One can easily pick Leslee Mitchell out on her bike. She is on the recumbent, coaching and cheering women on as they learn how to ride bikes and push themselves to new heights. Leslee was introduced to cycling during rehab after a back injury some 15 years ago. Due to the nature of the injury a road bike wasn’t right for her, but a recumbent was. As these bikes are more difficult to transport, she simply rode from her driveway and branched out into surrounding areas. She began taking cycling safety classes and was introduced to the club culture.

I realized a couple of things: One, there are so many “experienced” cyclists with very dangerous habits and I didn’t feel comfortable riding with them…” she stated. Sadly, this is a common complaint among newer riders – and quite true from what many of us have experienced. “….  Two, most clubs claim that they cater to all ride levels, but that really isn’t true. Nobody was focusing on beginners.”

What did Leslee do about it? Read on. This is where things get really good.

So I decided that I’d create a nurturing, non-intimidating environment where beginners felt comfortable and where they’d have an opportunity to learn proper group riding strategies, all while building toward what in the beginning seems like an impossible goal, doing a 100-mile ride. My vision was to take a group of newbies, train with them for a good part of a year, let them build relationships, confidence, and endurance, and it will empower them to do anything. ”

Thus the co-ed Couch to Century group was formed. Fulfilling her vision, Ms. Mitchell led C2C groups in 2012, 2015 and 2017. Her 11 years with the FFW has helped her find constant influx of newbie riders who were willing to take the C2C challenge through advertising to local bike shops and on Facebook. Her hands-down favorite memory of the HH was officiating a wedding at the top of Sugarloaf of one of her C2C ladies and her fiancé’. Very special indeed!

When asked about her best story of a C2C can best be told in her own words: “In 2015 we had an entire group of “babies” who in spite of training all season long just couldn’t get above 12 mph. Several of them we had to SAG in on training rides when it was brutally hot outside. One of them called me crying about a week before our century ride saying she couldn’t do the century, that she would just come and support the team but not ride.  After calming her down, I just told her, look, on every single training ride, your job was to do the best you could and if you had to get picked up, you got picked up.  I told her the century ride would be no different.  You do what you can, and if you can’t finish it, so be it, but you definitely can’t finish it if you don’t try.  During our century ride, I started with the fastest group and gradually dropped back to each group so that I could ride with the entire team.  When I got to the babies, we had about 30 miles to go. For the next three hours we sang and laughed and told stories and kept that entire group pedaling.  The event had already shut down and we had timed out, but I told the organizers we’d take responsibility for the group.  We did beg them to leave the finish line inflated!! And sure enough, one by one those babies crossed that finish line, with the rest of the team waiting for them screaming and cheering and hugging and crying.  Every single person on the team if you ask them what was the highlight of your season, they will all tell you it was watching that last group come in. We had a chant at the finish line: Who didn’t finish???? NOBODY!!”

Leslee has now passed on the baton to others who will make their announcement of the new team very soon. Follow the FFW website and FB  page. What is Leslee doing next in the cycling community? She has a new business startup called Bike Cubed, which offers a variety of guided e-bike tours. She is also serving as the Executive Director of the Florida Freewheelers, staying involved in club rides and events.

Thank you Leslee for the impact you are making in the Central Florida cycling community. Ride on!