Inside the Peloton – Clare Atkinson

Clare Atkinson

Overcoming is the short version of Clare Atkinson’s journey to GFNY. Reaching back to 2007, Clare’s struggles with thyroid cancer came up as an email message as she was boarding a plane to volunteer at a race in Florida. Having done a couple of Ironman events, Clare’s takeaway was how much she enjoyed the cycling pieces of triathlon. She wanted to continue her life in sport, in spite of her challenges and so set it in her mind to make sure that cancer would not beat her.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, cancer also returned for Clare. The diagnosis of breast cancer felt like a huge blow, and involved a lot more treatment. The spot of good news, was that Clare could keep on riding. Only a week after her surgery she was back on the bike and riding with friends online. “Riding helped me keep my sanity through the radiation treatment. With Pneumonitis in my left lung, I ended up living with steroid treatmenst for a year, but kept on riding, thinking to myself, I am going to do what I really like to do”.

A visit from Clare’s friend from New York, Nuria Flores – one of her online riding buddies – was an inspirational break from the pandemic. Having ridden online with a few friends across North America, Nuria asked if Clare would consider riding GFNY. “Why not?” She thought. Her start in cycling and triathlon was focused on proving to herself that she was good enough. But she had so much more she was overcoming with her plans and training for GFNY.

The training kept on through a tough Toronto Winter, working indoors with her online groups, with only one long ride outside. Common with GFNY Canadian riders after this long Winter, Clare arrived in New York after only a single weekend ride of 90km with her local bike group.

“Life is too short…” Clare started, “You just have to do what you can do. I don’t think of myself as athletic. It’s a test of your mental capacity and mental strength to do something you think you can’t do. I want to finish, but I want to finish strong.”

The 2022 edition of GFNY World Championship NYC was Clare’s first “bike only” event. To experience the start line was very exciting for Clare, watching the other riders finding their way into the corrals. “I was really nervous about the start because I am not sure about riding around so many people. But I chatted with a few folks beside me and found another Canadian, a guy from Calgary”.

With a safe start, she took her time through the initial sections to allow the faster riders to pass. She used the rest stops to adjust some gear, and grab a banana, and kept on through the first half feeling good. Loving the scenes of the spectators, and trying to wave and smile to all of them, she got to Bear Mountain. Energized by the crowd, it was an emotional experience for Clare and in her words “put me right in the moment – I am actually doing this!”

Clare found out that the second half of the course is a huge part of the challenge but persevered. Thinking a goal of 7 hours was reasonable she felt within her time frame but did not anticipate all the climbing and how much time it would take. In spite of missing her time goal, Clare crossed the line with a smile. Not having done this distance in a long time, Clare feels like she has the base she needs to for the rest of her race calendar for this year, and is trying to get a group together to come back for GFNY next year.

“It was definitely challenging, but gratifying. And the beer at the end tasted awesome!”