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[insert witty title here about my big butt bike commuting]

September 9, 2013

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseDickweedDiet Talk

This is the third and final guest post from Casey, who will now be voted on for inclusion in Fierce Fatties.

As a graduate student at a pretty large public university in the US, getting my body and my various scholarly accoutrement to campus is a constant source of frustration. Like a lot of students (and employees, as I used to work here as a full-time staff member before I started working on my degrees), parking is a nightmare for me. Add my mobility issues from my spine fracture, and it gets harder. Toss in my home’s distance from campus, which is considered “walking distance” (about a mile…. which is about three-quarters of a mile further than I can walk, assuming I don’t need to go to another building during my day), and this gets obnoxious.

My campus charges a little over $300 for lot parking, even with a handicap placard. There are so few spots available that there is no way to move your car if you can’t walk very far (and that’s assuming that you can even find the first spot in a close enough place to actually be accessible…. and that’s complicated by any adaptive equipment like sticks, chairs, or scooters that may need to be loaded or unloaded.  All of the campus shuttles require a certain level of able-bodiedness and aren’t wheelchair accessible.  The local bus system is better for some routes, but none of the routes come near my home.

That left me with only a few options. Carpooling sounds grand, but very rarely do two graduate students have a similar schedule.  It also assumes that my body is going to cooperate well enough to be schedule-flexible. Since it’s only been about seven months since I had my spine fusion surgery, I can’t assume my body will behave.

I could bat my eyelashes at my fabulous partner to get rides since he primarily works from home.  While that takes out some of the problems with carpooling, I’m still tied to his schedule and this keeps me from being able to meet professors or classmates after class, to hit the library with a brilliant research idea burning a hole in my head.  Also, wasting fuel.

Bike

Casey at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society MS 150 cycling competition.

Multiple Sclerosis Society

Feeling stuck, I decided to see if my body could handle bike commuting. I’ve been doing other movement experiments, hoping to find that I’m getting some of my old favorite physical pursuits back from the depths of broken-spine-and-smashed-nerve hell. I have two bikes that have been living in the crawlspace of my home for several years, a triathlon bike (the bike in the photo, the Dolce Vita) and a mountain bike that I converted into a commuter (the Dwarf Giant) before my broken spine decided to gnaw on my spinal cord and nerve roots.

One morning before work, my partner pulled out the Dwarf Giant, helped me pump up the tires, adjusted the seat for me when I realized that I either needed to have my feet touch the ground while sitting or have my crutch available in lieu of my legs. My seat was so low that I had trouble pedaling with proper biomechanics, but my ongoing balance and proprioception problems meant that I had no choice in that matter. The seat width was a little narrow for my pelvic structure, but that could be rectified when I got paid, depending on how the experiment worked (big butt on a bike protip: the saddle should fit your bone structure, not necessarily your butt width. Too much saddle will cause more chafing, and if you are built like this fat-bottomed girl, that will stop your pedals from going ’round for a long while).

I get going with my forearm crutch attached to my bag (which is not useful in an emergency), and it’s an uphill battle getting to campus… literally, because there is a massive hill between my home and campus that a scholarly colleague called “the worst hill in the city.” I stop and start and stop and start, and eventually make it to campus. Several stop lights with a lot of traffic, wobbling from my bad balance, finding out that I can’t stand on the pedals to climb the hill, and a few minor incidents where I couldn’t feel my feet, I make it to campus without too much of an increase in my usual spine and nerve pain. I thought, “Huzzah!  I’m a biker again!  Not only a biker, but a big butt bike commuter!”

Since I had some success the first day, I decided to give it another try. This wouldn’t be a real experiment without repeating it to see if my results differed. Day two, I found a way to rig my crutch to my handlebars using my chain lock, but that still doesn’t make the crutch particularly useful if my legs give out at an intersection… but I can use it as a stand to help me mount and dismount the bike without falling. My spine is decidedly unhappy about this arrangement, and I can directly link it to my saddle-to-pedal distance.

It gets more interesting here though. With day one’s uncertain excitement over a new venture, I have people giving me praise for the experiment. Most of this is from folks who know I am an active creature by nature (which isn’t a surprise since I study physical activity in my doctoral program). It’s still hot in North Carolina (around 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit, plus high humidity the week of the experiment), so it’s doubly uncomfortable to be doing this.

