February 2019 Rider Of The Month Didi Schenck

This month, we’re talking all about love. February brings the celebration of Valentine’s Day, which focuses on love for a significant other. It’s important to spend time showing your beau, your friends, your family that you care, but we hope you won’t forget one person: yourself. Our Rider of The Month, Didi Schenck, shares with us how she learned to love herself right here, right now.

Didi was a collegiate athlete. After graduation, weight gain and injury stripped her of the titled she cherished most: runner. Now, with the help of ElliptiGO bikes, Didi has brought the athlete within her back to life. She’s lost 50lbs and dropped three dress sizes. She qualified for and completed the Elliptical Cycling World Championships, which consists of a brutal climb up Palomar Mountain. She has gained an incredible support group and friends for life in the ElliptiGO community. We are so proud of the many accomplishments that have earned her this month’s title.

If you’re looking to rekindle your relationship with the athlete in you, we invite you to read Didi’s beautiful story.

Today was a gift – an unseasonably warm 73° day in early February here in Southern Maryland. The middle school at which I teach 8th grade math ends at 3:30. I had dressed fully prepared for a speedy exit from the campus: sports bra and spandex passed off as leggings under a tunic for fast change. The 96 tests I had to grade could wait. I could blow out of there and GO!

It was a nice and easy 26-mile ride at 14.1 mph, mostly on one of our flat rail trails, with 5 miles off to do a little bit of elevation. I finished a good 15 minutes after dark.  As usual, I had plenty of time to reflect on the 180 I have done from one year ago.

I’ll start with who I used to be: a runner. I was middle of the pack for Penn State in the early 80s. My best race was a 36:48 10K at Penn Relays in 1985. I love that picture of me under the lights at Franklin Field. Running was my salvation. I graduated from college, got a great job as a programmer analyst, had three children and quit to stay home with them, and then went back to work as a teacher. I coached track and volunteered nonstop for my kids’ activities. But unlike most dedicated runners, the weight piled on in spite of the running I continued to do. I just never learned to manage my eating habits, and a low-lying depression contributed. My weight vacillated between 180 and 210 pounds over the years, with one brief period in 2007 when I lost 50 pounds. But I could still crank out 6-8 miles at a pop until 2016! Suddenly, the knee blew up with every step. Arthroscopic surgery repaired the tear, but couldn’t do anything for the paper-thin cartilage remaining from years of running fat. I was a runner no more.

By early 2018, my three wonderful kids had finished college, I’d divorced, lost my parents, and dealt with difficult family relationships around my parents’ estate. However, I was happier (and fatter) than ever: remarried to a wonderful man. The time was ripe for change. In anticipation of the knee replacement in May, I embarked on yet another weight-loss program, a 30 day challenge. This one worked. I kicked my sugar habit and lost 17 pounds that month. I was excited to get back on my elliptical bike, a Bionic Runner I had purchased in 2015. I had REALLY wanted to buy an ElliptiGO long-stride, but I simply didn’t think I could afford it then.

(I should have sprung for the ElliptiGO! But hindsight, you know, is 20-20, and really, I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences. They are who I am.)

For the third time, my Bionic Runner broke during a workout. Unfortunately for me this time, Bionic Runner had gone out of business and replacement parts were not available – gahhh! My husband jerryrigged it as much as possible, but I finally threw my hands up. I was tired of getting hurt and tired of fixing it, and tired of not having it when I needed it. I was devastated because now I had no outdoor cardio to complement my new eating habits. I knew I needed both venues for significant weight loss. And have I mentioned how much I hate the gym after 20 years of teaching aerobics? And that I can’t stand a bike seat?

My thoughts turned once again to the ElliptiGO. Looking at the website, I was confused by which one I should zero in on. On a whim, I googled “ElliptiGO guru” and this name came up: Idai Makaya. Not really getting what I wanted from his website, I found him on Facebook and friend requested him. To my relief, he accepted the FR, and that, my friends, is really the defining moment in my transformation. Little did I know what was about to happen!

Idai and I instantly bonded. I shared my background and questions about the ElliptiGO line. His advice was, “If you only have one, get a long stride. If you want the best, get an 11R”. 0% financing made things more attractive and my 11R, “Hot Lips”, arrived in late February. (She got that name because she arrived with no “E” on one side. I replaced it with a hot lips sticker.)

My husband patiently assembled her for me, and I took it to the rail trail for a test run – the very same I rode last night. I went 10 miles that first night, adjusting to the different muscles used. The Bionic Runner is more like the ARC motion, so the 11R felt weird like I was shuffling. I wasn’t sold – yet. Idai told me to be patient, and in just a few more rides, I began to embrace the change and was completing 20-milers at a pretty good clip. I was also doing about 15 minutes of Pilates as well several times a week, and guess what happened?! The knee pain vanished almost completely! It wasn’t the bone-on-bone that was causing the most pain; it was the weakness in the muscles and ligaments that support the knee. The 11R uses more hip flexor than the Bionic Runner did, and my legs grew strong. The knee replacement will still be necessary at some point, but for now, it’s on hold.

