Nancy Gildin, Learn-to-Ride Student


If learning to ride a bike as an adult taught Nancy Gildin anything (besides the actual riding a bike part), it is that there are many skills to have, and that learning can be done at any age.

Gildin, who grew up on the southside of Chicago, learned how to roller skate as a child, but did not successfully master bicycling. “The southside of Chicago is not a bike-friendly place,” she says. “As a kid I tried to learn in a way kids learned back then: my parents put me at the top of a sloped driveway and said ‘pedal, pedal, pedal!’”

But her husband is an avid bicyclist and they taught their two now college-aged kids how to ride. “I hid the fact that I didn’t know how to ride from the kids because I didn’t want them to be afraid when they were learning,” she confesses. “Now they are very confident bikers.” Gildin comes from a running background but no longer engages in the sport due to joint issues, but since learning to ride has a newfound dedication to physical activity. “I exercise regularly now, which I didn’t before,” she says. “I stretch now and didn’t realize I needed flexibility to turn my head to look while riding. I joined a gym and I’m committed.”

Two years ago, Gildin first heard about Cycles for Change’s Learn-to-Ride class, but it wasn’t until she had free time last summer that she finally decided to commit to the program. “As I got older I had a growing desire to bike,” she says. “Scheduling issues kept me from doing Learn-to-Ride right away when I saw an ad. But [this summer] I Googled “adult bicycling lessons” and Cycles for Change came up first.”

Over the course of the four-week class, Gildin met many people and learned many things. “Something that always freaked me out when riding a bike was that they have really narrow wheels and it felt unlikely that it would stay upright,” she admits. “The first night I realized how long a wheel will stay up before slurping to the ground. Bikes have a much wider arc of stability than I ever thought.”

With that realization, bicycling became more accessible and more comfortable, especially when surrounded by a diverse group of people whose differing situations all brought them together to learn. “I now know I am not the only person who made it all the way through adulthood without picking up some fundamental skill,” Gildin says. “I don’t need to be embarrassed that I never had it.”

Since learning how to ride, Gildin is conquering other fears and learning other skills that passed her by earlier on in life. “I can look fear in the eyeballs and figure out a way to overcome it,” she says. “There are many skills I don’t have; another one is I don’t know how to swim. There are not many pools on the southside of Chicago. This summer somebody sweet-talked me into a water aerobics class, and I will admit I was scared much of the time. But I was happy I did it because it allowed me to do something new with a new person and I met many new people and I might, maybe consider doing it again,” she adds.

Gildin says because of her experiences learning to ride a bicycle and swim, she is much more open with people about what she doesn’t know and understand. She says it’s how we all find out things–through other people. “I found out that I had assumptions around people who had basic skills and people who didn’t: how to ride a bike, how to swim, how to go camping, how to read and write–basics that kids get in Minnesota,” she says. “There was a diversity in ages, economic backgrounds, and educational backgrounds in the Learn-to-Ride class. It was quite the sample. I thought I’d be the oldest and the only one [with my background]. It made me more comfortable to learn that wasn’t true.”

Being humble and unabashed suits Gildin perfectly. She has made very shrewd observations about the learning process and about her community. Her advice to the next group of adults learning to ride a bicycle for the first time? Go your own pace and enjoy the ride. “There isn’t a statute of limitations on taking the first step to begin,” she says. “Nor is there a minimum level of competency to achieve to feel that it’s something you can do and have fun doing. So you don’t have to go from never being on a bike to a person who looks sleek on the fancy bike going a million miles per hour. That’s not the goal.”

Whether it be with bicycling, learning new things, or volunteering, Gildin is certainly committed. She is coming to the end of what she calls a “gap” year between jobs which she used to volunteer as a tax counselor, an ELL tutor, and in an in-home preschool literacy program. They are all nonprofit organizations, and as a previous for-profit professional, Gildin has been pleasantly surprised in the difference in how they operate, and is impressed with how Cycles for Change breaks down barriers for people to participate in programming. “Of the nonprofits I’ve been a part of or have known about or donated to, C4C is the most egalitarian in that there aren’t income requirements, age requirements, locations requirements. There’s no requirements to participate,” she explains. “In some nonprofits you get a sense that it’s a “we/them” world where “we” and “them” have to qualify. Sometimes it’s not bad. But C4C does not have that, the feeling that it’s just for certain people. It’s for everyone.”

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