“I wasn’t born in the US. You’re looking for your readers to identify with me, right? I don’t know if you need to put that in there. You don’t want anybody to say ‘ah, yes, that’s probably a foreigner thing’”
Well, do they ride bikes a lot where you are from?
Mario Laughs “No, not really. At least not 22 years ago when I left.”
Mario is a Chester County resident who works for Johnson Matthey, a sustainable technologies company. He’s a private man that thankfully agreed to be interviewed. Other than being a resident and employee in Chester County, he is also one of the top riders for the National Bike Challenge in Chester County. Every day this challenge, he has rode his bike – through the heat, through the rain, through everything. Mario hasn’t stopped for anything. So when I met him on our last community ride on the Chester Valley Trail, I was surprised to meet a very normal looking man in gym clothes-no lycra was found. He is not your typical cyclist, but Mario’s story is here to show you that you don’t have to be a typical cyclist to make great strides in biking.
How did you get into biking?
The National Bike Challenge actually got me into biking. I injured my knees after decades of playing soccer and running, to the point that I had stopped playing soccer last year without much hope for a comeback. Around that time, I asked my son what he wanted for his 21st birthday. He said a bike, but not just any bike, he wanted a fixie. I never heard of a fixie until he explained to me what it was. The no-breaks, no-freewheel mechanism sounded very dangerous. But I got him a fixie, and the first thing I did – like a good helicopter father – was test it. Even though it was difficult, especially up the hills, I could feel my legs all pumped up. It was the same feeling I used to have when running before my knee problems. So, for Father’s Day a couple of weeks later, I told my son I wanted a bike for myself. A regular hybrid, though! My first bike accessory was a coffee cup holder. It just happens that the guy who promotes the National Bike Challenge within my company sits next to me and had been talking constantly about biking. At first I didn’t pay much attention to his biking stories, but when I got the bike, I started to get interested. He explained me some of the basics of biking and insisted that I should sign up for the challenge. I told him I’m not a biker, I’m a soccer player with a bike. He said, ‘So what?’ So I signed up.
So how did riding every day start?
When I began the challenge last year, my coworker mentioned the rules to me. I noticed that I get a lot of points for every day that I ride. I began looking at the statistics and numbers. I love numbers, and the first thing that came to my mind was ‘Hey, I can ride just a mile every day and be among the top riders of the company.’ So that was my first challenge: Do one mile per day and accumulate as many points as possible. My first goal was to be in the first thirty of my company. Then I got that, and decided to increase my miles and go for top twenty. Then top ten. At some point I realized that I had been riding my bike every day for a whole month trying to beat these small goals. And then I thought, ‘what if I could make it to one hundred days straight?’ So I set my goal at 100 days. As I was approaching that goal I realized I was getting close to 1000 miles, so I set that goal, too. I hit 1000 miles on day 100 exactly. And then I continued riding until the last day of the challenge, day 103 for me.
This year, I was not going for miles because it was starting to take me a lot of time, I was just going for as many days as possible of the 155 days of challenge. But the goal may change.
You haven’t missed one day, yet. It’s impressive. What keeps you so motivated?
Most of all, the impact on my health. Only after a couple of months of riding, I was back on the soccer pitch and I have not got injured since. Also, I have to travel a lot for work and making sure I don’t miss a day is the real challenge. The logistics of those arrangements are part of what makes it fun. In long car trips, for example, instead of driving straight to my meeting I would take my bike with me, stay overnight halfway to my destination and ride early in the morning before continuing my trip. When flying, I have to make sure I’ll get back home and ride at least one mile before midnight, even under thunderstorms. Sometimes I rent bikes when travelling for more than one day. On top of that, my colleagues are great. They support me with my goal whenever they can. They help me with planning, give me rides to the bike shop when travelling together and they’re very inventive with keeping me committed to my challenge. One suggested that if I can’t rent a bike, I could go to a Target and test a bike inside the store. We even downloaded a print of the store and estimated how many laps it would take to reach a mile (23 times if you’re wondering). We called it the “Tour de Tarjay”. I haven’t had to do it yet, but that is my plan B.
If you were trying to get someone to participate in the National Bike Challenge, what do you think would be the best reason to sign up?
I lived in the area for ten years. For the first time, I’ve gotten to know the area well because I’ve been riding my bike everywhere. When you’re in the car, you go too fast to appreciate places. The National Bike Challenge gets you on your bike so you can see those beautiful scenes that you’ve been missing. It’s a great way to get healthy, too. I have a friend who’s over 50 and was trying to get healthier, so he joined the challenge. He first would just do a few miles once in a while. Motivated by the fun challenge stories he started to increase his miles and commuted on his bike to work. By the end of last season, his daughters bought him a better bike. This season he set a goal of 1000 miles and he is on track to meet it. He looks healthier and happier! It really changes someone.
Mario hit 1000 miles on 100 consecutive days of riding his bike last week for the second challenge in a row and he hopes to continue riding for the remaining days of the challenge. He already arranged for the owner of a bike store in a Midwest town to meet him at 5:45am on Monday so he can rent a bike for one hour, the only chance he will have all day to ride during that trip.
The National Bike Challenge is a nationwide event uniting thousands of current bicyclists—and encouraging countless new riders. In its simplest form it is a logging center for users to record miles ridden and be part of the national community of bicyclists. It is a free and easy way to challenge yourself, colleagues and the greater community to ride more.
If you are interested in signing up for the National Bike Challenge, visit www.nationalbikechallenge.org!