Creating Community Through Cycling
By Laurie Wilson
Photos by jurgen Harding
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. Did you know that there is an ever-growing community of senior women in Victoria who are working devotedly and joyfully to improve their own health, and that of their community? These are the dozens of grandmotherly cyclists training for the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa Cycle Tours. This September will be the 13 time that a group of about 30 members of this group have ridden their bikes from Campbell River to Victoria over three days, finishing at Centennial Square on National Grandparents Day! The potential difficulties, and the rain-or-shine commitment to the event, create a feeling of solidarity with the energetic and tireless African Gogos this group of women, and their sponsors, are supporting.
Three of our cyclists are from James Bay. Yvonne was a founding member of the VG4A and participated in most of the 13 annual tours. Stefa and her husband stopped to help us with a jammed chain last year, and she is now the co-chair of our cycle tour organizing committee and training for her second tour. Peggy is recovering from many years of being ill and thrilled to be cycling long distances with great company. Many members of our group have lost their parents in the last decade, and one woman unexpectedly lost her husband just before Christmas. A Vancouver cyclist who rode with us in 2016 showed up for training recently, having just come through two years of dealing with breast cancer, chemo and radiation treatments. So many have come back to cycling with one of the groups after serious injuries and surgeries – broken hips, knee replacements, ripped tendons, heart surgery.
Knowing you are going to cycle every Monday morning all year round, weather permitting, with these strong, resilient women creates a tremendous sense of belonging to a community, as well as a sense of commitment to your shared activity. The group is a great motivator.
Research has shown that social engagement is associated with positive health outcomes. Multiply that by considering the time spent on their bikes and in the outdoors. These Victoria women are contributing to the health of their entire community by maintaining their health and energy so they can support others and each other, and by not needing support from the diminishing number of younger working people.
WHO definition of health: Last JM, ed. A Dictionary of Epidemiology, Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Research has shown that social engagement is associated with positive health outcomes. Berkman LF, Glass T, Brissette I, Seeman TE. From social integration to health: Durkheim in the new millennium. Social Science and Medicine 51(2000):843-857.