Jennifer and Grace Conigliaro
Biking has brought Jennifer Conigliaro and her daughters together in ways they never could have imagined. Jennifer's biking started as a personal mission to help her mom and quickly became a passion. Thirteen-year-old daughter Grace grew up watching her and has become an accomplished rider in her own right. Sister Hope (10) is also taking to riding as well.
Jennifer and Grace share with us how biking lets them enjoy time together and teach each other life skills.
You are both incredibly dedicated and accomplished road and mountain bikers, but you didn't start out that way. When did you start riding bikes and why?
Jennifer: My mom (Grace's grandmother) was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 31 years ago, when her mom was 40 and Jennifer was 10. I hadn't really ridden a bike at all until 2003 when friends asked me to ride in the MS Best Dam Bike Tour. It was crazy, and I barely finished. I cried at the finish line because I couldn’t believe I actually did it. I have ridden in Bike MS every year since, and this will be my 17th year, and last year Grace joined me for the first time!
But it turned me on to biking which resulted in upgrading to better bikes, embarking on four-day bike packing trips with friends, and riding my first of many one-day century rides (100-mile bike ride). I joined the Bike with Bunkie group training rides on Tuesday nights (from Wheel & Sprocket Fox Point store) and kept improving.
Grace: Since I was a little kid, I saw my mom bike riding and thought it was cool. I tried it and liked it. Biking is fun. I got started with the Polish Moon ride (Wisconsin Bike Federation fundraising ride in Milwaukee) and was really excited. Then I rode in the UPAF ride (Milwaukee's United Performing Arts Fund annual fundraiser). I have now ridden in the Riveredge Bike Ride for the Riveredge Nature Center and the 50 mile route in Bike MS in 2018!
I joined my school's NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) mountain bike team, which is really fun. I was the slowest person when we started. I had to learn how to ride over rocks and roots. That all changed by the end of the season because I really worked at my riding. It felt so good when I finished a ride.
Sometimes we get fatigued riding. How do you get through it?
Jennifer: I have learned that riding is a frame of mind. Definitely give yourself time to improve and know your own body. There are frankly some days you don't feel it but ride through it. Maybe it’s the route that day or the wind. I find that the 12 to 15-mile mark can make me feel tired for some reason, but that feeling passes, and then you feel like you can ride forever. Just remember to ride through mentally, and you'll get to the other side.
Grace: There are, sometimes when biking is hard and challenging. You have to keep going! It feels really good to know you did it when you're done with a ride. I learn a lot from each ride.
What is it about riding that is special? How do you learn from each other?
Jennifer: After years of road biking, I decided to start mountain biking to ride with Grace and help her NICA team. I was terrified the first few times, but she showed me how to ride the trails. Grace pushes me, and as a result, I’m learning to push myself more in the area of mountain biking.
I am now a Bike with Bunkie ride leader, and Grace has ridden with us. It's great to see other women support her riding.
Grace: Last year I got a new road bike, and my mom really helped me learn to ride it long- distances. We started riding on the Oak Leaf trail from Shorewood to Cedarburg (35 miles round trip). We explore and even stop to eat ice cream along the way. We also rode 42 miles in the River Valley Ride (Riveredge Nature Center benefit) and I was so happy I did it! I get to spend time with her alone.
What's your advice to other women and girls?
Jennifer: I encourage women to strike a balance and make time for activities like biking. Your children will see you challenging yourself and your body, and they will learn to make those priorities too. Also, group riding teaches you to take responsibility for your own safety as well as the safety and encouragement of those you are riding with. These are life skills both adults and children need. You also make many friends and take so many adventures together. We are meeting other mothers and daughters as a result of our mountain biking.
The journey is so worth the effort. I build so many memories with my daughters.
Grace: When I joined the Shorewood NICA team, I was like OMG there are other kids my age biking. It's really fun to meet new friends. You should try it!