Trips For Kids Metro New York Chapter Director Andree Sanders -- also known as “The Bike Whisperer” -- discusses the transformative power of the bicycle
Like many of the Trips for Kids participants, chapter leader Andree Sanders credits the bicycle with changing her life. She learned how to ride a bike when she was five, with her father running alongside her, holding the back of the bike. Her parents bought her a road bike when she was 10, and when her mother passed away shortly after, Andree looked to her bike as an escape and an outlet for her grief. But Andree’s real connection with the bicycle happened in her 20s, when she moved to New York and met her future husband. “We went for a bike ride, and I was smitten -- not only with Eugene, but with the bike as well,” Andree recalled.
When her child Cam was born, Andree knew she had to find a way to keep riding. She bought a Chariot for the back of her bike and took to the trails. (Luckily, Cam loved it!) On one of their rides together, they met the founder of the Trips for Kids Metro New York chapter, and Andree began as a chapter volunteer, with Cam in tow. Her first ride with the chapter was to a beach -- an experience she’ll never forget.
“I really connected with one of the participants on that ride,” Andree recalled. “He was resistant to the program, saying things like, ‘I’m not going to like this’ and ‘This is stupid.’ So I challenged him to a game of tag. We raced each other for the entire ride and ended up leading the group. When the ride was over, he was so full of joy. I knew immediately that I wanted to do more.”
Shortly after, Andree began leading rides, and when the organization’s founder moved two years later, Andree stepped up to be executive director. This year is her 20th year working with the organization, but Andree says the job still feels new every day. She has transformed the chapter, expanding volunteers to include both mountain and road bikers and developing programs to encourage repeat riders, including family rides and an interscholastic mountain bike race team.
“We do everything we can to help the kids succeed,” Andree said. “We teach them proper technique for bike body separation, climbing and descending , how to turn and how to overcome obstacles. We talk about the physics of the bike, as well as the environment and the history behind the places we see on our rides.” Andree’s leadership and unique teaching methods have earned her the nickname “The Bike Whisperer,” a name coined by one of the thousands Trips for Kids participants she taught to bike. Andree speaks proudly about the lasting impact on program participants.
“An associate at my local bike shop was recently helping me, he shared with me his memory of going on a ride with Trips for Kids in 2014,” said Andree. “He told me that he remembered me and that the experience changed his life. He had been failing out of school, but after that ride, he joined the bike club at school, got a job at the bike shop and started racing.” Andree hopes that there are a lot more of these stories out there as she know first hand the power of the bike to change lives. “Before I met Eugene and started cycling as an adult, I never thought I’d consider myself an athlete,” said Andree. “But now I’m a Trip for Kids leader, private coach, a LCI (League Certified Instructor) and National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) coach. I ride road bikes and off road mountain bikes. I’m 57 years old, but I don’t look it or feel it -- and it’s all because of the bike.”
In addition to leading the Metro New York chapter, Andree recently started a private bike coaching company, called Bike Whisperer NYC, to teach adults and children to ride and navigate New York City on a bicycle. Additionally, she is leading the new Trips for Kids More Girls on Bikes committee. Through it all, Andree is guided by a philosophy she learned at a seminar for women in biking -- Keep your heart to the world, look to your future and move forward.
“Heart to the world refers to your body position on the bicycle, but it’s about attitude as well,” explains Andree. “If more people had their hearts to the world, more love and joy would be spread. And what better way to achieve that than on a bike.”