In honor of National Bike Month, we’re spotlighting how bicycles are tools for personal empowerment, social justice and community development with our “Where the Ride Takes Us” web series. Today’s post comes from Mari Ruddy, who has had type 1 diabetes for 32 years, is a two-time breast cancer survivor, founded the Red Rider Program of the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure, and is the Director of TeamWILD Athletics.

I remember the thrill I got the first time my dad let go of the bicycle seat — and I felt the Schwinn moving 100% under in my control. My 5-year-old self immediately recognized the power I possessed. Little did I know how the bike would give me many gifts throughout my life — the most important being refuge for my health challenges.

I found out when I was 16 (like my father found out when he was 26) that I had type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes requires diligent attention to balancing food, insulin, stress and exercise. It’s a balancing act that sometimes feels like I need a medical degree, an exercise physiology degree and a dietitian credential to manage.

When I was in my late 30s, after many years of poorly managed diabetes, I discovered that the key to it all was riding my bike — riding long slow distances to be precise.

militis 3 and mari

I trained for and completed a 400-mile bike tour of Colorado and maintained the best blood sugar control of my life. All the while eating plenty of carbohydrates to fuel my effort climbing all those mountain passes. I finished the bike ride and, much to my chagrin, I couldn’t seem to recover. A few months later I found a lump in my right breast. I had Stage II breast cancer. I rode my bike on a trainer in my living room during chemo treatments and I rode my bike to and from the majority of my radiation sessions.

As the bike had given me hope with my diabetes management, the bike grounded me in who I was as I moved through breast cancer treatments. The week after finishing cancer treatments, I participated in my first triathlon and I loved the healing that came from being in the Survivor Wave. People celebrated and cheered for my survivorship, and that touched me.

I wanted to bring that same healing love to the world of diabetes.


I got involved with the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure and started the Red Rider Recognition Program. Red Riders are the more than 7,000 cyclists who ride in the Tour de Cure who have diabetes. Red Riders are the heroes of the ride, for we are not victims of our health struggles, but rather we courageously get on our bikes and take charge of our wellness.

During the Tour de Cure, cyclists call out “Go Red Rider!” to those of us with diabetes who wear the Red Rider jersey. “Go Red Rider!” offers encouragement and love for the challenge it is to live well with a difficult disease like diabetes. It touches my heart deeply to hear “Go Red Ride!” It makes all I’ve survived seem not so bad.

TdC co 2011 startline mike c mari arms together

I found out in July of 2010 that I had a second primary occurrence of breast cancer. It was the Red Rider community who supported me through those treatments. And you better believe I rode my bike through it all! I’m again cancer-free, though I still have diabetes. So, I keep riding and I keep talking about the power of riding the bike for health.


See you out there!


My Signature

Carolyn Szczepanski
Communications Director

Carolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League’s blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women’s Bicycling Summit and launched the League’s newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.

via Blog