COLUMBIA — Judy Knudson was a smoker of 35 years. Then one day her husband offered to take her anywhere in the world that she wanted to go if she would stop smoking for one year.
Little did Knudson, 66, know that this proposition would lead her to bike across 46 states and five countries.
After six months of trying to quit, Knudson said she started gaining a little weight, so she decided to do something about it.
“One day I said to my husband, ‘Let’s go out and ride, I need some exercise,’” Knudson said. “I went two miles and had to stop because I could not go any further, and that really scared me.”
So she started to bike almost every day, with the goal of at least equaling her previous ride and adding five minutes to that. The shift in her lifestyle was something no one could have predicted from a person who never played any sports.
“I knew nothing about biking, biking stores or any equipment then,” Knudson said. “I was the kid in phys ed who always covered up my head when they threw the ball at me.”
Now Knudson is preparing to leave for New York City to ride in the Five Boro Bike Tour, which takes place Sunday.
Knudson is a marshal in the ride, which means that she will start on the front row and have to pace the field of 30,000 bikers through the five boroughs of New York City.
“When you are a marshal, you have to maintain a 15-mph pace for 42 miles, which I’m not real sure I can do yet,” Knudson said.
The ride begins in lower Manhattan in Battery Park, continues through the five boroughs and ends on Staten Island.
“I have no idea what to expect, but it should be a lot of fun,” Knudson said. “There is going to be a lot of people and I’m a little intimidated by that, but I just love New York.”
She has been training for this ride for months ever since returning from a biking trip in January in New Zealand.
Having to maintain a pace for the field has put extra pressure on Knudson, who has increased her already lengthy exercise regime each week. She regularly rotates between biking 20 miles of hills and 40 miles of flats.
“If the weather is nice, I’ll ride four or five days a week,” Knudson said. “I do strength training once a week and pilates once a week.”
Part of her increased workout is doing spin classes twice a week. Spin classes are an intense hour-long exercise that uses special stationary bikes with weighted wheels. The workout is designed to improve strength and endurance.
Endurance is something Knudson said is a tough aspect to any bike ride, but she has proven her ability. After only three months of biking, she decided to ask a couple of friends to do an organized bike ride across Missouri. The ride started in Independence and ended in St. Charles.
“We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into,” Knudson said. “When we rode into St. Charles, it was something that I never imagined myself doing and that ride was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was an incredible sense of accomplishment.”
That next fall, Knudson’s husband kept his promise and the two did a nine-day bike ride through the Loire Valley in France. She said she has been biking ever since and it was the culmination of a huge goal.
Knudson has also used biking to help other people.
“I think the fact that an old ex-smoker can do some of these crazy things has given other people the courage to get out and try,” Knudson said.
In 2002, Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman asked Knudson to help spark interest in biking in Columbia.
Together Hindman and Knudson started Bike, Walk and Wheel Week.
“It took a huge number of people to get it going, but its grown from 700 people at the beginning to almost 5,000 people this year,” Knudson said.
Knudson says that the program has had a positive impact in Columbia by making it known that you do not always have to drive your car to go somewhere. It is also designed to make people more aware of bike safety issues.
“Environmentally, I would like to see people getting places under their own power,” Knudson said.
Another program that Knudson has helped start with the help of Walt's bike shop in Columbia is a Saturday Katy Trail ride, which began 10 years ago.
Each Saturday, Knudson meets with fellow bikers at Waltz and bikes to Hindman Junction, which is in McBaine, and back.
The ride is designed to be an entry-level ride to get people who don’t ride much interested in biking by helping them build confidence and teach them trail etiquette.
Knudson said that biking has made a significant change to her life and knows that it has changed other people’s lives as well.
“I know several people who now commute exclusively by bicycle as a result of us becoming friends and getting involved in cycling together,” Knudson said. “Hopefully its made an impact a little bit.”