When Jenny Park moved to Japan to teach English nearly 10 years ago, the self-proclaimed introvert discovered cycling as a way to balance the challenges of teaching. “I walked or biked everywhere,” she said. “The quiet observation kept me grounded.”
Upon coming home, Park enrolled in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Master of Public Administration program with the goal of normalizing walking and biking around her hometown of Chattanooga. “Because I love it so much, I have to try hard not to preach about the virtues of non-motorized transportation. The message isn’t ‘don’t drive.’ The message is that driving isn’t always the best or the only option.”
Park knows firsthand that convincing a new cyclist to brave the car-laden streets can be a hard sell. When she returned from Japan, she balked at buying a bike. “The roads and drivers were just too different,” she said. But one night, facing a long walk home after a double shift, she succumbed to a friend’s urging and borrowed her bike. “And that was all I needed,” said Park. “There is a distance between wanting to do something and feeling equipped to do it.” When Park isn’t coordinating a $100 million budget as Chattanooga’s strategic capital planner, she serves as a League Cycling Instructor helping new cyclists bridge that distance by riding with them on their first forays onto traffic until they feel confident riding alone.
“My first bike tour was one of the most valuable things I have done for myself, yet up until the moment I started, I was unsure of my abilities,” said Jenny about her weeklong solo ride on the Danube Cycle Path in Europe. “I documented my tour on Instagram and noted that so many of my friends commented or told me later that they wished they could do a trip like that. I wanted to encourage people, especially women, to go for it!”
Of all those influenced by Park’s unflagging enthusiasm for riding, perhaps none has been more so than her partner, John Sweet, and his children, Calvin (11) and Isabel (10). Within a few months of dating, Sweet replaced his old bike with a newer, tour-worthy cyclocross bike. Together they are testing out longer rides with the kids with the goal of a multiday trip. “I’d like biking to be a regular part of my kids’ lives. Be part of the cultural shift, think about biking as a totally normal way to transport themselves, exercise, have fun,” he said.
“Biking is the one physical activity the four of us can do together,” Sweet said. Because Isabel was born with a neuromuscular condition leaving her with limited lower-body flexibility, a typical pedal bike was not an option, but a trip to the 2015 U.S. Para-cycling Road Championships in Chattanooga opened their eyes to the possibilities. Now Isabel has handcycled in three states and gone on her first bike overnight. “Her bike has three gears, so when we ride together, she’s working harder than any of us. We don’t go as fast and we can’t travel far, but it’s so meaningful to spend time together this way,” said John.
Two years ago, Adventure Cycling convinced Park to join the Board of Directors. “I have been excited to see all of the ways that the organization is working to bring more young people and women into bicycle travel,” she said. “I can’t help but think ahead to all the opportunities to get more people into bicycle travel.” Recently she and Sweet made the commitment to become Life Members. “My previous job was as a transportation planner, and I really see the personal and societal/economic value of cycling,” she said. “I see a huge amount of potential for us to reach more people. And I want to support Adventure Cycling’s efforts to do so.”
Story by: April Cypher is Adventure Cycling’s Development Coordinator.
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It takes more than rain to stop this bicycle traveler
“Nothing I did had more impact on my life. If Adventure Cycling wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have had the guts to try something like that.”
“I realized at some point that Adventure Cycling’s mission was unlikely to ever change from matching MY mission.”
“My first bike tour was one of the most valuable things I have done for myself ... I wanted to encourage people, especially women, to go for it!”
“I’m a cyclist, and it seems like the appropriate thing to do, to support an organization that does what I feel is so much good in the cycling community.”