Biking Shorts - January 7, 2013
By Barbara Schmid
Diane Capen would inspire any woman -- or man, for that matter.
She swam across the Straits of Mackinac five years ago. She’s completed a marathon, a triathlon and several century bike rides. She’s run the Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K a total of 13 times and ran the VASA 25K Trail Run in October.
What gets this Grand Rapids city resident most excited though, is that she can now ride her bike to work every day.
“In my previous job, I drove 35 miles each way just back and forth to work,” said Capen, a GGRBC member. “And then I’d drive 70 to 80 miles after I got to work. I had just had it. I was tired of driving and my mindset had changed. I wanted to have a less of an impact on the earth and simplify my life. My dream was to have something closer to home. I got very lucky to get a position at Mary Free Bed.”
Capen is a physical therapy assistant working on the spinal cord injury team at Mary Free Bed. When she accepted the position six months ago, her sign-on bonus became the ticket to buy a 3-speed Linus commuter bike.
That bike is now her main form of transportation. She and her partner, Scott Steiner, are so committed to the concept of a one-car family, that Capen gave her car to her daughters.
“My desire is to be more closely connected to the community in which I live,” she said. “I have been an active member of the West Michigan Food Co-op for six years, and in this time have become an advocate for the growth and sustainability of not only local food producers, but all local, small businesses.
“Living in the city, working in the city and being able to ride my bike to work was a conscious decision on my part to not only decrease my carbon footprint but to also be a supportive member of a growing and thriving local community.”
Capen has lived in West Michigan for 25 years and in the City of Grand Rapids for 3 1/2 years. Although nervous at first about biking downtown, she now prefers it. Yet she remains vigilant about riding safely. She wears a neon green jacket for added visibility. She has lights on the front and back of her bike. She stops at red lights and stop signs. And now that winter has arrived, she’s switched to her Trek mountain bike for more stability in the snow and ice.
Capen’s 4-mile work commute takes about 20 minutes each way. Most drivers have been considerate of sharing the road, she said. In six months of pedal commuting, only one person has yelled at her to get on the sidewalk (which isn’t allowed in downtown).
“I do try to take the roads that now have bike lanes on them as much as I can -- Seward, Division and on Michigan Street’s wide shoulder. The accessibility of the bike lanes has been wonderful. You’re also seeing more spaces for bike parking, like the addition of the bike corral across from Bartertown Diner (at Jefferson & Fulton). People are more open to having bikes in the city. It’s definitely become more acceptable.”
In Capen’s world, being physical while in the outdoors is a perfect combination. Whether it’s cross country skiing, running through the woods, swimming across the Straits, or riding up the Michigan Street hill in the rain on her bike, it’s all good. To maintain her fitness diversity, she consistently runs three times a week and hits the weights twice a week.
“My biggest claim to fame athletically is that I swam the Straits of Mackinac with Jim Dreyer on Labor Day, 2007,” she said. Dreyer is a Grand Rapids resident known for his record-setting, long distance swimming feats across all five Great Lakes. “The bridge had turned 50 and Gov. Granholm had commissioned Jim to get 50 swimmers to swim the Straits. I was scared out of my mind, but it was really cool. It was about a 4 to 5-mile swim, depending on currents.”
Being athletic began early for Capen. She grew up in a neighborhood where everyone rode bikes. She and her siblings also rode a unicycle. Since then, athletic diversity has been her friend.
In her 20s, she had her first taste of bike commuting and “loved it.” That picture of biking to work kept popping into in her head during those long work days, stuck in the car. To be true to her physical and moral self, she knew she had to get back to a simpler way of life. Then she made it happen.
Now she’s an inspiration to others who want to commute by bike. People at work are curious about what’s involved. She encourages them to try it, even if it’s only one or two days a week.
“It takes planning and preparation, but it can be done,” she said.