Idai and I began planning goals for me. I’d always wanted to do a century ride on my Bionic Runner, but my longest ride had only been 27 miles and THAT almost broke me! I joined his Longest Ride Challenge to prepare for a century and planned a flat one, the Cap2Cap in Richmond May 12. With a little over 2 months to prepare, Idai quickly lengthened my rides to 30, 40, 50 miles, capping my training schedule off with a 72-miler. Bored and tired of stops every 2 miles, I moved off the rail trails onto the roads and began climbing. I discovered parts of Southern Maryland I could never have seen as a runner, limited to single-digit mileage runs. I was struck by the beauty of what I’d been missing. By now, I’d dropped 30 pounds, and for the first time in a long long time, I had a singular athletic focus. Every day, I couldn’t wait to get out and GO.

The Cap2Cap started out well. I was the only ElliptiGO rider on the ride. I zipped through the first 50 miles in 3:45. Unfortunately, when the sun hit high noon, the temperatures began to soar into the low 90’s, hitting 97 at one point. Experienced cyclists wisely cut the ride short; SAG was super busy. But there was zero chance I was going to quit even though I had gone out too hard. The last 28 miles seemed an eternity, but I eventually finished in an elapsed 9:09. The beer truck had driven away and the food line closed down.  A couple of weeks after the Cap2Cap, I tackled a local 75-miler with more climbing and finished much more strong.

During my training, I began to make friends on the ElliptiGO Facebook page. Carol Galgano and Lyn Huston were so welcoming. At some point, I joined GERC (the Global ElliptiGO Riders Club), but I didn’t really understand the Get Out and GO (GOGO) challenge season, plus I was busy with end of the year activities for the school. Toward the end of June, I realized some fun things were going on there, and decided I would join in with July’s challenge. That was another pivotal point when I was the first person to complete the double climbing and distance challenge the first week, and my friendship with Jane LeGore was born. I really felt I’d arrived when Clint Greenbaum gave me a shout out on the page!

I was a freight train that couldn’t be stopped. July 21 (International ElliptiGO Cycling Day) marked an epic 50-mile ride (for max GOGO points) with Lewis “Lefty” Leftwich on the Virginia Capital Trail in the pouring rain. It ended at a brewery in Jamestown. I was starting to realize just how incredibly special the ElliptiGO community truly is. I bought another ElliptiGO bike- a Carolina blue SUB – so that my daughter (a Tarheel), and I could ride together. I sold my Bionic Runners for good.

I found I’d qualified for Palomar in the Cap2Cap, and yet another goal was born – to climb that monster out in San Diego in October.  I began climbing every hill in Southern Maryland over and over and took a couple of trips to Skyline Drive for training rides. I tackled the more challenging Covered Bridge metric century in Lancaster and kept my mileage up in August. Jim Cremer sent me an email asking if I’d be interested in being a captain in the Team Challenge. While my amazing IncrediGOs team did not win <grumble, grumble>, I had an amazing time, racking up back to back 50-milers, 75-milers, and a solo ride of 125 miles (!) for a total of 1,111 miles during September. Teammate and fellow mathematician Amy Glen and I pushed each other to the end. I’m pretty sure Clay Whiting never saw his kids. Jim put up some ridiculous numbers.

Sometime during September, I stepped on the scale to find myself 50 pounds down. No longer a size 14/16, I was a comfortable size 8! I’d never thought I’d see the 150’s on the scale again in my life.

October was the cherry on top of an incredible year that was never planned, never envisioned. I went to the World Championships in San Diego (my first trip to California!), and put faces to the folks I’d grown so close to over <gasp!> the internet. And yes, I made it up that damn mountain. It wasn’t pretty, and I wasn’t fully prepared for THAT MUCH CLIMBING, but once I got on the switchbacks toward the conservatory, I knew I’d make it. And who was there waiting for me at that finish line? Idai, whom ElliptiGO was honored with a lifetime achievement award after his world-record 1700-mile journey up and down Great Britain that inspired so many others like me to do THEIR own longest ride challenge. I thought my heart would literally burst, finally embracing the person who took time out of his busy life to connect with this has-been runner and help her get her mojo back. It felt like I was meeting people I’d known my whole life.

A few weeks ago, I met my new GO family again in Phoenix and had yet another wonderful time. Hot Lips’ birthday is sometime this month. The winter isn’t kind, but I bought yet ANOTHER ElliptiGO bike, this time an 8C, and the Kinetic Rock ‘n Roll trainer to keep my fitness up. I simply can’t believe the changes I’ve made, what I’ve done in one, short year. This bike and its community have transformed me into an athlete again.

I no longer dwell in the past and think of myself in terms of what I USED to be. I no longer fear growing old. I don’t even think I miss running anymore! I am proud of who I am NOW, and what I can accomplish as an athlete on the GO.

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