Twenty years ago, my family doctor read my annual physical numbers to me and delivered a harsh reality.

At age 40, I had to make some serious lifestyle changes, lose weight and become more physically active or I risked followed the path of others in my gene pool full of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Up until then, I had never played sports, often skipped high school gym class and comfortably felt that chasing after my kids was plenty of activity. He gave me a week to come back with a plan for improving my health.

I found a women’s only gym and started there. I was intimidated and so far out of my comfort zone. I heard the music coming from a spin class and peeked inside. It looked like a party on bikes. I joined in only to find out it wasn’t a party at all. Everything hurt. With encouragement, inspiration and hard work I stuck it out that whole winter, made a few friends and bought a bike to ride outside.

Jenny Brown road the race with Alessandro Malaguti, who is well known within the region.

Then I signed up for a course being taught at our local university called Mountain Biking 101. The instructor was Jenny Brown. This is where my love for cycling and relationship with Jenny began. She instilled in me the belief that you’re never too old for sport and that anything is possible. Her continued undying inspiration and support opened up so many doors.

As I became “reactivated,” I started racing our local mountain bike circuit and took coaching courses so I could help empower other women. Two decades later at age 60, I now lead road rides for my cycling club, Amici Per La Vita (translation: friends for life). This is truly what the cycling world has provided me – friends, enjoyment, stress relief and most of all, health.

Opportunity knocks

Recognized as cycling influencers, we were recruited to join a press trip for cycling organized by Emilia Romagna Tourism and Terrabici Cycling Tours to experience the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. It offered quaint towns, hilltop villages, warm friendly people, a rich history and culture, combined with quiet roads suitable for all levels of cycling. We were provided with a guide, Alessandro Malaguti, a former professional racer turned coach and tour ride leader, who would help us navigate the region, including a wine tour and Gran Fondo race. The Davide Cassani Gran Fondo could be done as a 85-km course or a 130-km one with the climb ranging from 1,400 to 2,000 metres. We chose 85-km course.

Once again, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I had moments of disbelief and feelings that this was all a just dream as I took in the colourful sights and sounds of the bustling race start area on a beautiful spring day. There were 1,800 riders all squeezed tightly together trying to make their way to the front. As part of our tour, we are taken to the front of the race start area alongside professional teams and meet the coach of the Italian national team, Davide Cassani.

The first 20 km of the race required full on focus to navigate the winding streets of Faenza and varying levels of ability. The race had a blend of difficult climbs, epic descents, and flats all through beautiful mountain villages. We needed to manage our nerves and keep ourselves safe.

I found my place with a few Italian women who were riding at my pace. We bonded through broken English and the same unspoken universal goals of taking down the barriers of ageism as we conquered each climb, navigated each exhilarating descent and crossed the finish line ending with hugs and smiles and a sense of elation. No words needed.

I am grateful to Jenny Brown, owner of Reactivated Coaching and Training Systems, who made this all happen for me, She opened doors for me in terms of what my retirement years could look – pursuing cycling adventures, and leading and organizing tours. She continues to provide inspiration, expert training and coaching to all her clients from ages 8 to 88. I consider myself fortunate to have her as a mentor that has lead me to conquer my bucket list.

Thanks to Lucy DeFazio for sharing her story.