LaVerne Lindsey is emphatic about her athletic abilities. “I am not an athlete. No way, shape or form.” Nevertheless, her long list of endurance racing events would challenge that statement.
This single mom of two now-grown daughters reinvented her life more than 25 years ago when she uprooted her kids and left her home state of Ohio. She had no Plan A or Plan B. She just knew she had to get out of the Dayton neighborhood where drugs and crime had become the status quo. “I wanted to go as far away as I could. I had no furniture, five changes of clothes and a cat.”
That’s where her heartwarming story of inspiration begins. Lindsey settled in Arizona after visiting relatives, landed a job, rented an apartment and, with the help of generous new friends, she re-established her life. Her gratitude for those acts of kindness runs deep to this day. “I promised that I would help as many people as I could.”
Lindsey is living up to that promise. But not in a way you might expect. She started riding a bike to lose weight and quickly found that pedaling provided freedom from the day-to-day stresses of single parenting, as well as a social outlet where she could bond with other women.
She had no idea at the time that her newfound passion would lead her to pursue endurance sporting events beyond her wildest dreams.
GO BIG OR GO HOME
She didn’t start small. The first of these was a 150-mile charity bike ride to benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Society. “With 5 miles a week of training, I showed up for a 65-mile training ride,” she laughs. “I had no idea how to use the equipment. I got dropped in the first 5 minutes of leaving the parking lot, but I just kept pedaling.”
During the 150-mile event, she describes a male cyclist named Charlie as her angel out on the course. “He would never leave me. It took me 23 hours to finish that event. And afterward, I was one proud, sore person.”
But her early foray into cycling also had its rougher side. Lindsey did not present the stereotypical lithe frame of a female competitive cyclist and was subjected to hushed whispers and disapproving looks wherever she showed up to ride. “I would hear the nasty remarks, and I would get on my bike and just cry. I left the group I was riding with after awhile because I couldn’t take it any more.”
INTRODUCING THE LADIES
That’s when Lindsey took matters into her own hands. The birth of her women’s cycling group – called The Ladies – nearly 10 years ago created a safe and welcoming haven for women of all shapes, sizes and ages to cycle and socialize together.
“I know how it feels to be overweight. I know how it feels to be the slowest person. In your head you hear, ‘Look at that fat person. They don’t belong here.’ I’ve experienced all of that. In my group, I don’t care. We are here for women to support women. We give women a safe place where they aren’t judged. If you can’t do that, you have to leave the group.”
The Ladies launched in January 2007 with just seven riders. “I call them my Original Gangsters,” Lindsey jokes, adding her dream was to get 150 women on bikes, a fitting symbol of her first 150-mile endurance event.
“It seemed like a far reach at the time, and now I have more than 600 women on the email list and over 500 people following us on social media,” she says. The average age of her riders is 50-55, with her oldest member at 79. Lindsey coaches the women every step of the way, pouring experience and compassion into every member.
“The Ladies is the first step that gets you to the door. And then the door blows open. I’ve seen so many women blossom.”
REACHING FOR DREAMS
At 54, Lindsey is a prime example. She and The Ladies have reached for some mighty big goals over the years, including Ironman triathlons and ultra-running events. “They think I’m crazy right now,” she says with a smile. “Crazy and an inspiration at the same time.”
Lindsey embarked on her first half Ironman in 2006, followed by a full Ironman in 2010 that she didn’t finish.
“The year I didn’t finish, that was the hardest thing ever. I went up to the stands and watched my teammates finish. I couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t finish, so I said, I’ve got to do it again.”
IT’S NOT ABOUT WINNING
You see, it’s not about winning for Lindsey. It’s about trying. It was 2012 when LaVerne Lindsey became an Ironman. Two years of not giving up and not giving in.
She tried ultra-running after being a spectator one year at the Burning River 100 in Columbus, Ohio. “I watched a man over 300 pounds doing Burning River. He was crying, moving, beating himself up, but he finished. I said if he can do it, I can.”
Signing up and training for that event pulled her out of a funk and gave her a purpose and a goal that kept her moving. Twenty-seven miles into the race, she had to pull out due to the time cutoff. It doesn’t matter. She tried.
[AdSense-A]Her most-recent ultra-running experience was the Tunnel Hill 50-Mile Run in Vienna, Illinois. And she finished. Her next target is to complete a Half Ironman race in seven hours, so that she can qualify to enter the S.O.S. triathlon in New York, an eight-part adventure wilderness race held in upstate New York in September 2017.
When she’s not training for a race or working with other athletes, Lindsey runs her own business as a personal caretaker for the elderly, which seems fitting for a woman who lives a life of compassion. Prior to launching her business, Lindsey worked in the fields of electrical engineering and computer sciences.
MOTIVATING A MOVEMENT FOR WOMEN
When asked what motivates her to continue training for grueling endurance events, Lindsey responds, “My thing is I’m out-running that fat back there waiting to jump on me. I have to work extra hard to get my fitness back if I stop. I’m not slowing down and letting it catch me. “
Lindsey wants women to know it’s OK to focus on themselves and the life they want when they get older. “It’s about us now. For me, it’s about playing with my grandkids and being active when I retire. It’s all about doing it now when I can enjoy it.”
She lives to better her health through movement and to help others develop their inner athlete. With The Ladies by her side, anything is possible. “It’s so much more than cycling,” Lindsey says. “We’re family. We take care of one another. The Ladies group tells people they can do anything – at their own pace.”