Gaining More Than She Lost - Jean's Bicycle Journey to Weight Loss, Health, and Freedom
If you have the pleasure of meeting Jean Medley today, you’ll find a fit, bright-eyed, semi-retired substitute teacher with an active lifestyle and a love for outdoor activities from gardening to hiking and kayaking. But Jean hasn’t always been this way. In fact, just 5 years ago, Jean’s body weighed over 300 pounds, and it was hard for her to move. “I had balance issues, little mobility, and even walking was difficult," Jean writes.
Jean opens up about her journey and how bicycling (literally) shaped her into the woman she is today.
When Jean saw a three-wheeled Terra Trike advertised on TV, she knew this was the weight-loss machine for her. After walking into several bike shops only to be ignored, she was finally fitted to a Terra Trike by the welcoming staff at Sun Cyclery in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They have a loyal customer for life,” Jean reports.
But once on her bike, the challenges continued: not only was the activity strenuous at first, but the harassment she received while riding in public was alarming. How did Jean overcome all odds to lose 200 pounds? In this exclusive interview, she opens up about her journey and how bicycling (literally) shaped her into the woman she is today.
Hi Jean! What role does your bicycle currently play in your life?
I ride for exercise and because I love the outdoors. Cycling has been my main exercise that has helped me lose 200 lbs.
“There have been so many rewards: the friends I’ve made, the opportunity to inspire others with my story, and just to have lost 200 lbs.”
How did you fall in love with bicycling?
It was very difficult at first. But, as I kept being able to ride farther and farther, I enjoyed it more. Meeting a lot of others in the cycling community was fun too. That led to my connection with the American Diabetes Association, and to so many other adventures!!
What inspired you to try cycling as a weight loss tactic?
At 340 lbs. I had balance issues, little mobility, and even walking was difficult. I could not run, and going to a gym was just too embarrassing. But I was on the computer one day and up in the corner was a man standing next to a Terra Trike. When I saw the Trike, I KNEW I could ride that because it was like sitting down and peddling. THAT started my journey.
“I had balance issues, little mobility, and even walking was difficult.”
What’s special about Terra Trikes?
Besides it being the chosen brand of “The Biggest Loser” guy? Probably the higher seat, and because it allowed me to sit more upright. Both of those characteristics were necessary for me to be able to get on and off with greater ease, and they made the ride more comfortable for me at the time.
Tell us about your experience with Sun Cyclery. How were they different from other bike shops you’d tried?
While I was looking for a Terra Trike, I went into about 15 bike shops. I was still at about 300 pounds, and I did not look like a serious cyclist. No one would wait on me. More than once the salespeople would look at me and turn their heads away without even asking if they could help me.
It was not until I walked into Sun Cyclery that Adam Chavez walked right up to me and asked how he could help me. He let me try a Terra Trike. He adjusted it to fit me. I took it for a ride, and then bought my first Terra Trike that day. Two years ago I bought a new 24 speed Terra Trike from them: they have a loyal customer for life.
“While I was looking for a Terra Trike, I went into about 15 bike shops. I was still at about 300 pounds… No one would wait on me.”
What can bike shops, bike manufacturers, and the bike industry do to welcome people of all sizes into cycling?
Market to them!!! I had no idea what was out there. I’ve talked to many overweight people who thought their only option was a two-wheel bike with those tiny seats. Marketing!!!!!
What were some of your challenges with cycling?
In the beginning, the challenges were physical. I could only ride around the block and was gasping for air and had to stop several times. So building stamina and strength.
Then, there was the verbal abuse of people. They would yell terrible things at me. One time, some guys riding in a truck threw a bottle at me. Fortunately they missed me. Yes, the ridicule and heckling was terrible. That was hard also. But, I kept going because all of the encouragement I received was so much greater than those things.
“Yes, the ridicule and heckling was terrible... But I kept going, because all of the encouragement I received was so much greater.”
What were some of your greatest rewards for persevering through all this?
My first great reward was in 2015, when I decide to ride in the Tour de Cure: I hired a coach and signed up for the 25 mile ride. I trained, and wasn’t sure that I was fast enough but decided I would complete the 25 miles even if it took me all day and night. There were 1200 riders that day, and I came in dead last and over 2 hours after everyone else! But as I came up over the crest of the small hill towards the finish line, about 100 volunteers had stayed to cheer me to the finish line. Many of them were in tears because they’d heard my story.
“There were 1200 riders that day, and I came in dead last… But about 100 volunteers had stayed to cheer me to the finish line.”
There have been so many rewards, now. The friends I’ve made, the opportunity to inspire others with my story, and just to have lost 200 lbs.
How did your relationship to your body change over the years?
I began moving and have not stopped. I do laundry and cannot believe how small my clothing pieces are. I still look in the mirror and think I am overweight when people all around me call me small, tiny, “no bigger than a minute,” petite, etc. I dress in much more attractive styles and clothing. I believe I am attractive.
“I dress in much more attractive styles and clothing. I believe I am attractive.”
Did family/friends express concern for your safety?
While riding? Yes. I ride most of the time by myself. I listen to the concerns, and take as many precautions as I possibly can. It can be dangerous riding by yourself, especially when you are a petite woman. You have to do what you can, but you cannot let fear rule you.
What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to try cycling, but is hesitant to do so?
Call me!! Text me!! Email me!! I found as a large person there were many in the cycling community who are supportive and encouraging. Look for beginner biking groups on the internet. Find people in your neighborhood to ride with. Do some benefit rides. You will meet others just like yourself. Encouragement and support is what got me to where I am today.
“I’ve talked to many overweight people who thought their only option was a two-wheel bike with those tiny seats. Marketing!!!!!”
Any big plans for the future?
I plan to do a century ride in the next few months and to continue riding in the Tour de Cure each year. I would like to continue sharing my journey through social media, speaking engagements and writing. In the next two years I will be doing a three day hike on the Smoky Mountain portion of the Appalachian Trail, and I’d love to do a week-long Adventure Cycling tour.