Riding the Rough Road
When Marilyn Hayward learned a homeless man had his tricycle stolen, she donated a recumbent bicycle to him. Perhaps having faced enormous challenges in her own life this past year, Marilyn knows how an act of kindness can make a world of difference.
The owner of Coventry Cycle Works, Marilyn is deeply beloved in the Portland cycling community for her positive, enduring spirit, extensive bicycle knowledge, and for setting the world record in her age and gender for the most consecutive miles. She completed almost 400 miles in less than 24 hours without stopping.
In the summer of 2012, Marilyn was struck by an automobile while riding her recumbent bicycle.
The accident resulted in brain damage, a broken collarbone and throat scarring. The accident was not the first health challenge Marilyn has faced: in 1993 she overcame lung cancer that four doctors insisted could only be resolved with an amputation. Instead, Marilyn beat the odds using a combination of natural medicine, Eastern religion, juicing, bicycling and optimism. She made the decision to forgo the extreme surgery, opting for a minimally invasive operation.
With a background in corporate finance, accounting and computer programming, Marilyn never imagined she would own a bicycle shop, even though bicycles have been a passion of hers from an early age. Coventry Cycle Works is the only 100 percent recumbent-focused bicycle shop in Portland, and the largest in Oregon.
This past year has been a very tough one. Are you willing to share the story of your accident? At the time of the accident, I had been commuting 30 miles a day by bicycle, to and from the bicycle shop in the Hawthorne District. I had also completed a 24-hour all-bicycle race on my recumbent bicycle five years in a row. I was struck by a motorist in Cornelius while I was training on my recumbent bicycle, flying 20 feet through the air and striking my head on a concrete curb. I was unconscious for 24 hours.
The doctors said they had never seen anyone improve as quickly as I had, and they attribute that largely to the excellent physical shape I was in at the time of the accident, from so much bike riding. I had very good cardiovascular health, good blood pressure, and good muscle tone. But the road to recovery has been very challenging in many ways, all the same.
You have also beaten a cancer diagnosis. Your cancer recovery was termed a “spontaneous remission,” correct? Yes. I never had any chemotherapy or radiation, and yet here I am. No cancer ever since! The doctors I was working with used that term. I don’t believe it was any miracle – I believe it was good use of my brain power, and a lot of focused effort. I was juicing up to 35 pounds of organic produce every week. I am a big believer in “we are what we eat.”
What does that mean for you, in your daily practice? I am vegan. Lots of fruits and vegetables – all organic, no genetically modified foods. I also stay away from sugar and, of course, sodas.
How did the recumbent bike factor into your recovery?
I bought my first recumbent bicycle in 2005. At that time, because of the operation I had undergone to remove the cancer, I was weaker on one side of my body. For long distance races, I was overcompensating on the other side, and my hands were becoming numb from holding up my weight. The doctors I saw at Kaiser Permanente were both bicyclists, and one gave me the advice that if I wanted to continue doing long rides, I should consider trying a recumbent bike. I started doing some internet research, which led me to the shop I now own. Sherman Coventry, the owner of Coventry Cycle Works at the time, thought I was crazy, because I bought the best bike in the shop. But I knew it would do the things I wanted to do, which were: climb and go fast! I knew a recumbent bike would provide what I wanted from a health standpoint, and from a comfort standpoint, because you don’t get the soreness or pressure in your seat or your hands from sitting on a recumbent bike that you do from a conventional bike. That bike literally changed my life.
There is a story about how you cried when you received a doll instead of a bicycle for Christmas when you were eight. Would you share that story?
I just loved riding. For Christmas, my parents got me this great big life-sized baby doll. They were so thrilled about it. I just knew I was going to get a bike! I literally sobbed my heart out when I saw this huge thing. My birthday is in January, so I got my bike then.
How did you know that you were so passionate about riding?
It’s just who I am. It always has been. For me, it spelled freedom. Another thing I have always been passionate about is birds. Riding a bike makes me feel like a bird – you can soar through the air, carve turns, and go wherever you want to go. So, that for me was the ultimate joy – to be like a bird.
How did you transition from working in the corporate world of finance and accounting to owning a bicycle shop?
I was experiencing a bit of burnout, and was feeling disillusioned. I had worked for Kroger as a computer programmer in finance, and I worked for Sears Roebuck for 23 years as a gasoline engine specialist: I did repairs and trained other people how to repair lawnmowers, rototillers, chain saws, anything with a gasoline engine. Then, I went to United Bicycle Institute in Ashland and took their professional bicycle and shop operations course, and I also rode Cycle Oregon seven times (from 2003 to 2009). When Coventry Cycle Works came on the market in 2009, I made the decision to just go for it. When I first bought the shop I made some changes in terms of merchandise, and redecorated to add a lot of color and personality. In every year since I have bought the shop, profits have increased and we have added new bikes. We have “upped the ante.”I “walk the talk” of bicycles, and so when someone comes in who is all about racing and performing, I can talk with them about that, because I do races and long rides.
How would you describe the atmosphere or culture for employees at Coventry Cycle Works? It has been described as a very happy place.
Yes, it is. They are my family. We have six people on our staff. I have always been the “heavy artillery.” We have another new staff member who is doing Cycle Oregon soon who will also pitch in as “heavy artillery,” meaning they know a lot about the mechanics of bicycles, and about what individual customers need from a very technical standpoint. I won’t have somebody on my team who is a high-pressure sales type. I don’t believe in that; I don’t think it’s fair to a customer. They should be buying what they love, and they should discover what it is they love for themselves. They don’t need somebody else telling them what they need; they must find what they need. And the only way for us to help them do that, is to let the customer test ride. As I always tell them, go out and find your passion. If it’s right for you, you’ll know it. If it’s not right for you, you’ll know it. And the only thing that’s right for you is what you believe in. It doesn’t matter what somebody else is telling you is the best thing, or what you should be loving. The question is: do you love it? That’s it.
Which bike do you love?
A Bacchetta Aero. That’s what I started with. It’s a high speed performance recumbent bike.
What are the advantages of riding a recumbent bike?
Comfort, performance and pleasure. You will experience minimal pain or strain in any part of your body, even after riding for hours and hours. Also, you are more aerodynamic – you are creating a smaller profile into the wind, because you are going feet first. Finally, they are really fun to ride!
Always wear a helmet. In my accident, my helmet saved my life. Even if you have just made a minor adjustment to your bike and you are going to ride it around the block, you should wear a helmet. I am also very big on wearing all the reflective gear you can possibly get. Use reflective lights and make yourself extremely visible to motorists. Move in very predictable ways for motorists. And do all the things that an automobile has to do – obey the rules of the road. Finally, use hand signals to communicate your intentions to motorists and other cycles. If you are in a pack of bicycles doing Bridge Pedal or whatever, and you need to stop, you should shout “stopping.” Use your voice and body to communicate, for safety’s sake. I am known as the pain in the you-know-what for keeping on about these things at bicycle events, but they are important.
What would you like to do next?
I would like to see more people discover the advantages of riding a recumbent, especially the trikes. There is the potential for people with many different types of health conditions to find improved quality of life through riding a recumbent bicycle, or a trike. Take one for a test ride and see!