"I don’t hurt when I’m on the bike.”

This article first appeared as the Cyclist of the Month column in the August 2012 issue of the Cascade Courier, our membership newsletter.

Nominate a Cyclist of the Month!

Cyclist of the month: SARAH HODGE
Age: 59
Wheels: blue and white K2 road bike with “granny gears”
Occupation: Applications Architect for Snohomish County PUD

Most people who finish the 200-mile Group Health Seattle to Portland ride feel happy, exhilarated or proud when crossing that festive finish line in the heart of Portland, but Sarah Hodge mostly felt relieved.

“I was really hesitant to ride it. I wasn’t sure if I was physically or mentally ready,” she explained. “But then I decided to just do it, and if I didn’t finish that would be OK, too.”

Sarah recently completed the Cascade Training Series, which over an eight -week-period gave her the group riding skills, physical endurance and confidence to spend two days in the saddle surrounded by thousands of fellow cyclists.

“You don’t see many of my peers out there, and I was apprehensive about whether I would be able to keep up as the CTS rides became more challenging and then do the STP distance,” she said.

As a woman close to 60, she is indeed part of an underrepresented demographic in the biking community but she wouldn’t let that stop her.

“You know, STP was way more fun than I expected it to be. I rode by myself, but out of all the people out there, I kept running into people I had met in the training series along the way,” she said. “It feels good to be an STP finisher. I think it would be an accomplishment anytime to finish a 200-mile ride.”

Overcoming this challenge is minor compared to some of the life hurdles Sarah had to overcome.

In 1996, Sarah was the victim of a head-on car collision on the Maple Valley Highway. She broke her femur, ankle and arm. A metal rod now keeps her left leg together and her ankle is fused.

She was in a wheelchair for six weeks, a cast for three months, and a walking cast for many more months.

“I admire anyone in a wheelchair,” she said. “I couldn’t even make a cup of coffee by myself! The only thing that saved me [from boredom] was that the Olympics were on at the time.”

Over the years, Sarah regained 70 percent of her leg function.

“In 2003, I realized that the 30 percent lost was the fun part,” she said. “I couldn’t hike, run, ski or walk distances. Initially, the doctors say this is it, and you accept it. You put up with it. But it wasn’t until my kids were grown that I realized that all my fun activities were no longer doable. The fun went out of life with that 30 percent.”

But the doctors also told her that she couldn’t make it any worse.

“I took that as a license to do whatever,” Sarah said.

So Sarah started biking.

“I hobble around when I walk, but I look normal on the bike,” she said.

A big fan of travelling, Sarah signed up for a Cascade affiliated bike tour of Switzerland – 320 miles of biking in eight days.

“I like being on vacation, exercising and seeing the world without depending on a car,” she said. “And biking has always kind of been part of my life. It’s something I always come back to, though always as transportation and not recreationally.”

Following her return from Switzerland, Sarah wanted to make biking a part of a life again and signed up for the Cascade Training Series.

“I wanted to get better at riding and feel comfortable riding in traffic and in groups,” she explained. “I didn’t think I could be trained up to do the STP or even ride 80 miles by myself.”

Sarah said the highlight of the series was to not only find confidence but to discover the enjoyment of being out on a bike for long periods of time.

“It reminds me of riding horses when I was young,” she said. “Also, I loved the routes.”

As CTS participants get used to longer distances, the series takes them along various routes throughout the region, including Maple Valley.

“When I go by that spot [where the accident occurred] it does bring back the accident but in a way of feeling grateful, especially when you see so many [memorial] crosses along the highways,” Sarah said.

Sarah has already booked a hotel room for next year’s STP and colleagues and family are lining up to join her.

Additionally, Sarah is looking for “a more sturdy bike” to run errands around town with the ultimate goal to minimize her car use or even get rid of her car entirely once she retires.

“STP is a nice accomplishment but for day-to-day health getting out and moving daily is important,” she said. “Plus, I live in West Seattle and it’s really silly to have a car around Alki. There’s no parking and always traffic.”

When Sarah found out that she was nominated as Cyclist of the Month for being such an inspirational CTS success story, she was surprised.

“When you get to my age you notice that everyone has injuries of one kind or another. Everyone is working through some pain. You just need to find your thing,” she said. “Cycling is my thing. I don’t hurt when I’m on the bike.”