Aspen-area nonprofit helps sexual abuse survivors through mountain biking
November 7, 2017
Heather Russell is an accomplished mountain bike racer. She excels at endurance events — both 24-hour solo rides and team competitions.
She said she's also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
Russell realized from firsthand experience that her cycling played a key role in her recovery, so in 2013 she founded a nonprofit dedicated to helping women who are survivors of sexual trauma. Sacred Cycle combines a traditional approach by providing funds for therapy with the unique step of providing access to mountain bikes, gear and coaching.
It's difficult to heal from sexual trauma, Russell said. Victims can feel lost or hopeless for years after the trauma. Introducing mountain biking to the equation can lead to breakthroughs that otherwise might be difficult or impossible to achieve.
"It's the fact that you have to be very present in your body or you're going to get hurt," Russell said.
It takes full concentration to pick through a rock garden on the Government Trail, for example, or sail down the Sunnyside Plunge to Hunter Creek Valley.
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"We're using cycling to help people get into their bodies," Russell said.
Sacred Cycle started hitting its pace this summer after going through the initial growing pains of a small nonprofit. Five women were assisted by the therapy and cycling organized by the nonprofit this summer. All five were from the Front Range. Alternatives such as hiking or even stand-up paddle boarding are available to women who don't mountain bike.
Although it is based in the Roaring Fork Valley, Sacred Cycle works with women throughout Colorado. The goal is to provide services to women of the Roaring Fork Valley, first and foremost. Ideally, it would work with eight women from May through October.
Russell is certain the need exists in the valley. One in four women experience sexual abuse or assault by the age of 18, she said, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2005. The small population and closeness of the Roaring Fork Valley may prevent victims from seeking help for fear of people learning about their abuse.
Russell said the unfortunate stigma that exists and prevents some women from seeking help might be easing due to the high-profile sexual harassment issues coming to light in the movie industry. Women are feeling empowered to share their experiences in the #MeToo social media campaign.
Russell and her board of directors have come up with an idea to raise funds for the nonprofit and ramp up its presence.
"People love the idea of Sacred Cycle, but my funding is very low," she said.
This Saturday, the nonprofit will host a spinathon with the help of TAC Fitness, a fitness and wellness center in Basalt. There will be six hours of workout on stationary spin bikes at TAC Fitness. Participants can ride anywhere from one to six hours between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The spinathon is open to the public. The minimum donation is $25. Participants are encouraged to seek matching donations.
Participants must sign up in advance by going to http://www.theaspenclinic.org or by calling the front desk of the health club at 970-279-5412.
Amanda Wagner, president and CEO of TAC Fitness, said she learned about Sacred Cycle last summer and wholeheartedly volunteered to help with the fundraiser this fall. She wants to use the fitness center to help smaller organizations providing good services. She hopes the exposure for Sacred Cycle also helps with de-stigmatization and encourages women to seek help with healing.
Wagner said there has already been a strong response to the spinathon. The fitness center has 17 spin bikes, so it can cycle through numerous participants over the six hours.
Russell has a plan for growth. Once the outreach is successful, she hopes to provide weekly rides and clinics for clients. Sacred Cycle already has a cycling team and participates in endurance races and brings attention to its cause.
More information about the organization can be found at https://thesacredcycle.org.