By Holly Hammersmith | Photo by Jim Baron
Vastly different from the happy hour and social events many professionals in Northeast Ohio are familiar with, cyclists find a common bond on the open road as they pedal one foot in front of the other. Often these bonds transfer to the business realm as opportunities to partner and grow professionally, says Desmond, whose efforts to promote and invest in cycling in Northeast Ohio and Cleveland also led to the founding of NEOCycle, an annual cycling festival.
“If you’re riding a bike and you meet someone in a different profession or a different income level, it doesn’t matter if you might not have had anything in common otherwise, but when you’re both on a bike, there’s conversation. It’s a great networking tool,” Desmond says.
NEOCycle took place in early September at Edgewater Park. While inclement weather did dampen attendance this year, Desmond says she is optimistic about the event’s future.
As an avid cyclist herself, Desmond connected with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission in 2013 when the organization was seeking input from amateur athletes on how to improve sporting interest in Northeast Ohio.
“I was already connected in the cycling community because I had done just about every kind of bike race thing, and I’m a big joiner so I belonged to a couple different bike clubs and a couple bike advocacy organizations,” Desmond says. “I also knew that cycling was more than just riding your bike.”
The cycling infrastructure is already present in Cleveland, from more than 300 miles of paved biked trails, a track racing center for bikes, an indoor mountain bike park and more. But no event existed to pull all of these biking facilities and enthusiasts together, Desmond says.
NEOCycle was born. The event is designed to bring in cyclists and non-cyclists alike. Activities include pinball, mini golf, a climbing wall, corn hole and games for all ages and abilities. There are activities, such as the mountain biking adventure area, which allows attendees to try biking out, which is the first step to getting involved in the sport, Desmond says.
An active runner as long as she could remember, Desmond entered her 30s and began looking for alternative forms of exercise in order to avoid repetitive use injuries.
“I finally bought a bicycle and I immediately fell in love with it,” she says. “I sought out clubs and teams that I could be on or be involved with so that I could make friends and be part of the social side of the sport.”
She went on to compete in duathlons and did cyclocross racing and road racing. Desmond turned 50 this year and says that while her competitive edge has waned, she is becoming more and more involved with enhancing the cycling culture in Northeast Ohio.
“Cycling can really change the culture of a community. It brings things down to a human scale. It’s a place-making tool,” Desmond says. “There’s some kind of special bond with cyclists.”
Not only has working on the NEOCycle event committee aligned with Desmond’s personal life, but also has a strong tie to her professional life and her role as director of special projects for the Cleveland Metroparks. “We work as a close partner with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission on this event,” she says. “It really fits the Cleveland Metroparks mission because we are interested in promoting health and wellness, serving the city, and bringing people to the lakefront, and, of course, recreation is a big part of our mission.”
Originally a Boston native, Desmond moved to Cleveland in 1999 for a position with the Cleveland Metroparks, running the CanalWay Center. She has been with the parks ever since.
In her role today, Desmond also raises money for the Cleveland Metroparks Trails Fund, which supports rehabilitation of the park district’s trail system. But it was through her own personal cycling journey that Desmond met fellow mountain biker Matt Cole, who would later become an integral partner to the fundraising. Cole is a master brewer for Fat Head’s Brewery. He created the Trail Head Pale Ale, a special brew for the Trail Fund. In 2014 the Trail Fund received $11,000 from sales of that beer, Desmond says.
Desmond hopes her efforts and involvement with the cycling community will help to continue to foster a cycling culture in Cleveland. She has already witnessed a change in the number of women involved in the sport these days.
“When I started cyclocross and mountain bike racing 10 years ago, there might be two, three, four women in the race, and these days those numbers have quadrupled,” she says. “When you see women and children riding bikes on the street in your community, you know that you have safe infrastructure for bike riding in your community.”
A cycling culture also benefits a community in other ways – from improving the health and wellness of citizens to increasing sales at storefront businesses along the road – which cyclists are more apt to stop and shop at than motorists, Desmond days.
“I believe when you take someone out of a car and put them on a bike, it changes their relationship to the other people on the road. It just makes it more human. It makes it more of a place than just a concrete ribbon that you drive on as fast as you can,” she says. “It’s good for the culture of a community.”
For more information: neocycle.org