When you walk into the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center, one of the first things you may notice about Patrice Rhodes is her quiet confidence and warm smile. To the droves of people who come in and out of the center each day, the 51-year old administrative assistant is known for her kindness and willingness to help. She’s too modest to talk much about herself. That’s why heads are turning when people learn this mild-mannered admin is tearing up the pavement at night and on weekends with her cycling group. We’re talking passion, drive, determination, sweat and major mileage.
“I really enjoy working here (at the Center) because I see older adults getting out and doing things. To see them out-and-about gives me incentive to do the same thing,” she says.
The incentive to start cycling began in 2011, when Patrice was looking for a new activity that she and her husband could do together. They weren’t sure what to think about cycling, so they bought two basic inexpensive bikes and helmets from Wal-Mart to get themselves started.
“I have always loved participating in sports. I ran track growing up. I played basketball in school,” Patrice explains. “I want my kids to see me doing something to enjoy life.”
It was love at first ride for Patrice… for her husband – not so much. Patrice joined up with a local cycling group, Bikin’ Blazers, to learn the rules of the road and make some new friends who shared the same passion for pedaling. Although it’s not his cup of tea, her husband has always been 100% supportive, she says. Her three grown children couldn’t be prouder too.
“When I am on my bike, I am thinking how nice it is to be out and ride, seeing the different parts of the area. It’s a challenge too,” says Patrice.
She has since graduated from the Wal-Mart “starter” bike, to a lighter, sleeker bike that’s fit for her high mileage hobby. She hits the road several times a week with the Bikin’ Blazers. They trek through the city, across Fairmount Park, into Manayunk and down City Line Avenue. They ride through Valley Forge National Park and at least once a summer they ride to Clementon Park in New Jersey. Patrice even commutes to work on her bike from Mt. Airy from time to time.
Since she started cycling, Patrice says she feels better mentally and physically. “I try to keep my body in the best shape I can as I get older.”
She puts in an average of 60 training miles a week between April and October. That doesn’t count participating in events like the American Cancer Society’s Bike-a-Thon 60-miler to Atlantic City and the Sea Gull Century Ride in Ocean City, Maryland, which offers participants routes up to 100 miles in length.
“After 30 to 40 miles of pedaling you just push through,” she says. “When you cross the finish line you’re tired, but excited at the same time.”
Her efforts are making a difference at the Senior Center too.
“Patrice has inspired us to look at new ways to attract older adults who like bike riding to WPSCC, and offer a biking club to members who want to try it as exercise, in a safe and supportive group,” says Pat Stanley, Director of the West Philadelphia Senior Community Center, a service of Liberty’s Lutheran Children and Family Service division.
The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, which funds the Center, has agreed to install newly purchased bike racks outside of the building to support biking as a healthy way to exercise and mode of transportation for older adults.