Breaking the mold
By Emma Bishop
From a small mountainside town in Ecuador to Connecticut, entrepreneur and single mom of three Paola Ortega is all about setting the bar high and then soaring above it.
Paola Ortega, 40, has been a resident in the USA for 18 years. Cycling was never part of life in the USA, it came to her two years ago in the form of therapy when her marriage ended and she started the transition from married life to life as a single mom with three girls.
“I always used to cycle back home in Ecuador, back then it was my only transport. Rekindling my love for cycling after my divorce helped me overcome the hard times that I was going through.”
Those hard times include discovering she had breast cancer following a fall while out cycling. Ortega shrugs off the discovery as just, one of those things.
“How we overcome problems, is how we succeed. That (breast cancer) was not going to stop me. I tell my girls, you live by example – it’s in your hands.”
Through her cycling group, Cycling Connection CT she learnt of GFNY NYC and decided to sign up in order to prove that she can ultimately do anything if she puts her mind to it. She also had the full support from her three girls. Sunday will be Ortega’s first century ride.
“It’s my first and I’m really excited and also very nervous. I’m sure I will be in pain but enjoying it at the same time!”
Training for a Century ride is no small thing. It takes planning, preparation and dedication. If you are a single mom it also takes heaps of organization and the ability to prioritize that only a single mom would know how. When Ortega is not making ice cream at Tropiglace, a family business from Ecuador she brought to the USA, she may be ferrying her girls, Emilly 19, Natalie 14 and Isabella 10 years old around.
“I take literally any opportunity to ride, in cycling classes, on the trainer and on the road. Actually my bike and cycling kit are in the car with me all the time, just in case,” she laughs.
Ortega likens riding to complete freedom. She has also discovered and recommends it as a great stress reliever.
“When I am going downhill I usually scream. My friends know that this is not a cry for help but just my stress reliever. It’s also a plus to be able to lose a pound and makes it all a perfect combination!”
Understanding there are limits but never afraid to push them, Ortega believes people get distracted in life and this prevents us from dedicating time to things that really matter.
In a world where men dominate the sport of cycling, Ortega is all about encouraging more women on bikes and has inspired her girls with her determination and training.
“Emilly and Natalie are so excited. Yesterday was their first time riding with me, it was awesome to do that and I look forward to more rides as a family in the future.
Completing the Journey
By Emma Bishop
Three years ago, Scott Johnson received a call that every parent lives in fear of.
A road cyclist for the past three years, Johnson of Columbus, Ohio was going about his day when he received a phone call from his daughter. Her words, “Did you see the email?” was all Johnson needed to know something was very wrong.
“Our son, Ben was living in Bogota, Colombia at the time with his wife Alejandra,” recalls Johnson. “That morning Alejandra had sent a family addressed email.”
‘Ben had an accident on his bike. They have taken him to the hospital. We hope he wakes up.’
As an experienced internist/hospitalist, Johnson had extensive experience with trauma patients.
“I found her simple words terrifying.” He confides.
Johnson immediately booked a flight down to Bogota not knowing what he would find.
“On arriving at the hospital I learnt that Ben went out of sight on a descent during a routine training ride to the mountains and was discovered lying unresponsive on the roadside.
He had suffered a brain injury called diffuse axonal injury. A common result of helmeted high velocity trauma and occurs when there is a twisting of the brain inside the skull at impact.”
Arriving at the hospital 15 hours after Ben had been found, Johnson drew hope that during that time, his son had begun to “wake up” and had started withdrawing from stimuli, murmuring words and following simple commands.
“I knew that this kind of rapid progression was the most reliable sign of a good prognosis, and I suppose, typical of any parent, I had high hopes.” Johnson says.
Less than a week later, as soon as he could move and swallow, Johnson and Alejandro took Ben home.
“All the rehab was done at home. I am amazed by Alejandro’s strength during his rehab. There was never any question of what they had or may lose. Her focus was all about here is Ben and he is going to get better.”
Due to relocate from Bogota to NYC last year in May, following the accident in April relocation was postponed to August when Ben was strong enough to make the move.
“It was six months before Ben became Ben again. Day by day and week by week he returned to the Ben we all knew.”
Twelve months after the accident Ben secured a new job at Staten Island City College, where he has been working for the past semester. Knowing the outcome could have been so much different makes it hard to recall those months of not knowing what the future may hold for his son.
“To see him where he is now is so gratifying,” Johnson proudly says.
As for getting back on the bike that was definitely not something anyone was expecting him to do anytime soon.
“He just went and did it, and only then told me about it,” recalls Johnson.
Dad feels he has to ‘a certain degree’, let go of the competitiveness and perhaps as a testament to his renewed passion, Ben posed the idea to ride GFNY NYC together, as in really together.
“He will be my domestique! I am looking at Sunday as a celebration of his life and mine. He has ridden the course a couple of times recently and tells me it is beautiful, so whatever the weather Gods throw at us we are looking forward to completing this journey together.”