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Cyclist pushes her limits

Cyclist pushes her limits
Raises money for worthy causes in the process

Deidre W. Winfield By Matt Kelly

Pushing herself is life-affirming for Deidre W. Winfield.

“I want to prove to myself that I can do it,” she said. “It’s like anything else that’s a challenge. I get bored with everyday life.”

In everyday life, Winfield, 27, works as a research assistant at the General Clinical Research Center’s Exercise Physiology Laboratory at the U.Va. Medical Center. Off the clock, she bicycles and runs, competing in triathlons, marathons and 24-hour bicycle races.

Her push this year was a 2,000-mile cycling trip from Maine to Miami, raising about $9,000 for Hospice of the Piedmont and the American Cancer Society. It was her second extended bicycle adventure; three years ago she took a 3,000-mile run from Charleston, S.C., to San Diego, raising $4,000 to $5,000 for charity.

“My parents think I’m crazy because I’m always doing things like this,” she said.

Winfield’s riding partner in 2000, as in the most recent trip, was Samantha A. Jones, activities director of the Rosewood Village assisted living facility and Winfield’s old friend from Dinwiddie High School. Jones’ father, Billy Jones, drove a support van bearing clothing, food and spare parts, on both trips. Another rider, Sally Carson, a former Charlottesville resident and professional bicycle messenger in Richmond, joined them this year.

“We enjoyed the pain and suffering, but it took three years to come to terms with it to be able to do it again,” Winfield said of the 2000 venture. “It was an emotionally enlightening experience. We were in very different places in our lives. It helped us sort out things we were trying to figure out, like what direction we wanted to go in life.”

This trip was different.

“I don’t think I made any life decision on this trip,” she said. “I’m much more at peace than I was.”

Winfield and Jones’ experience on the previous trip benefited them.

“It’s knowing what to expect from your body and the weather,” Winfield said. “It’s being mentally prepared.”

They set out from Calais, Maine, on the U.S.-Canadian border on June 23. Riding in a line several inches apart and taking turns as leader, they averaged 85 miles a day. They avoided the congested streets of New Haven, Conn., and New York City, riding through in their support van, but did the rest of the trip on bicycles.

Most nights they stayed in motels or with friends and family. They had planned to camp but found that they could not have three tents on one campsite in most places.

“Because we stayed in motels most of the time, we didn’t have any alone time. When you camp, you’re in your own tent and you can read by yourself, just have alone time for a couple of hours before you go to sleep,” Winfield said. “But I didn’t miss the not showering and having to cook all the time. We ate out more and it was really nice to have a shower rather than bathing in a bucket.”

They camped two nights and spent the night of July 3 at home in Charlottesville. The next morning friends rode with them to Scottsville, arriving just in time for the Fourth of July parade.

After 22 days on the road, the trail ended in Miami. They arrived about 10 a.m., after logging 55 miles that morning, and celebrated by going to an International House of Pancakes for breakfast, then hanging out at the beach. When the trip ended, Winfield was “relieved and a little bit depressed, because I had to make the transition back to reality.” She also carried a sense of accomplishment, as did Jones. “It was worth it to have done this. It is really neat to see the world from the pace of a bicycle,” Jones said, who added that the ride was also a nice break from work.

“It was a break from reality,” Winfield agreed. “You don’t think about anything but sleeping, eating and riding.”

There will be more trips, Winfield said, but not right away. “We have to let this one settle a bit first,” she said.

Winfield praised her husband, Gordon “Buck” Winfield, who rode with them the first four days of the trip, then another two days from Charlottesville to Raleigh, N.C. More of a recreational cyclist, he does not pursue it with her passion. She said he supplies balance to her life, telling her when she pushes too hard.

“Sometimes I listen,” she said.

A runner for many years, Winfield developed an interest in triathlons while pursuing a graduate degree in exercise physiology at the University of South Carolina. She cross-trained, running and bicycling, and the speed and the pain of bicycling drew her in.

“It’s really about the pain that you can induce upon yourself, where you see how much you can take,” she said. “You take as much as you can. You want to find that limit. When I hit the limit, I know I’m done.

“You know you’re alive if you feel pain,” she said.

Jones, who enjoys bicycle riding, triathlons and other strenuous sports, said she is not as obsessed as Winfield.

“She’s a very independent, strong-willed woman,” Jones said. “She’s always been very athletic and more physical in her recreation.”


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