The Rapidian

Meet three Grand Rapids Active Commute Week participants

Ditch your car and join these active commuters for Friday's fun finale to Active Commute Week
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GRTV is broadcasting an interview with Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager for The Rapid and Michael Bulthuis, The Rapid’s public outreach coordinator of community engagement, that highlights everything you need to know about Active Commute Week.

Showcase, the Grand Rapids public affairs talk show hosted by Julie Way, is airing the 15-minute episode now through next week on LiveWire (Comcast Cable Channel 24) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 22; and Thursday, June 23 at 12 p.m.

Watch it online at http://www.grcmc.org/node/11244/npo-showcase---active-commute-week.

Dr. Thomas Jager has been commuting by bike for 40 years.

Dr. Thomas Jager has been commuting by bike for 40 years. /Dr. Thomas Jager

Adam Tauno Williams with his main mode of transportation.

Adam Tauno Williams with his main mode of transportation. /Adam Tauno Williams

A potential record-setting number of Grand Rapidians are walking, riding and rolling to get around this week for the fifth annual Active Commute Week Challenge! With half the week done, there have been nearly 1,000 commute trips logged in 2016 – already surpassing last year’s entire week total.

In an effort to promote awareness about the economic, environmental and health benefits of active travel, individuals participants as well and nearly 40 local employers have challenged themselves to more active commutes. Whether it’s biking, walking, jogging, carpooling or riding The Rapid, there are many diverse individuals up for the challenge. Let’s meet three.

1. Dr. Thomas Jager, Professor of Mathematics (Emeritus), Calvin College

We can all take a lesson in active transportation from Dr. Jager, who is participating this year in his fourth Active Commute Week Challenge. He has commuted by bicycle for 40 years. In fact, bicycling is his only commute mode.

Jager shared that his original motivation for switching his commute to his bicycle was economic. Commuting by bike meant that he and his wife did not need to buy a second car. The pure pleasure of being outdoors and self-propelled has inspired his four-decades-long commute via bike, Jager said.

“Compared to driving in heavy traffic, I can get most places in the city along lightly traveled streets and streets with bicycle lanes. I do appreciate the increased number of bicycle lanes that Grand Rapids has introduced. I also like the health benefits that come from the physical activity,” said Jager.

If you’re seeking some motivation to get started in your pursuit of a more active commute, consider this insight from Jager:

“Commuting by bicycle is not an option for everyone and I am thankful that Calvin's campus is easily accessible by bike. But, most places in the Grand Rapids area are accessible by The Rapid and biking can be combined with The Rapid. Alternative commuting sure beats driving in rush-hour traffic.”

2. Adam Tauno Williams, Systems & Network Administrator

Healthy and cheap. That’s how Adam Tauno Williams explains his reasoning for being an active commuter. His main mode of transportation to work and downtown is his bike, but he’s also no stranger to The Rapid. He uses Route 15 to get him and his bicycle home on days where an uphill bike ride just isn’t doable.

Williams has been participating in Active Commute Week for three years but has been an active commuter for many more.

“I have come to very much appreciate the distance [active commuting] creates between home and the office. A stressful or frustrating day at the office, followed by a little bit of exercise, and it is ‘further away' than when one drives,” said Williams.

Williams also jokes that he is far too lazy and undisciplined to maintain an exercise routine. Riding his bike and participating in other modes of active transportation builds in exercise he might otherwise not be making time for.

He also wants those interested in challenging themselves to a more active commute to know that it’s not as difficult as it appears. Yes, even in spite of the array of weather conditions we’re blessed with as Michiganders.

“Weather is really less of an issue than one would think. I started as a fair-weather active commuter, and slowly expanded until I active commute for a strong majority of the year,” Williams said.

His first few weeks as an active commuter were tough, Williams admits. He often questioned his motivations. “The body adapts rapidly; and suddenly you are rolling up to your front steps and you realize you didn't even think about it. You'll just feel better and be more comfortable – 90 degree days used to feel oppressive...now they just feel hot. They aren't debilitating anymore. I wouldn't have believed this if someone told me – it feels different.”

3. Donna Christensen, CAD Designer, Meijer Corporation

With nearly six years of bicycle commuting experience under her belt, Donna Christensen is a staunch advocate of the Active Commute Week Challenge. She’s a year-round bicycle commuter, using a fat tire bike in the winter to get around more efficiently.

Christensen was introduced to active transportation due in part to getting her driver’s license later than most. She used to ride her bike to get everywhere she needed to go, even if it was far away. She later interned in Cleveland and had only her bike and the public bus system as a means of transportation.

“I think I was inspired to start bicycling because I needed to do something different, get active again and save money from the gas prices. I usually arrive a bit early to work, but even if I am late, I have no problem finding prime parking near the door. Meijer is a very bicycle-friendly company,” said Christensen.

Just like many other active commuters we’ve spoken to, Christensen shared that she feels like her active commute adds some adventure to her days. In fact, when she rides her bike to get around, she says she feels younger and more connected to the things that made her happy in her youth.

“I would highly recommend active commuting, particularly if it gives you the opportunity to walk, run or bicycle, I know from experience with loved ones how very important it is to stay active, to increase your strength, in later years it will serve you well. You’ll feel younger and stiffness and little aches and pains that you may have started to begin experiencing as you get older, those may just go away as you build your strength and become more active again. I think all it would take is for people to start to ride a bike again, not too much at first, acclimate slowly. The biggest complaint my friends have when starting bicycling again is feeling saddle sore, but once you bike regularly, (for a couple weeks) you won’t have that problem at all."

Christensen also shared that she loves learning about new bicycling opportunities and trails to switch up her commute.

Next week, look for a wrap-up of Friday night’s finale highlights and the complete list of 2016 winners from Active Commute Week Challenge events.

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