Zephyrhills woman overcomes brain injury to set bicycling record

Determined, she breaks a long-distance mark in just four months.
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THONOTOSASSA — Five years ago, Amanda Coker, a competitive collegiate cyclist, suffered serious brain and spinal injuries when she was hit by a car while bicycling.

Wednesday morning, on the paved trail at Hillsborough County's Flatwoods Park, Coker broke the women's world record for highest annual mileage on a bicycle. The mark had stood since 1938.

And she did it in just four months.

"I can't believe it happened so soon," Coker said. "I'm just really happy."

Coker, 24, of Zephyrhills raised her hands and let out a yell about 9:15 a.m. after breaking the record of 29,603.7 miles. Coker racked up most of her miles on the 7-mile paved trail at Flatwoods Park, on Morris Bridge Road.

After stopping to celebrate, she hit the trail again — to see just how far she can go in the calendar year that will end May 14.

Coker started her effort to break the Women's Highest Annual Mileage Record on May 15, averaging well over 200 miles a day since then.

"She won't talk on the phone while she rides," said her father, Ricky Coker. "But she will ride through everything else — heat, cold, hurricanes, tropical storms. Nothing can stop her."

Coker received her first road bike at 15 when the family was living in Clayton, N.C., and she developed an instant passion for the sport.

She competed in the Juniors Road Cycling Nationals and attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., on a cycling scholarship.

But shortly before her freshman season began, a doctor discovered a hole in the upper chamber of her heart.

After surgery, she sought to get back into competitive cycling.

While on a ride with her father a little over 3 miles from their house, she was struck by a car from behind and thrown nearly 100 feet.

"Dislocated shoulder, broken legs, broken back, brain injury," her father said. "She was literally hurt from head to toe."

The family moved to Zephyr­hills in 2014.

In 2015, she rode from Florida to California on her bike. Upon her return, she decided to go for the world record for miles pedaled in a year.

Coker rides both a traditional upright and a recumbent bike and has to consume at least 5,500 calories a day.

"That girl can eat," her father said with a laugh. "She likes pizza, tacos, spaghetti, subs. She goes through a lot of Nutella because it has high calories in small samples."

And rarely does she listen to music.

"She likes to be alone with her thoughts."

For Coker's mother, Donna Coker, it's the mental barrier her daughter overcame that was most touching.

Her brain injury turned the once-outgoing Coker reclusive.

But after she broke the record Wednesday, Coker eagerly soaked in the adulation.

"That was so telling of how far she has come," her mother said.

Flatwoods Park, popular among bikers, also is where the men's record for most miles ridden in a year was set.

Kurt Searvogel of Little Rock, Ark., pedaled in eight states before completing the final laps of his 76,076-mile journey at Flatwoods in January. That record had stood since 1939.

Whether Coker pedals that far matters little to her. She said she just feels blessed to be able to ride again.

"I really don't have a mile goal," she said. "I just have a goal of doing my best."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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