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Women’s Health: Jen Charrette

In 2013, Jen Charrette suffered a loss that would shatter any parent — the tragic death of her two-year-old son. A longtime bicyclist, the Colorado mother found solace in cycling, pedaling through her grief and finding moments of peace in the saddle.

As we mark National Women’s Health Week with posts about the wellness benefits of bicycling, Charrette shares how her bike has helped her heal.

After the death of my son most people expected me to hide away in bed for months, maybe years. I was bombarded by well-meaning people giving me the names of PTSD experts, camps for grieving parents, personal yoga sessions. The list goes on. None of that was for me.

I needed my bike.

My bike has been on this grief journey with me since the beginning. Cycling has been my passion for many years, but I never realized how much I needed cycling and how much peace and strength it gave me until grief came along.

At first, it was merely a way to get back outside and ride with my older son and husband. We would go mountain or road biking at an easy pace — and just be. Time where my son could just be a kid again and not have to hear or worry about the death of his brother. A place where he could connect with nature and get out any pent-up energy or emotions.

Next, cycling was an outlet to go as hard as I could, an outlet for my anger. Even though I wasn’t in shape anymore it felt great to dig deep into my physical body. To know I was still alive, maybe to even try to feel some of the pain my son had felt before he died. In those early days, when I was pushing my body, I would get a surge of massive energy. It was an almost unreal push to go harder, and my body would respond. I felt like my son’s energy was there helping me along, watching my journey, and giving me strength.

Then cycling became a place where I could go to calm my mind and be present in the exact moment. Every pedal stroke is a chance to forget my worries and blend into the environment. Think about my breath, connect with nature, and even experience the pain of pushing without any negative emotions. To be mindful in motion.

When I’m in a challenging climb that lasts for more than 15 minutes, I naturally fall into mindfulness. I can hear my breath and focus on it. My bike starts to blend into the terrain like it’s part of the earth. My mind is focused and calm.

And when it’s time for the descent I have an opportunity for more focus and calm. There’s no time to think about grief when you are going downhill with traffic or mountain biking on a fun or challenging trail. I experience the flow, or as some like to call it, “being in the zone.” Being in the zone is a great place to set grief aside — if only for a minute.

Today my bike plays all these roles for me. Cycling is a place where I can connect my mind, body, and spirit. I need it as much as I need food and water or as much as others need daily grief counseling.

Read more from Jen on her blogs Velo Mom and The Axel Project. You can also follow her on Twitter @velomomjen.

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