Gearing Up is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide women in transition from drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and homelessness with the skills, equipment, and guidance needed to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation, and personal growth.
What inspired you to start Gearing Up?
I started the program almost 18 months ago. We work with women who are in recovery/re-entry homes. Around 80 percent of women enrolled in our program have been incarcerated 3-4 times on average for a period of 150 days. Gearing Up helps women to become physically active again and productive members of society. Riding a bicycle individually or with the community increases opportunities for emotional growth, social growth, and improved physical health.
How did your background help you establish this program?
I’m an elite cyclist. I moved to the East Coast from Washington, where I was a bike tour guide, and I moved to Philly to get my master’s degree in exercise sport/psychology. While in grad school, I started working at a women’s recovery home doing an internship and basically started a fitness program there. A majority of those women had been diagnosed with some sort of mental health issue as well as substance abuse. Women can also put on significant weight while in prison—in my opinion, they are craving physical activity.
I started the program while I was a grad student, but I wanted to get women out of the recovery home and onto bikes after I graduated. I figured I could either have applied for jobs or followed my own passion and gotten some of the women outside on bikes. I started out with five bikes provided by Fuji with a handful of volunteers. Later, we received a second fleet of bikes and a second program location, etc. It’s beautiful that what you study in grad school can actually become your profession.
What is the goal of the program?
Women start riding with us on our fleet bikes at one of our three partner facilities. Once women complete 100 miles on these bikes, we partner with another non-profit that allows women to refurbish a bicycle and keep it. In order to earn a bike, the participants must complete their hours during a 7-week class that is offered three times a year. The program is strictly Philadelphia based at this point, but it is pretty replicable.
This winter, we are launching a program to begin working with women while they’re still in prison in Philadelphia. This program is for women who are faced with the opportunity to get released at end of sentence or go into a recovery facility. This program is different because we are actually implementing our program at a women’s prison in Philadelphia with inmates while they are still incarcerated. Our intention is to promote continued care for women after prison. We will be promoting movement to a recovery/re-entry home where we already have a program for women at the end of their sentence. This is almost like a feeder program.
How does cycling in particular help women in transition?
Not only does cycling offer a method of transportation, but it also provides opportunities for employment and many physical and psychological health benefits. Riding a bicycle provides an opportunity to cope with stress, depression, anger, anxiety, etc., but it is also a time when women in our program get to be "part of society" and meet new people. When you're on a bike or in an indoor cycling class, you instantaneously have something in common with those around you, even if you have never spent one day in the life of an inmate or addict. These experiences are a very important part of a healthy lifestyle change for Gearing Up riders.
How does indoor cycling factor into Gearing Up?
We spend about 4 months doing indoor cycling classes at local gyms during the winter because we can’t do the rides outside. For our indoor cycling program at the women's prison, we have received donated indoor cycling bikes. Women also accumulate miles in our indoor cycling classes, just as they do when we are riding bikes outside.
Describe some of the success the program has already seen.
We’ve graduated 25 women from the program who now have their own bicycles. Of our graduates, 80 percent remain drug and alcohol free and out of prison. It’s a small population so far, but I think that national relapse rates are around 7 out of 10, so our rates are certainly not comparable to that! Our women have said this program makes them feel free and strong, and that it’s a great way to meet new people.
Visit www.gearing-up.org for more information about the organization and to join the mailing list!