I grew up with three sisters in the 1950s, when girls were not encouraged to be athletic.
I loved playing baseball with the kids in the neighborhood, but when it came time to play baseball at school, only the boys were allowed and we girls had to play jacks. (I came in second in the jacks tournament.) We were told that boys wouldn't like us if we were good at sports.
For the past 20 years I've worked as the executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse, or CASA. It is exciting work to create change and save the lives of battered women, children and men in our community. Managing staff, volunteers, grants and working with donors during these difficult economic times is all consuming and stressful.
While I have never been thin, I'd gained a couple of pounds every year and I grew into size 16 clothing. About five years ago I was talking with a couple of women who had started bicycling and were training for a weeklong bike ride in Florida.
That sounded fun but I didn't think about it much. Then a few weeks later I had dinner with another woman who was training for the same ride. I made up my mind that I could do it, too. I pulled out my heavy old 10-speed bicycle from my garage, replaced the dry rotting tires and oiled it up and started riding.
At first it was hard but I kept pedaling around the trails and getting stronger. I graduated to clip-on shoes and new pedals for my bike.
The weeklong ride with Bike Florida along the coastal area of north Florida was a blast. There were maybe a thousand of us and we camped in our little tents on school grounds along the way.
I rode my first century ride (100 miles) on that trip through rain and heavy winds. I met some great new friends and I was hooked.
I came home and bought a new, lighter bicycle from Ken Fong at Northeast Cycles and kept riding with the support of the guys at the bike shop and my new friends.
The pounds began to melt away, although since I don't have a scale I can't say exactly how much I lost.
Then in 2006 I got the idea I could ride across the United States. When I asked my board at CASA for extra time off to do the ride, they said "Yes" and then I had to do it.
It was an amazing experience. I had found a healthy passion to balance my passion for work at CASA.
When I came back from my transcontinental cycling trip, I was at my thinnest, but I have managed to keep most of the weight off and I now wear a size 8 or 10, though I still don't have a scale so I don't know exactly how many pounds I lost. I got rid of all my fat clothes and bought "new" ones at CASA's thrift shop. I am proud of my new wardrobe and enjoy dressing up a lot more.
After 15 years of not dating anyone after an abusive marriage and messy divorce, I even met a great guy on a bicycle.
He is also a swimmer and runner and persuaded me I could enter a triathlon. Last year I competed in my first triathlon so I could join the Mad Dogs, the local tri club. I met my goals to finish and not be last.
This year I turned 60, which placed me into a new competitive age category, and I earned a second-place plaque in the same triathlon.
Never mind there were only four women competing in our age category. I had fun and I am living a healthier life.
I love my work at CASA and I love feeling athletic and fit and having a great guy around, too. It is all about balance.
Linda A. Osmundson is executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse in St. Petersburg. She may be contacted at email@example.com.