t do anything special, she also told him that she was riding her bike for kids similar to himself but who didn’t feel really good right now, the little boy without hesitation thanked her for helping the kids who didn’t feel good. MJ said that was heartwarming and inspired her ride.
She does admit there is an occasional smirk or mock, but she said even with a reproachful gesture or the customary “where’s your other wheel” comment, the sport is worth it because the sport is energizing and the community that surrounds each rider is extremely supportive.
MJ told me that on occasion, people ask her how they can start riding and she willingly offers suggestions and assistance to learn. She told me that it would be great to have more riders in the area, and she would gladly support the efforts of anyone who wants to learn to ride. To purchase a unicycle, she directs them to unicycle.com, a retailer in Georgia. She told me that besides selling beginner to expert unicycles, parts and gear, unicycle.com is a great support system in the unicycle community, and will take phone calls with questions, no matter if the rider feels it is simple or a complex question.
The ride continues for MJ throughout the month of June. She plans on riding many places on the Erie Canal Trail throughout the month, and she said of course some on rides on her home trail at Turning Point Park and the Port of Rochester area. I suggest if you happen to see a unicyclist riding past, stop and say hello. It may be MJ and she may be saving a life by riding. She is gracious and friendly, and even though as we her we are interrupting her ride she is inviting to all. If you are interested in learning to ride a unicycle or if you are interested in supporting the Great Cycle Challenge U.S. by sponsoring her ride, contact her via email or search her Facebook page with her email. A link to donate is on her page.
I hope this article inspires more to jump into life with the compassion that this lady has done.