In honor of Florida Bicycle Month and Women’s History Month, we wrap up March by spotlighting Bike Florida volunteer extraordinaire, Chris Chapline. She shares her personal story of loss and how her first ride with Bike Florida helped her learn to care for herself and experience healing.
The year 2017 was a tough one for Chris Chapline. She was still grieving the death of her husband from ALS and dementia and was also faced with acting as the full-time caregiver for her mother who was also suffering from dementia. For five long years, she was forced to watch two people she loved dearly decline, eventually losing her husband in 2015. She continued to manage the daily care of her mother while trying to grieve the loss of her husband.
With no surprise, her life’s circumstances wore on her physically, mentally, and emotionally. She needed an outlet. “I was desperate to run away and forget my responsibilities and just be me, “ Chris shares.
One day she was looking through a cycling magazine and noticed a display of advertisements on the back page. This is where she spotted a small ad for Bike Florida’s Spring Tour. Chris rode her bicycle occasionally when she was able to, but never had the chance to participate in an actual bike tour. She felt immediately energized at the thought of taking Bike Florida’s Spring Tour. Deep down she knew she needed this ride. She went to the Bike Florida website to research the dates and then called upon her five siblings to ask for six days of needed cycling respite. After receiving assurance that her family would help care for her mother during her time away, she happily sent in her payment and was excited when she was sent her confirmation letter.
Finding someone to look after her mother was the first obstacle, the second was to get an appropriate bicycle. She enlisted a friend who was a previous bike shop owner to help her find an affordable bike to take her on this six-day adventure. With a bike secured, Chris then realized she would need to ride 45 miles per day for six days. This would be the first time she had ridden her bike two days in a row let alone SIX! She knew she would have to find some time to train.
In order to prepare for the ride, Chris hired a sitter for her mother to come in twice a week. She found during those two days that the time alone on her bicycle was mentally freeing.
Within what seemed a few brief weeks, the Spring Tour arrived. Chris found waking up each morning of the tour without the worries of caring for her mother such a release. The ride was invigorating and she found socializing with new people truly healing. “Talking to people from all over the country with different reasons for being on the tour was mind blowing, “ Chris shared.
As the group was packing up on the final day of the tour, Chris approached Bike Florida’s Executive Director at the time, Joy Hancock, to express how much the ride meant to her. Chris found that she could not control the tears that flowed. Sharing a much needed hug, Joy and Chris decided to keep in touch after the ride. Eventually, Joy asked Chris if she would be interested in becoming an ambassador for Bike Florida. Not really knowing exactly what that entailed, it didn’t really matter to Chris. She loved everything about Bike Florida and wanted to be a part of supporting its programs. “Bike Florida didn’t know it, but by making me an ambassador, they actually extended a lifeline to me. It kept me going during the rest of the caregiving I had left to do with my mother. My volunteering gave me something to put on the calendar and look forward to during that time and afterwards when I was wondering what was next for me.”
Since that first ride, Chris has been volunteering and representing Bike Florida whenever she is able to. “Chris continues to support Bike Florida’s growth and vision for a more inclusive cycling community. She even came along on our Inaugural Sunflower Tour and has been irreplaceable as a ride marshal, route marker and all around cheerleader,” states current Bike Florida Executive Director, Lisa Lake.
Chris still has that first Bike Florida ride confirmation letter to remind her of the journey of healing she took. She reflects, “By being involved with Bike Florida I can do what I love and do something good at the same time.”
Bike Florida extends our gratitude to Chris and all of our other dedicated volunteers who work together to support our mission of inclusivity and equity in cycling. We could not do this without your support. Thank you.