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Mind, Body, & Bike -- Dr. Gena Griffin

Updated: Oct 24, 2018

Starrett City resident, Gena Griffin is a cycling soul sister. As a licensed private psychology practitioner, college professor and mentor, she is sincerely interested in the things that our good for our minds, body, and souls. She talked to The Brown Bike Girl about the importance of having physical activity and hobbies to our mental health, and reflects on the power of exposure to cycling in her own life.

One of the latest posts on Dr. Gena Griffin’s social media is a black and white video of her working over a body bag with a swift kick then stepping back for a quick 1-2 punch at kickboxing class. Before she started kickboxing, she was cycling. Before cycling, she was swimming. Before swimming, there was running. And before that she played high school basketball.

And to be clear, these days you can catch her doing any combo of those things as a personal wellness practice.

39 years of age this year, Griffin reflects on the positive outcomes of making sure to incorporate movement into her adult life. “I always said that if I could, I'd go back to my teens and 20’s to make sure that I have some sort of [physical] activity.” Developing a “ritual of exercise,”as she termed it, is something Griffin encourages both the students and clients in professional life as a practicing psychologist and psych professor as well as everyday laypeople.

While private practice work sometimes brings her to counsel people with severe psychosis, Griffin says that for the everyday person who suffers depressive bouts (extended or acute), physical activity can greatly help - Advice that extends to offsetting the repetitive stresses of environment that exists in many of low income and high crime neighborhoods. She adds, “We have to be active, especially as people of color, because we are heavily diagnosed with diseases that contribute to mortality.”

During the ten plus years of between high school and finishing her higher education, Griffin admits to the difficulty of achieving a life-career-exercise balance. And as her 30’s rolled around, she noticed that a return to consistent exercise of her youth was becoming necessary to maintain her weight. So she dived back in, eventually finding cycling as a gentler alternative to running in 2014.

Griffin (far right) poses with friends at bike event outside an East Brooklyn library.

In the fall of the year Gena quickly identified and began working toward her accomplishing first cycling milestone -- Completing the world famous 40-mile Five Boro Bike Tour. The May tour unofficially kicks off cycling season in NYC and is only time cyclists are allowed to cross the Verrazano Bridge into Staten Island.

She began her training on a mountain bike that she already owned, eventually upgrading to a hybrid bike as she grew in knowledge of the benefits of different type of bikes by being involved in group rides and the cycling community online.

She created her own ride plan that took her to crosstrain with walking, swimming, and riding through the winter. “My mother thought I was crazy [for riding in the cold], but by February I was up to [speeds of] 12 miles in an hour.” And her winter cycling conditioning could not have paid off more, because when the day of the event finally came, it was one of the coldest, wettest, most unpleasant 5 Boro rides in recent history.

Griffin describes her participation in her first organized bike tour as “a pure adrenaline rush.” The awesomeness the ride was not dissimilar from the intrigue she felt the first time she witnessed a bike tour that inspired her to investigate cycling. She describes the day: She and her mother were returning from morning church service in East New York one Sunday afternoon a year earlier, when a steady stream of cyclists came through. It was the annual NYC Century ride, and she found it inspiring.

Gena's tribe including mom, siblings, and best friend come to celebrate her finish at the 2017 NYC Century Ride. "100 miles on your butt and your bike" is one of the hardest things she ever done, says Griffin.

Though proud of her achievements to date (including completing the NYC Century in 2017 ) she can’t help but reflect on the possibilities. Perhaps, basketball would not have been her sport of choice in high school if she had learned about it before becoming a mature adult. “I never knew about this - I didn’t know we could do stuff like this when I grew up!”

“From a kid I always had a bike, but I never knew about bike tours growing up. I never knew about bike tours even as an adult. And I lived in 4 different states!

“If I had known I could do bike tours in my youth,” she imagines,”I would have been fast!”

Griffin wants people to keep an open mind about picking up active hobbies that are not typical to their neighborhood and not let pessimism stand in their own way. She appreciates that Bike East bike tour provide more opportunities for East Brooklyn neighbors to see and become curious like she did. “We’re laughing, smiling, and having a good time -- Sometimes people need to see before they make a decision to be sold on the idea.”

To those who comment that bikes cost more than basketballs, she frankly replies, “All sports that you get serious about are going to cost. I’d rather spend money on health than medicine.”

To those that may be over 40 and never ridden a bike, and embarrassed about it she says : “Reach out!“ because there’s resources all around us to help you get riding in our own neighborhood. Including the free Bike New York adult learn to ride classes every Saturday, spring through fall in Gershwin Park!

“The bottom line is I think people should find a hobby and stop making excuses!”

You heard it here. Doctor’s orders!

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