When day two gets noticeably worse on my body, I start getting the comments that so many fat people hear day in and day out. “Keep it up because physical activity is GOOD FOR YOU”; “It’s healthy to get your heart rate up”; “Any activity is good activity.” The messages had moved away from self-care as a gimpy person to “burn calories no matter what.” To top it off, I had several cars slow down to stare at my fat ass pedaling down the bike lane and one passerby yell “moo.” Great, just great.

On day three, my entire body cried “uncle.” It felt like it took a miracle to even crawl out of bed, get in the shower, and get to work.  I dejectedly asked my partner to drive me to campus. I tried to shake off the physical pain along with the frustrations from daring to bike with a big butt. I skipped dance class and took a night off from my schoolwork to just recuperate and hope that my seven-month-old cyborg body was just having a bad day.

The fourth day I give it another try. It’s my longest day of the week with both work and class. I stop several times up the evil hill with a mindset ready to flip off cars if need be (not mature, but I needed to feel badass). I get to my office with my legs threatening to stop working, but end up dealing with a chorus of anti-fat messages that tell me to try to ignore the very real signs that my spine is trying to vote me off the island. What’s not helpful to a disabled person? Saying “no pain, no gain” (or perhaps “no pain, no weight loss” to a fat gimp).

Pain forced me to decide between calling my partner to pick me up (and miss class) or to take prescription pain medication to be able to sit in a classroom for three hours. In a fit of stubbornness, I went to class in a medicated haze, then biked home with legs that ranged from quasi-numb to actively spasming. Thankfully, the Hill of Doom is a downhill trek leaving campus, so a few twitchy stomps on the pedals and a lot of coasting got me home.

There is no day five, as I decided that the experiment was over. The last time I had spasms like the ones on day four was the day I found out that my vertebral fracture and slip were damaging my spinal cord. The aftermath of telling people that I’ve ended the bike commuting experiment have been filled with responses that correlate my fat with my failed experiment. Unless the person I’m talking to is savvy to Health at Every Size® or Fat Acceptance, it’s always my fat and not the broken spine and smashed nerves — even when I point out that I was a fat triathlete, a fat semi-professional bellydancer, a fat endurance cyclist, and a fat powerlifter. Breaking my vertebra in 2007, the pivotal moment that changed how I moved my butt through the world? Nope., couldn’t be that. Must be my fat.

With the experiment ended, I’m stuck again. But let me tell you, it’s not my fat’s fault. It’s always been here, from doing front rolls on balance beams to jumping in Lake Superior in February. Blame my balance, blame inaccessible public transit, blame preconceived notions of what bodies “ought” to be able to do, blame finances for prohibitively-expensive adaptive sports equipment like handcycles and recumbent trikes (that would probably make the experiment succeed, but cost $2,000 or more)… just don’t blame my big butt.  It’s been behind me the entire way.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2013 1:39 pm

    Thank you for writing this. There is so much activism to be done around accessibility in and of itself, and then when people pile their fat hate on top of disability prejudice and ignorance it creates a horrible situation. I hope that this will help raise awareness and I really appreciate you talking about it. Good luck with your recovery!

    ~Ragen

  2. September 9, 2013 2:40 pm

    Sending you lots of healing vibes during your recovery…from one fat ass to another.

  3. pearlsong1728 permalink
    September 9, 2013 7:35 pm

    In addition to what the others say above, I am amazed and angry that a public university does not have an accessible shuttle system. Surely that violates some laws related to the ADA. I wish I lived in North Carolina so I could call the university or what board/agency oversees such things and call them to task. Actually, if it would help, I’d do that anyway. What university?

  4. Dizzyd permalink
    September 16, 2013 10:48 pm

    Isn’t it fun how sympathetic trolls can be? Heartwarming. Something to make you smile hopefully: a scene from an older episode of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ – a surfer somehow ended up on the island and of course the girls were enjoying it big time. For some reason, I think Gilligan was a little jealous ‘cuz he started trying to lift weights with minimal results. When he came dragging himself back to the rest of the gang, the Professor asked what was he doing, and when he told him, he asked why, Gilligan replied ‘So I can die healthy!’ LOL So remember that as you exercise – eat right, exercise and die anyway! Or, do the best you can, relax and enjoy life. Let life happen. It’s all good.

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