Graceful Edge recognizes Marilyn Price, Founder of Trips for Kids

May 01, 2009

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Marilyn Price, Marin County, CA
Trips for Kids
June 17, 2009
By Brigid Schulte

At 68, Marilyn Price has the bone density and blood pressure of a teenager and the driven energy of a visionary. She is always in a hurry with a million things on her ¨To Do¨ list. And right on top? Daily mountain bike riding. Forty-five minutes. First thing in the morning.

Price is the unlikely founder of Trips for Kids, a non-profit she started out of her living room that has grown to more than 50 chapters nationwide. More than 20 years ago, the onetime Bay area housewife and mother was riding her mountain bike to the top of Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais. Winded but exuberant at the top, with the sweeping view across the Golden Gate Bridge of all of San Francisco, the idea hit her: what if she could get kids trapped in inner cities out here in the fresh air? What if she could get them on bikes and encourage them, challenge them to do something they never thought they could? Imagine, she thought, how the possibility of life could open up for them in places like this, having earned the view with their sweat and hard work.

Thus was born Trips for Kids, on little more than a dream. Now, more than 48,000 inner city kids have found themselves standing on summits like Mount Tamalpais and other places around the country, winded and exuberant and some, forever changed. And Price has found herself inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

The lessons the kids learn on Trips for Kids are nothing less than those that Price herself has learned both personally and professionally, sometimes the hard way, over the course of her life.

Do What you Like. Born in St. Louis, Price always liked to bike for fun. When her kids were little and the family had moved to Marin County, California, she biked with them on back in bike seats, but hated weaving in and out of traffic. In the 1980’s, she took a job in a bike shop, one of the first mountain bike shops in the Bay Area. She bought one of the first Red Line bikes, ultra sturdy and ultra heavy, and rides it still. “I just love it,” she said. “It’s like a comfortable old shoe.” She took one trip to the Fat Tire Mountain Bike Festival in Crested Butte, Colorado, and that did it.

“The final ride was up to Pearl Pass, at 12,000 feet. That hooked me. I never would have hiked up to the top of the mountain. I was always in too much of a hurry for hiking. But biking, I could still go slowly enough that I noticed every step of the way. The vista opened up more and more and more and more. It just blew me away,¨ she said. “I thought, ´This is incredible.´ I used to go downhill skiing. But the chairlift would drop you off at the top, and I never noticed anything. I realized mountain biking was for me.”

The same holds true for her work. Price has also opened up a bike repair shop, the Re-Cyclery, that uses donated and recycled parts and directs another program whereby kids earn their own bikes by learning how to repair others. “I work 70, 80 hours a week,” she said. “I love what I do. My vocation is my avocation. I’m very lucky. I plan on continuing to work until I am no longer able to do so physically and mentally. I may never retire.”

Dream Big. Start Small. Just Start. Price describes herself as a “frustrated social worker.” She received a degree in sociology from the University of Michigan and worked for environmental groups and volunteered with the city’s needy for years. Then one day she read about professional psychologists taking inner city kids for bike rides. The idea resonated. But she had no idea how to do something like that. She worried she was too old. And she had no idea how to write a business plan. She wrote to the psychologist in charge of the program. And he wrote an unforgettable note that would become a byword for her life, her work and her work outs: “Just go for it.”

Discipline Matters. These days, Price rarely goes out on the mountain bike trips with the kids, so busy is she with running the organization and fundraising. But, no matter what, she makes sure she mounts her old Red Line and pedals 45 minutes every day. First thing in the morning after breakfast. “I am definitely a creature of habit. I’m comfortable doing the same thing every day,” she said. “I literally ride the same trail everyday. I’m blessed that I live in Mill Valley at the base of Mount Tamalpais. I just have to go, literally up through a residential neighborhood up the street from where we live, then I’m right at the base of the hill. It’s a lovely, lovely place.”

When she was younger, and before Trips for Kids demanded so much of her time, she averaged 21 miles per week on her bike. But last year, arthritis struck her knees. Now, she rides 45 minutes, to about the same place everyday. Thirty-eight minutes up. Seven down. Sure, there are some mornings she doesn’t feel like it. “But I know if I put it off today, I may put it off tomorrow and the next day and the next,” she said. “I just say to myself, I don’t care how busy I am, I am going to fit this in. And I almost exclusively can. You have to discipline yourself. And at the end, you know you feel better than you would if you didn’t exercise. I guess what they say about endorphins is true.”

Rain is tough, she said. Once upon a time, she worked for an environmental group and biked to work day in day out, rain or shine. But now, she doesn’t care to don the cumbersome raingear nor take the time to dry her bike and gear after a foul-weather ride. So she does have an exercycle. She hates it. But she uses it. “It’s deadly boring. But I know it keeps me in shape. I save all my reading material for the times I have to use it,” she said.

Same with Trips for Kids. Persistence, she has found, is what matters in keeping dreams alive.

Go Your Own Pace. Price grew up loving sports. At summer camps, she loved winning the swimming and tennis competitions. But at 16 she’s chagrined to admit, when the competition got tougher and the winning not as easy, she quit. It’s not something she’s particularly proud of. But she learned from it. Perhaps winning wasn’t everything. Or anything. Once she discovered biking, she tried a triathlon. “I was 43 and did OK for my age category. But I also realized, I got too nervous. I didn’t sleep. I did not like the competing,” she said. “If I had stayed competitive, I don’t know if I would have stayed athletic personally. It was being able to do it at my own pace and in my own time that made it enjoyable to me.”

Even now, with her daily rides, she doesn’t worry how high she gets, how long it takes, nor that she has to zig zag up the hills more than she used to. “What’s the difference if it takes you a little longer? You still get there.”

Once, she tried a 200-mile bike ride in one day and discovered that, too, wasn’t right for her. “Not only for me, but for the common person, it’s important to go your own pace and not to push yourself beyond your limits or your desire, because then you won’t want to do it.”

Enjoy the Pay Off. “On my bike, outside climbing hills, I can do a lot of great thinking. It’s my time to really think about things, big or small and resolve problems. I don’t have time during the day to devote to just thinking,” she said. “I notice that all the way up, I’m working on issues. Once on top, they absolutely turn off. They are completely out of my mind. And on the way down, I’m just enjoying it.”

There’s Joy in Motion. “I used to think, what is it about biking? As a kid, it’s about freedom, getting out of the house, away from the parents. But for me, it’s about the motion, being able to propel yourself forward on the flat, upward on the hill.” Same with her work, her life. She doesn’t dwell on the disappointments. She just keeps going. Her advice? “Have a dream. And take it one step at a time. Work hard. And if the idea’s a good one, and you stick with it, one thing will lead to the next to the next to the next. Then you will accomplish not only what you set out to do, but more than you ever would have thought of doing.”

Learn more about Trips for Kids at www.tripsforkids.org.

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