Bike the Drive offers accomplishment for any age, ability

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It’s hard to imagine a happier, more proud 8-year-old girl.

Starlesha Fews just about burst when her mother slid a medal over her neck Sunday morning at the 18th annual Fifth Third Bike the Drive, which gives cyclists free rein of Lake Shore Drive for several hours without worry of vehicular traffic.

Fews had just completed the 30 Mile Challenge, meaning she rode a loop between Bryn Mawr Avenue to 57th Street during the roughly five-hour event, finishing at a party in Grant Park.

”I was scared I wasn’t going to make it,” Fews, of Aurora, said. “I’m not even tired.”

The challenge began three years ago and quickly took off. This was the first year medals were given.

Paul Rink, 72, was also among the approximately 2,000 riders who went home with a medal. His experience was unique because he couldn’t see any of his fellow riders.

Rink, an attorney, was born blind and pedaled from the rear seat of a tandem bike to support Envision Unlimited, a group dedicated to helping people with disabilities.

”I hope to give them courage to try new things and to also have success in life as I have been able to have despite a disability,” said Rink, a South Loop resident and a former commissioner of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Organizers estimated about 20,000 cyclists participated in Bike the Ride, a fundraiser for the Active Transportation Alliance, a non-profit advocacy group for walking, cycling and public transit. The event is not a race and riders could log as many miles as they chose.

Eric Beard, 48, who moved from the South Side to the western suburbs a few years ago, said the event has been on his bucket list for more than a decade.

After recovering from a recent health scare, Beard, who’s not a regular biker, knew it was time.

“I just realized the bike community is just made up of some of the friendliest people and I really like that,” he said, sporting his 30 Mile Challenge medal around his neck.

“There’s a lot of people out here like me and then there’s a lot geared up like some Lance Armstrong-type people, and they were real nice too,” he said, referring to the former professional cyclist.

For Rob Mowry, 43, of Roscoe Village, completing the long ride was one more milestone in his recovery since having both hips replaced last year.

Mowry has lost 100 pounds with the assistance of his new hips.

“It’s just kind of cool that one day a year for five hours you get to ride on Lake Shore Drive,” said Mowry, who listened to trance music while cycling.

Gospel music is what helped carry Elise Greene-Beverly, 52, the distance.

“It was an emotional day because it was my return,” said Greene-Beverly, who is slowly regaining mobility following foot surgery. “I’m still on a high,” she said.

Near the 30-mile mark, her phone died, and Greene-Beverly, a high school teacher from Morgan Park, began to self-motivate.

“I was trying to burn off some fat that I put on, so I was like, ‘Come on muscles, burn it off!’ And I could feel it burning,” she said.

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