Coast-to-coast bike ride for a healthier generation

Coast-to-coast bike ride for a healthier generation

The Westerly Sun

CHARLESTOWN — If you tried to call Jessica Lawrence’s cellphone in the past three months, you probably got her answering machine, informing callers that she was biking across the U.S. and “probably climbing a hill very slowly.”

Maybe you were lucky though, catching Lawrence on a rare break from biking her daily average of 60 miles, at which time she would likely be more than happy to chat.

On June 8, Lawrence began her cross-country journey in Astoria, Ore. Three months and almost 4,200 miles later, her trip ended last Saturday at the Charlestown Town Beach. Lawrence said she traveled an average of 11 mph, but how fast she rode was never a concern.

“Slow down and talk to people,” said Lawrence. “Allow those experiences to happen.”

Lawrence frequently detailed her experiences on her blog, The site also allows readers to make a donation to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization that works nationally to combat childhood obesity.

It’s a major problem in this country, where one out of three adolescents are overweight or obese, according to Lawrence. She wrote on her blog that the current generation could become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.

Lawrence, 38, a school health consultant, is passionate about implementing programs that address physical activity and nutrition in schools.

“We can teach skills in schools, we can help students create healthy habits,” she said. Her goal was to raise $25,000 for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. As of Aug. 31, Lawrence said she had raised $20,885.

Lawrence advertised her website on her bike, prompting people to ask questions. Every person who donated during Lawrence’s trip received a postcard from her. She was amazed at people’s interest in the organization, and their generosity. Lawrence recalled an experience in Jeffrey City, Wyo. Overhearing Lawrence tell her story to a waitress in a restaurant, a Minnesota man donated to the organization five or six times. “I’m the guy in that small cafe in Wyoming,” the man told Lawrence after he made his donations.

“I met some characters” said Lawrence. The memories she created are detailed extensively on her blog entries, but one moment stood out vividly for Lawrence. She recalled a man named Joe whom she met at the beginning of her trip in Prineville, Ore. He said there were two types of people — those who let life pass, and those who embrace adventure, “I know which type you are,” he told Lawrence.

Those words and others from supporters on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog helped to keep Lawrence motivated. “It helped me so much,” said Lawrence. With social media, “it was really nice to reach out to people,” she said. Although the trip overall was relatively smooth, “There were hard days physically, hard days emotionally,” Lawrence said. “I just embraced the fact that I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do for 23 years.”

When she was 15, Lawrence took a bike trip in Europe, sparking her passion in the sport. She later biked from Lincoln City, Ore., to San Francisco, roughly 700 miles. The trip this summer was her longest.

Before she left, she spoke with her financial adviser. “You never know when you’re going to get sick or when your last day is,” she said. From February to June, Lawrence spent more time on her bike to prepare for the trip. “I didn’t train over the top,” she said, “you kind of get in shape while you go.” Lawrence was never in a rush, though she made the journey in exactly 90 days.

The 90th and final day of biking was a joyous one on Charlestown Town Beach as a crowd of about 100 people gathered to watch Jess ceremoniously dip her bike wheel in the Atlantic (she started her journey by dipping it in the Pacific). Lawrence ended her journey in Charlestown because her parents, Rick and Elin Lawrence, have a beach house here. The Lawrences, along with Jessica’s brother Dave, who flew from Miami with his wife, Cassia, to celebrate Jessica’s accomplishment, are from Manchester, Conn. The Charlestown beach holds special memories for Jessica and her family.

“That beach and that breachway is one of the most important places in my life,” said Lawrence. “I probably learned how to walk on that beach,” she said, and there are “memories of my brother that are hilarious, that we still talk about.”

She recalls one man whom she met during her trip who told her, “Rhode Island’s a really small target, don’t miss it,” but Lawrence said “it was important for me to end there.”

“The fact that she crossed the country on two wheels” was an amazing accomplishment, brother Dave said at the beach celebration. Her mother added, “I knew it when she said she was going to do it, she’s determined.”

Jessica rode the final 20 miles from Stonington to Charlestown beach with 13 of her friends. She was greeted by cheers and tears and a banner that read “Congratulations Jess!” Friends and strangers crowded to congratulate her, as Elin put a crown of daisies on Jessica’s head — her favorite flowers.

Lawrence said her favorite part of the trip was meeting fellow Americans, “people who are so generous” and supportive, “it gives you a lot of faith in our country.”

“It’s unbelievable how awesome people are,” she said.


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