Girls with Gears: A Great Example of Passion, Determination and Energy
One of the founding members of the Girls With Gears peloton (riding group) remembers the very first team-training ride for Pelotonia back in 2010.
“We were wearing T-shirts and shorts and tennis shoes and had no idea what we were doing,” says Mary Beth Cowardin. “We rode maybe six miles around the neighborhood and thought we were something.”
These new and novice cyclists did know enough to stay hydrated.
“We carried our Starbucks cups with us,” Cowardin says with a smile.
Skip ahead to 2017, and Girls With Gears has become one of Pelotonia’s most well organized teams. Members are known for their distinctive and colorful jerseys, their welcoming and caring personalities, and their riding skills—many members have become strong cyclists capable of riding the 50-, 100- and 180-mile routes of Pelotonia. They’re also known for their fundraising abilities: $666,139 and counting for cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).
“Pelotonia wouldn’t be what it is today without the Girls With Gears,” Pelotonia President and CEO Doug Ulman said at the team’s 2017 kickoff party.
This is true, and the Girls With Gears peloton is a great example of the passion, determination and energy of Pelotonia, and of how members of the community can come together to make a difference and support the OSUCCC – James.
And have some fun.
“I watched my husband (Alan) ride in the first Pelotonia in 2009,” says Lisa Hinson, a member of The James Foundation Board and another founding member of the Girls With Gears (she’s also the captain of the peloton). “It was so emotional, and I had tears in my eyes. I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know anything about road cycling. I figured if I wanted to ride in Pelotonia, there had to be other women out there who wanted to ride.”
The plan was to find other women interested in riding in Pelotonia, get organized and learn all about cycling—climbing hills, clip-in bike shoes and fixing flats—together, as a team.
“Mary Beth told me this group was getting started,” says peloton member Linda Martens. “I hadn’t ridden since I was in college and didn’t even have a bike. Mary Beth said she didn’t have one either.”
They got bikes, trained together, rode in Pelotonia together.
“I was never on a team before, and the friendships I’ve made have been incredible,” Martens says. “The spirit and camaraderie, and the genuine care and concern everyone has for everyone else on the team is incredible. Pelotonia is an inspiring movement, and I’m inspired daily by it.”
Girls With Gears is based in New Albany, a cycling hub in central Ohio, and its members have training rides three times a week. They stress safety and help new riders learn the ins and outs of cycling and how to ride as a group.
“It’s completely changed my life,” says Gina Smith, who moved to Columbus in 2012 and was introduced to Girls With Gears. She was not a cyclist back then.
“Terri Evans was one of the first people I met here, and she told me once I started biking (with Girls With Gears) your friendships will expand exponentially,” Smith says. “That was so true, and now I know so many people, and it’s through the Girls With Gears and Pelotonia.”
And now, Smith is not only a strong cyclist who can crank out 100 miles, but she’s also become a triathlete.
“The relationships we’ve developed are very special,” Hinson says. “There are women who never knew one another and whose paths may not have crossed. There are so many different professions and geographies and backgrounds, and all these wonderful relationships have grown. The unifying factor is that we’ve all been touched by cancer.”
Girls With Gears members range from recent college graduates just starting their careers to CEOs such as Hinson, who runs Hinson Ltd., a public relations company, and Tammy Krings, CEO of Allstars Travel Group. There were 86 dues-paying members of Girls With Gears in 2016, including 35 Pelotonia riders, 24 virtual riders and 10 official volunteers. The number of volunteers is actually a lot higher, as a small army of Girls With Gears runs the rest stop in Sparta on the second day of Pelotonia.
“They’re really good at building community,” says Susie Pattison, Pelotonia’s director of rider recruitment and stewardship. “And they’re not just about Pelotonia, they’re all about the well-being of their members.”
Life has its ups and downs, and Girls With Gears members have been there for one another through all of them.
“Over the years we’ve come together as a family,” Cowardin told everyone at the kickoff event. “We’ve celebrated the lives of those we’ve lost, all the graduations, all the cancer battles. And we’ve always supported one another.”
Pelotonia and Girls With Gears also helped Cowardin find love.
“I met my fiancé (Gregg Goldenbagen) at a party at the home of one of the Girls With Gears,” she says. “He’s a Pelotonia rider, and we went on a ride together and got to know one another.”
Their wedding will be filled with Girls With Gears members.
“We’ve set up a wedding fund, and in lieu of gifts we’re asking everybody to make a donation to Pelotonia,” Cowardin says.