This is a scenario that Varinka Williams, a 47-year-old Johnson City cyclist and mother to four, experiences every week. Williams is a passionate cyclist, an activity she discovered as a kid growing up in the Dominican Republic and then didn’t rediscover until about six years ago.
“I was a tomboy,” she said. “My mom used to get on my case … because I spent so much time in the road just riding my bike. And I forgot about that. Because that was another country.”
After Williams moved to the United States, she taught a spin class where she lived in Michigan. She said that cyclists taking her class kept approaching her about riding with them. After one particularly insistent cyclist offered to lend her a bike, she gave in and went with them on a 35-mile ride. This first ride reignited that passion she hadn’t experienced in almost 30 years.
“I was like ‘Oh my gosh. I love this!’ You know, that was a passion … that I’d forgotten about and then it came out. I remember!”
"It just provides such a healthy outlet for mental [release], not only physical. It’s different from running."
Williams’ joy for cycling isn’t something she wants to keep to herself. She says that when she moved to Johnson City, the local cycling scene was fragmented and overly exclusive. The only club was a group called the Tri-Cities Road Club. Williams said that’s when she knew that it needed to be more available to other people who wanted to ride. So she helped to start a smaller, more local group called the Johnson City Cycling Club to integrate all of the less-skilled and more casual riders who wanted to get better at cycling.
This desire that Williams has to help others share in the exhilaration she gets from cycling has helped many beginners to do just that. One such person is Jacob Dingler, who met Williams when he first started riding and joined the Johnson City Cycling Club. Dingler rode with her for about two years.
“She helped me get over the beginner hump,” he said. “Varinka helped me learn the routes in this area … and is always checking up on me after wrecks. She is so patient as a cyclist and it’s great to ride with her. “
Williams maintains this helpful attitude about everyone. She wants to help as many people as she can get into cycling. She explains that when she first meets people, the first thing she does is wonder if they cycle or if she could get them to cycle. She talks at length about all of the great things it can do for a person.
“It just provides such a healthy outlet for mental [release], not only physical,” she said. “It’s different from running. When they’re running, there’s something they enjoy with the adrenaline, but then the pain starts. And the blisters. And now my knees hurt.”
As an example of these benefits, she tells a story about a ride in Florida during which all but five riders had dropped out by the 80-mile mark. Eventually, she explains, they reached a hill and everyone began to race to the top. She later found out that the man who appeared to be in extremely good shape and reached the top ahead of her was a 71-year-old cycling instructor.
Despite her love for cycling, it still has its intensities, she says. The endurance required for competition is extreme.
“That particular ride … they probably averaged about 23 to 24 miles per hour. And that’s over a hundred miles,” said her husband Gordon Williams, who is more of a casual rider. “I do it more for fun and recreation. “
Williams adds with a laugh, “He has to cycle or he’s not going to see me!”
Fierce competition and required endurance aren’t the only hazards of the sport, however. The unadulterated joy of tearing around curves at almost 30 miles per hour doesn’t come without some risks.
“When you ride a bike in the road, if you crash, it’s going to be really bad,” She said, laughing. “The day I wreck on a bike ride, it’s not going to be pretty.”
In 2013 Williams took the year off from competition to help train some others in her group for race season. Though she plans to start competing again next year, she has taken this time to try out another hobby.
“I have started running. I have no clue why,” she says, laughing. “I’m training for a marathon in November. I’m planning on running it with a shirt that says ‘I’d rather be on my bike!’”
Race photo credits: Top right, Bird's Eye View Inc., bottom right, Bart Nave.