Article by Dan Wilson
Lake Nona? Where the heck is that?? These are the words I spoke when I was chatting with my girlfriend, Jenn, about two months ago when she told me she submitted for a position within Johnson & Johnson at a subsidiary in the Orlando market, the Human Performance Institute.
I have lived in Jacksonville since 2004, with established roots, knowing all the great restaurants, bars, hidden gems, things to do, and places to be active. And by “be active,” I mean feed my growing obsession with endurance sports, and specifically triathlon.
For the unfamiliar, a triathlon consists of swimming, biking and running for various distances, ranging from shorter “sprints” to full-distance Ironman races (finishers taking between 8–17 hours). I have come to accept that it takes a special version of crazy to not only endure these events but to maintain the discipline to train for months before so that the race itself is only moderately painful, instead of simply intolerable.
Fast forward to late December 2018, and we (Jenn, myself, and our sweet black lab, Ella) are loaded up and ready to drive a couple of hours to our new home in Laureate Park. In addition to the usual stress of moving, unboxing, wondering where the heck the movers put my (insert item here?!?), I also had the nervously excited task of looking to meet new people in the Lake Nona area in hopes of making new friends and also professional contacts as I look for the next chapter in my professional career. Leaving Jax to support my partner’s career ambitions is exciting but also a new challenge. As an experienced triathlete, I have come to appreciate that those things that are tough are probably good for me.
Lake Nona is beautiful! The thought put into planning and developing this community is evident immediately. Wide bike lanes, planned infrastructure for an active lifestyle, and a delicate balance between new housing, nature and commercial development highlight my initial impressions of our new home. From some initial research around biking and running groups, I stumbled upon the Nona Cycle Facebook Group, and admittedly stalked their routes, posts and general vibe.
Once we were settled and I was able to actually find all my boxed bike gear, I committed to joining Nona Cycle for a Saturday group ride. While I have been riding bikes since I was six years old, from BMX to mountain to road and triathlon, I was a fair bit nervous about this initial ride. My cycling in Jax was largely by myself, or perhaps with a few other friends looking to get some mileage in.
As the group assembled in the Canvas parking lot that Saturday morning just before 8 a.m., more and more lycra-clad cyclists showed up for the ride, many of whom were sporting a stylish Nona Cycle jersey.
While I was confident of my abilities to cycle, I was wondering … what have I gotten myself into?! Just then, I was greeted by Spencer Phelps, and we briefly chatted about me being new to the group and area. He was extremely welcoming, introducing me to nearby waiting cyclists and generally giving me the lay of the land for the ride and also the group. He also made a very clear point to go through the safety measures and announcements for the ride, which I have come to appreciate at the start of all rides.
The ride started, and we were off! The group was well laid out, with a self-seeding aspect to the ride tempo from newbies to fast kids, with safety as the clearly evident main priority. I pushed myself on that ride harder than I have in years on solo rides, and even some races.
Not having ridden in a lot of group rides previously, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found with Nona Cycle was a welcoming environment for cyclists of all abilities, with periodic stops to refuel and recollect. The endpoint was Starbucks, which was my reward for working hard, and also a great way to get to know those cyclists that I just trusted, pulled and pushed myself with. I met quite a few people that first day – some were very fast, some were less fast, but all were very welcoming and genuine.
A few weeks later, I was finally able to convince my girlfriend to join on the Nona Cycle Sunday ride. As a 2X Ironman triathlete, Jenn is more than confident on two wheels, but like me, had not been on many group rides.
With some apprehension, we started off on the typical Sunday ride of approximately 30 miles, heading south from Lake Nona to St. Cloud and back, with careful thought on the route by Nona Cycle as to avoid traffic and stay on safer roads. As we all know, any time one rides outside on the public roadways or even on secluded trails, there are risks – squirrels, dogs, cars, slick pavement, glass, road imperfections, etc.
It was just shortly after our “restart” to the ride, which is when the group recollects everyone to ready for the trek home, allowing those to leave according to how fast they want to go and how hard they want to work. I went with the “B+” group, not as quick as the obscenely fast kids, but still pretty peppy. We started off along Lakeshore Boulevard along Lake Tohopekaliga (thank you, Google, please don’t ask me to say that), and I was ready to push it on the route home.
Not more than a few minutes into the journey back, I saw a call from Jenn come through on my Garmin bike computer. I knew she was heading out with the group behind me, so she should be riding, not calling.
My stomach sank, and I thought, “This can’t be good.”
Immediately after that, I saw a call from Spencer (group leader), and then I really felt ill. This could only mean a couple of things – something is wrong, or something is really wrong.
I gestured out of the pace line and busted a U-turn to head back to the rest stop we left from. When you fear for the safety of a loved one, you can cycle pretty darned fast if you need to.
Once I arrived at the scene, which was visible from nearly a mile away by the EMS trucks and flashing lights, I arrived to see Jenn on a gurney being loaded into the back of an ambulance. OMG!! What the heck happened and is Jenn ok?!? (Edited for PG-13 readers).
She was visibly shaken but appeared to be relatively okay at first glance. After my first trip to the ER in an ambulance and several hours at the St. Cloud Medical Center, we were able to determine that Jenn was stable and we could head home.
While any accident on a bike is not ideal, this one was better than it could have been. No cars, just bikes, a few people, and pavement. While this sounds gruesome and candid, it’s a reality of being active in the real world. In addition to my obvious concern for Jenn’s (and others who were hurt) well-being, I was truly impressed by the outpouring of care and concern by not only the group leaders but also the members – many of whom we haven’t met yet.
This group cares about safety, camaraderie, inclusion, cycling awareness and, more importantly, charity. That’s right, Nona Cycle has (again) created a Tour de Cure team, which proceeds benefit the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Last year, they were able to donate close to $45,000 to the ADA, and have their sights set to top $50,000 this year (donation details can be found on the Nona Cycle Group Facebook page or http://bit.ly/tourdecureln).
If you are looking to get out on two wheels and want to see what a truly great cycling group is all about, come out and join us on one of the weekly rides. The Nona Cycle Facebook Page is the best way to stay current. Otherwise, feel free to show up on Saturday or Sunday morning at Canvas restaurant parking lot at 8 a.m. (weather permitting). Hope to see you soon!
Do you like to cycle or want to learn how? Join the Nona Cycle group for weekly rides: nonahood.to/nonacycle.