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Friday, January 18, 2013

RAGBRAI: The Tandem Bike Team Adventure: Bio's of the Teammates

Pedego Tandem Cruiser Black Tire/Seat Package: Standard

I like inspiring stories about people overcoming obstacles and bursting through their comfort zone in order to grow and motivate others. My two posts about weight loss featured such people, Richard and Chuck:  Weight Loss in Men Over Age 50 Part 1 and Weight Loss in Men Over Age 50 Part 2.

The inspirational vibes continue...
My friend, Chuck Miller, has taken on another challenge: he has been chosen to ride in RAGBRAI this July, as part of a team of disabled riders. Chuck is blind. He will ride tandem with his Captain, Cheryl Ann Smith.

At Chuck’s request, I’ll be documenting Chuck and Cheryl’s journey as they prepare for the bike ride adventure. Let their adventure inspire you to find yours! 
(And please, leave your inspiring story or comments below, in the Comments section! Thank you!)

This post begins the documenting by introducing the participants with a bio that they have written about themselves.

But first, a brief explanation about RAGBRAI:
RAGBRAI is the acronym for "The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.” RAGBRAI is an annual 7 day bicycle ride across the state of Iowa. It is a touring ride, not a race. The route is about 468 miles and goes from The Missouri River to the Mississippi River. The route changes each year. The new route is announced in January. 
Riders are selected through a lottery system and compete for 8,500 spots! 
Riders camp along the way.
Profits from RAGBRAI go to local charities supporting families and the communities of central Iowa.
(See their website for more info: RAGBRAI.)

Enter Chuck:

My goal is to ride in RAGBRAI in July 2013 and have the journey documented. I intend that my story be an inspiration to others who are experiencing a difficult challenge or situation in their life. I would like my story to provide those struggling, with the attitude that they have the power to overcome overwhelming situations. We all have within ourselves the ability to be a bright shining star when we overcome our obstacles—especially the ones that we place in front of ourselves.

 For the past 11 years, I have lived in a home I own in Northwest Gainesville, Florida. I share that home with my 14-year-old son, of whom I have custody.
I am an Army Veteran. I served in the U.S. Army for 28 years in various capacities. I also worked as a civilian for a major teaching hospital group (Northwest Florida.) My position in the healthcare organization was cut in October 2010. In both my military and civilian careers, I worked in support services management.
I am legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease. I was diagnosed with this disease in 1984 but did not fully notice its effects until 2006.
Since 2006, I have had to make many life changes in order to continue an independent lifestyle. For example, I attended my first blind rehab center in 2010 at the blind VA facility in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to attending blind rehab, I had refused to admit my disability.
The opportunities available at the VA profoundly impacted my life. I was able to "see" all the possibilities that their education afforded me. I openly embraced each and every learning opportunity offered me.
In 2010, I attended a second blind rehab program at the West Palm Beach VA Hospital in Florida. In addition, I have sought out the aid of the blind rehab personnel assigned to the Gainesville area. I have taken many orientation and mobility classes that have enabled me to travel independently. The blind rehab teacher continues to instruct me in Braille, JAWS (a software program for the blind that reads the computer screen’s contents out loud), and other activities that impact my daily living. I have also attended counseling sessions and many other meetings to improve my understanding of blindness.
One major challenge that I needed to overcome was the feeling of loss and depression, as my eyesight diminished. In my mind, it looked as though my life had ended, because I was disabled and could no longer function in society. I became a couch potato and gained weight. My health began to falter.
In January 2012, I weighed over 300 pounds and had both high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. I pleaded with my doctor for a solution. He explained that I was the only person who could really reverse my life-threatening health issues. After hearing that, I decided to go to the gym and change my eating habits. 
I completed a workout study that yielded weight loss and increased muscle. That progress began my road to enlightenment. 
I went to Birmingham a second time, for additional blind training.  While there, the recreational therapist told me about the sports program the VA offered involving biking. I became interested in riding a Tandem Bicycle that would allow me to enjoy a former favorite pastime. 
In the fall of 2012, I ran into a former co-worker that told me about an annual Iowa bicycle ride called RAGBRAI (Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.)  I looked into it and was hooked. I contacted the organizers and discussed my desire to ride. They told me about an organization in Iowa that sponsored group ridership. I contacted Adaptive Sports Iowa and discussed RAGBRAI and my desire to ride. The director agreed to sponsor me and my Captain (the person riding in the front seat of the tandem bike.) 
My next step was to start a training program. I chose Spin Classes at the gym. I have been taking classes 3-4 days per week. I also do weight lifting on the X-Force machines.
Spin classes reignited a passion for riding that I had forgotten. The freedom that I experience while on that bike is nothing short of euphoria.  I cannot wait to get a tandem bike and ride the trails of Florida with my best friend, Ann Marie! (Sorry, Ann Marie, you've been recruited!)

Enter Cheryl Ann Smith:
I am cleverly disguised as a hard-working, licensed clinical social worker, however I am really a nature loving, Iowa born and raised, corn-fed girl. 
 I was born to Roger and Rose Marie Shaw in the early 1950’s. We lived on a 400 acre farm in Mills County, Southwest Iowa. My sister, brother and I were a typical Midwest family that raised livestock and crops. We participated in 4-H, school and church activities. 
After primary school, I attended Nishna Valley Community School. I went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Iowa State University.
 I have lived in the Gainesville area since 1979. I have worked at Shands Healthcare since 2000, as a licensed clinical social worker. I work with the Department of Patient and Family Resources with intensive care patients. 
I also have a small private therapy practice, serving Gilchrist, Levy and Dixie Counties. I have advanced training in Critical Incident Stress Management, and provide support to individuals and organizations that have experienced a traumatic event. 
 I live on a one-acre ranch home just outside Trenton with my daughter, Megan, and my granddaughter – of whom I am extremely proud).   
 My mother and brother still live in Iowa and my sister lives in Nebraska.  
 Iowa has always been called home. Each trip is cherished and tears flow when it’s time to return to my Florida family, which also includes my son and his wife who told me to “go for it,” when I told them about RAGBRAI.
 RAGBRAI has been on my “bucket list” for quite awhile. It was really just a fanciful thought, an “Oh, right. I will probably never get to that.” 
Then I had lunch with my friend, Chuck Miller. Chuck said  enthusiastically, “I would like to do that!”  We decided that an older woman and a visually-impaired veteran really could do this—and the adventure began.    
 Committing to Chuck and RAGBRAI in July means that I must get back in the gym and restore some physical fitness.
I am proud of my rural Iowa heritage, with its beautiful homesteads, acres and acres of corn and soybeans, and a compassionate community spirit. I’m proud of how that heritage has developed me into a person who loves people, the environment and life.  
I am looking forward to sharing an appreciation for a ride that will not only present a physical challenge, but will allow great fellowship with good friends old and new.


  1. I have known Chuck for many years and have no doubt that he will complete this goal. I enjoyed reading the blog and look forward to reading additional post and comments on your progress.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Vivian! Chuck is an inspiration.