By Chloe Yopp // Communications Intern
Dr. Kathryn Wilder began riding her bike at a young age to get around to friends’ houses, the town center and to school. She was inspired by her mother, Christina McSweeney Wilder, who rode her bicycle 28 miles to and from school every day while growing up in County Cork, Ireland. “Similar to my mom's experience with a bicycle, I was aware at an early age that the bicycle could provide independence and a tremendous amount of freedom. And, the bicycle could also teach me lessons on the intrinsic value of human-powered transport. My mother changed her course in life because of a bicycle. This was incredibly powerful for me,” Wilder said.
Wilder didn’t begin competing in cycling until she attended graduate school at the University of Virginia. According to her, it was such a beautiful place to cycle from Charlottesville to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it provided a euphoric way for her to manage stress from her Doctoral studies. Soon after she began cycling, she was recruited by UVa’s cycling team and began competing in the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference.
After her first season, Wilder earned collegiate All-America honors. And her focus studying kinesiology and human performance gave her the tools to be in the right mental mindset for peak performance. During her second year at UVa, she began racing as a professionally and quickly became a top-20 cyclist in the United States.
Wilder has been riding her bike ever since, and is now a professional mental training coach, wife and proud mother to two boys.
Fast forward to August 2020: a lump discovered on her left breast was soon diagnosed as early stage breast cancer. When she began treatment, she decided to bike the 14 miles to the appointments from her home in Pennington, New Jersey, to Princeton Medical Center via the D&R Canal State Park Trail, part of the East Coast Greenway. According to Wilder, the 14-mile journey to and from the hospital was reminiscent of her mother’s journey to school. As it had done for her mother, the bicycle had the power to enhance her life.
Wilder had fundraised for the East Coast Greenway’s virtual Greenway Games in 2020, but she didn’t know how integral the trail would be when faced with her health challenge. The healing qualities of human-powered transport and being in nature were integral to her cancer battle.
“The trail was a lifesaver,” Wilder said. “I was safe, it was flat and easy, it was scenic and it meant so much to me to have the Greenway as an option. It was part of my treatment ritual and part of the of my relentless destination to positivity. It renewed me with hope for the future.”
Not much could stop Wilder from completing that ritual each time she went to for treatment. She biked along the Greenway to five of six chemotherapy sessions and 18 of 20 radiation sessions. Wilder even rode in a snowstorm before one chemotherapy session, and biked in the rain multiple times. Her resilience, grit and determination pushed her through every time she rode to treatment, and inspired many who heard her story.
Each time she arrived at the medical center in her cycling gear it would spark up a conversation with the nurses, doctors and other hospital staff. Wilder would then tell them all about the East Coast Greenway and her rides to treatment. Her radiation oncologist loved the idea and was very supportive of this physical movement during treatment. After being inspired by her story, Wilder even had a nurse from the hospital started meeting her on the trail and joining her on many of her rides.
“My rides to treatment inspired me to sign up for the East Coast Greenway’s NYC-to-PHL Greenway Ride, and to continue fundraising for its completion. I think the Greenway is transformational because it connects our local areas all around the East Coast,” Wilder said. “It’s clear we need more trails like this for safety reasons because it’s where cyclists belong.”
Wilder will be taking part in the inaugural New York City-to-Philadelphia Greenway Rideon August 28-29. Because the midway point of the ride is in Princeton, she is going to be able to spend the night at home with her family during the event. After cycling on the Greenway to her treatment at Princeton Medical Center during the past year, Wilder has made the commitment to herself to ride the entire East Coast Greenway in 2022, either in its entirety or in segments. Her experience riding to treatment has made her more determined than ever and helped her learn to never, ever give up hope.
The NYC-to-PHL Greenway Ride, hosted by East Coast Greenway Alliance, will take place on August 28-29. Click here for more information on the event and to register.
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