Survivor sisters celebrate with bike trek

Central Kentucky women take on 4th cross-state ride after beating breast cancer

By Charlie Pearl/Special to The State Journal Published:

Last October, I said I wouldn’t be doing the Governor’s Autumn Bicycle Ride Across Kentucky again.

But, along with 50 others, I’m participating this week in the ninth annual event.

Starting today, GABRAKY is a four-day, 250-mile journey going from Carrollton by the Ohio River to Dale Hollow Lake State Resort on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

The reason I changed my mind and signed on for my seventh consecutive cross-state ride is because Julie and Jennifer Crossen are riding again this year.

They’re sisters, originally from Lexington, who couldn’t ride last year because both were recovering from breast cancer surgery.

I found out about it just before GABRAKY 2011 while doing last minute recruiting for more cyclists. Julie lives in Cincinnati and Jennifer in Anderson County, and they had ridden in three previous GABRAKYs.

When I called Jennifer to ask if they could join us, she said she couldn’t because she was in Lexington’s Markey Cancer Center just after undergoing breast cancer surgery at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center.

I apologized for calling, and she said, “Oh no, that’s fine. I’m glad you did because Julie also had surgery for breast cancer this year, and we’ve already said we’re going to ride next year to celebrate our recovery.”

Next year is now and they’re both doing well, although they expect to ride slower than they have in the past. That’s a minor problem, they say.

When I asked Julie, 52, a nurse, if cancer was the most difficult thing she had been through in her life, she laughed and said, “No, GABRAKY is the toughest thing.”

Julie said she was “bummed out” when she first learned she had cancer. But finding out later that sister Jennifer had cancer frightened her more.

“Jennifer had a more aggressive form of cancer so it made me very, very scared for her,” Julie said. “For me, I just believed in my doctors. They said I would be OK and I am. I’m just trying to eat right, exercise and get on with my life.”

Julie says she’s glad the GABRAKY route has been changed this year to allow cyclists to see five state parks.

“I’m a Kentuckian and I’ve never seen My Old Kentucky Home,” she says. “I’m looking forward to that and going to Gethsemani,” where the late monk and author Thomas Merton lived and is buried.

Julie’s husband, Mark Jensen, an art instructor and librarian at Miami University in Ohio, has also ridden in three GABRAKYs, and Jennifer’s son, David, 26, participated once.

Before retiring three years ago, Jennifer, 55, owned a farm in eastern Fayette County where she boarded 35 horses and taught riding lessons.

The trek

It’s not a race, although a few pedal hard and set a good pace, such as the lean “Fat Boys” from Louisville. They’re so energetic they do a yo-yo, riding from Dale Hollow to the northern starting point before the official ride begins.

For me at 64, GABRAKY is a contemplative ride, a time to slow down and enjoy the natural beauty of our state with old friends and new ones.

Joining 17 Kentuckians will be cyclists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, Connecticut, Ohio and Indiana.

We’ll stay at My Old Kentucky Home campgrounds Friday evening. Saturday’s ride (day three) is the one I’m looking most forward to – with a morning rest stop at the Abbey of Gethsemani and lunch at Loretto Motherhouse, two of my favorite quiet places.

After stopping at Gethsemani, we’ll ride to St. Francis, Loretto and Nerinx for lunch. Then we’ll backtrack a little before heading to Raywick and a steep climb to Scott’s Ridge.

The third day ends at Green River Lake State Park near Campbellsville, 61 miles from Bardstown.

Grand fundraiser

GABRAKY is an annual fundraiser for the Grand Theatre, downtown Frankfort’s 428-seat performing arts center. We’ve managed to raise more than $83,000 in eight years.

Part of the proceeds goes to Walk/Bike Frankfort, a nonprofit group working to build safe cycling and pedestrian paths in the capital.

GABRAKY starts today at General Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton, and when riders reach Point Park – where the Ohio and Kentucky rivers merge across from Indiana – they’ll dip their back tires in the water.

A mid-afternoon rest stop is at Canoe Kentucky in Peaks Mill, and opening day ends in downtown Frankfort at the Old Governor’s Mansion with a reception.

At 7:30 p.m. today, cyclists are invited to a concert at the Grand Theatre featuring “perhaps the world’s greatest Beatles tribute band,” says Grand President Bill Cull.

Jennifer Crossen says before cancer surgery, she would have been at the concert after cycling more than 60 miles.

“But now I’m more aware of my limits. The biggest thing I’ve learned is to listen to my body more. I really get tired and definitely need more sleep than I used to.

“I’m not as competitive as I once was. I’m much more into doing my best and enjoying every minute of every day.”

Bicyclists start day two at 8:30 a.m. on St. Clair, the brick street in front of the Grand. They will follow a police escort to the Capitol for a brief ceremony before hitting tough hills in Franklin County on the way to lunch at Taylorsville Lake State Park. Friday’s ride finishes in Bardstown.

Sunday, the final day, starts at Green River Lake campgrounds, and after a 17-mile ride, cyclists will be treated to a brunch at Columbia’s Lindsey Wilson College, a major supporter of GABRAKY every year.

Another friend I’ve met while doing GABRAKY is Chris Schmidt, dean of students at Lindsey Wilson.

A strong cyclist who completed the Louisville Ironman this year, friendly Chris is traditionally one of the front riders. But every day he drops back occasionally to talk with and encourage slower riders.

He coached LWC’s cycling team in its early years.

Sunday’s 40-mile afternoon ride includes a winding, dangerous downhill, and a monstrous uphill 7 miles from the finish. The journey ends when we dip our front tires in Dale Hollow Lake.

Jennifer Crossen wrapped up her training last weekend with 45-mile rides on Friday and Saturday and a 42-miler Sunday.

“I feel now I might be able to do this after all,” she says. “I think I’ll be fine, and if I have to walk up that last big hill, that’s OK.”

Charlie Pearl is a retired Frankfort journalist and co-chair of GABRAKY.

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  • Great story Mr. Pearl. And what a great event!