Kristin Gavin, an adjunct professor and alumna founded “Gearing Up,” a program in the Interim House that encourages recovery through cycling.
Some choose to write poetry, others knit and still others may listen to music to escape from the stress they encounter day-to-day. But for others, these stationary activities can be replaced with a helmet and a bike.
On Main Campus, some students and faculty prefer to bike to and from campus as a mode of transportation, rather than opting for public transportation or a car.
According to the founder of Gearing Up, alumna and adjunct professor Kristin Gavin, the bike culture is actually relatively small in terms of activism and non-profit organizations.
Gearing Up is a nonprofit organization that aims to help women in alcohol and drug recovery through the physical activity of biking.
Before embarking on her journey to Temple, Gavin worked as a bicycle tour guide in Seattle, Wash. for four years.
“Being in Seattle was fun but I wanted to do something more meaningful and be closer to my family,” Gavin said.
Originally from New Jersey, Gavin applied to many schools with a focus in public health, and said she liked Temple’s kinesiology department.
“I chose Temple because it was close enough to home, the program was great and I was offered a teaching assistantship position,” Gavin said.
Arriving to Temple was an experience in itself, she said. Gavin played field hockey during her undergraduate years, and played against Temple in the past, but she said arriving to take classes allowed her to really soak up her new environment.
“I got here the night right before class and it’s one experience to come off a bus, go to the field, play and get back on the bus but it’s a whole new game when you’re able to actually take in your surroundings,” Gavin said. “I questioned, ‘What the hell have I gotten myself into?’ but I’m glad I did.”
While studying for her masters degree, Gavin was actively looking for places to apply what she learned and figure out what her next move will be after obtaining her degree.
She said her roommate was working at a women’s recovery home. It was there Gavin said she first encountered women recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.
The home, Interim House, is an all-women recovery home in Mt. Airy, Pa. and will be the first of three sites where recovering addicts will pedal their way to make their lives better.
“After receiving permission to do a project on physical activity and recovery with these women from Dr. Sax, I then did a survey to see who would be interested in riding and received an unexpectedly large response,” Gavin said.
“Women who didn’t want to attend my previous classes of yoga or aerobics were like, ‘Yeah, I’ll ride,’” she added.
Women interested in participating aren’t turned away if they do not know how to ride a bike. They are first taught on a scoot, which is a bike without pedals that allows the women to practice balance and coasting before graduating to a full bike.
“I recently taught an editor of Philadelphia Magazine on a scoot and it took her three days to get her balance and get on a real bike,” Gavin said.
Gearing Up’s mission “is to provide women in transition from drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and or homelessness with the skills, equipment, and guidance to safely ride a bicycle for exercise, transportation, and personal growth,” according to their website.
Challenges women in this program encounter are overcoming the social, emotional and physical barriers built during times of incarceration or drug abuse.
“Women put on an average of six to 10 pounds while incarcerated [because] emotional eating is a large part of it,” Gavin said.
In addition to weight issues, these women struggle with emotional and social challenges since they have learned to live in a form of isolation.
What Gavin attempts to do is to offer these women in a social and physical setting to help chip away at those barriers, to help them become productive members of society.
“I ride as an athlete, it’s my mode of transportation but most importantly to cope with life,” Gavin said. “I had to sell this idea of how a bike could combat not just weight issues but depression as well.”
“Providing an outlet for women to release their stress of not only their physical appearance but their emotional and social stress as well makes them three times less likely to fall back into addiction,” Gavin added.
Initially, the program started with five Fuji bikes donated by Breakaway Bikes, and has now expanded to 19 bikes total.
Entering into Gearing Up’s third year, the program has expanded to include Interim House, an outpatient facility called Chances and a program in Philadelphia’s County Jail that is equipped with 14 stationary bikes for women.
“Catering to these women who are incarcerated is amazing, although some may get transferred to a different institution [or] released,” Gavin said. “We try to serve a group of 14 to 20 women over eight weeks.”
Since the expansion, Gavin has now taken on a more administrative role versus being out with the women and leading their classes or trips.
“It’s hard, but I trust my program directors and especially at Interim House where I first set up show and fell in love with the culture and community–it was like giving off my baby but I’m needed to take this organization further,” Gavin said.
Another highlight of the program is that alumni are still encouraged, and do, participate in rides and events.
“Any mile completed by an alum, we keep record of and offer one member of the graduating class a chance to be a TA where they can help other women in transition to achieve where they now are. Kind of like peer mentoring,” Gavin said. “This is something that can not only boost their confidence but their résumé as well.”
Alumni who lose some touch with the program isn’t deliberate, instead it is because they are now equipped with the tools to live their lives.
“Many of our alum simply become to busy for us–they’re regaining custody of their children, getting jobs and I’m pretty sure they’re still biking,” Gavin said.
Although the future for some nonprofit organizations appears gloomy, Gavin is preparing herself by reapplying to school to study business.
“Luckily we’re a pretty self-sufficient program and have a lot of support from other nonprofits and bike shops but we still have to be able to pay the bills and my few employees,” Gavin said.
One of those organizations is Neighborhood Bike Works, which allows women involved in the program to undergo classes on proper bike maintenance and bike safety. This is also a popular program facilitated by Neighborhood Bike Works as an after school program.
It gives women seven weeks to choose an old bike that they will fix themselves all while learning how to ride in the city safely. Completion of this seven-week program is then followed by a graduation ceremony where women officially earn their bikes.
Anyone interested in volunteering or interning at Gearing Up needs to own their own bike and helmet and be able to ride.
Alexandra Olivier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.