Marge Boulanger was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2006. Her relentless optimism, mixed with prayer and support from loved ones, helped her pull through a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Still, throughout this whole ordeal, my mom rides.
I remember talking to my dad last fall, before my mom’s surgery. The doctor had phoned, asking to speak to my mom. My dad, ever cautious, was nervous to tell the doctor that my mom was riding her bike around the lake, something she’s been doing for 10 years.
I’m the oldest of four, and despite my occupation, am not the most avid cyclist in the family. My sister Andrea and her husband live and ride in Seattle. My brother John and his family live and ride in Wausau, Wisconsin, while my brother Joel and his girlfriend Carolyn live and ride in Los Angeles. Yes, I live and breathe cycling in San Francisco. My wife rides her road fixie to and from work every day, and my kids ride daily, which is easy in bike-friendly Mountain View.
But it was my mom who spread this wonderful bug throughout the family when she strapped me into a primitive German child’s bicycle seat and pedalled around our Allouez, Wisconsin neighborhood. Soon I graduated to a tricycle, then an AMF Roadster. A used Schwinn Stingray was my trusty companion for years, carrying me to grade school every day until a Ross Europa three-speed allowed me the freedom to explore the outer reaches of our community.
Margie, as my siblings and I respectfully call her, worked the third shift as a licensed practical nurse for 18 years while my dad worked various shifts at Procter & Gamble for 35. Our family bike rides brought us to Green Isle Park, soccer practice, visits with the Hartleys, and deliciously so to Hansen’s dairy for ice cream in the summertime. Like me, my two younger brothers rode for transportation and pleasure, while little sister followed suit. Bicycles always came along on camping trips, where gravel and dirt roads made us feel outdoorsy and rugged.
Sacrifice was apparent in our house. We didn’t have much money once the bills were paid, but our bikes were always maintained by my dad, one of the most mechanically proficient men I know. It was his influence that inspired me to learn about repairing bicycles, which in time lead to my first bike shop job in 1991.
She may have lost her hair to chemo, but her heart beats strong for and because of the bike.
Margie and Jim retired in 1997, moving to their dream house on Pelican Lake in north central Wisconsin. Ten years prior, my mom bought a Schwinn Mirada to stay fit and enjoy the limited warm weather. Her new surroundings included a 13-mile loop around the lake, something better accomplished on a bike.
In time, Margie wore out the Schwinn. My wife and I owned a bike shop in Dayton, Ohio, and as a birthday gift in 2004, presented Margie with a Kona Hahanna, with swept-back handlebars and fenders. She bonded with the Kona, and the two of them circumvented Pelican Lake every chance they could.
I believe that bicycling saved my mom from the cancer. She brought fitness and a sunny disposition to the table when cancer came knocking, and she’s winning. She may have lost her hair to chemo, but her heart beats strong for and because of the bike. The best bicycle advocate I know is my mom, and I’m forever indebted to her for leading me in the right direction.