Photo by Charisma Lico, Edge of Light; Make-up by April Feliciano; Hair by Jannet Saberon. Clothes by SOAS, Shoes by Saucony, and Shoelaces by EZLaces – all from www.atletaako.com.
“Because of cycling, I hear a lot of comments like “Uy, babae o!” because I am one female – an unusual sight – among many male cyclists on the road. But it’s very empowering, and it’s very good for your health,” describes Karen about her experiences as a female cyclist.
On biking’s beginnings
The day of the Atleta Ako Ambassador photoshoot turned out to be a very busy day for Karen Crisostomo, a cycling advocate. “We had a recent milestone: The city of Antipolo approved the bicycle code. We had the hearing on November 4, and I got a call to go to city hall on the morning of the shoot! So I had to go straight from the shoot. I didn’t even have time to change – as in I was in shorts! But that doesn’t matter because we got the approval!” Karen recalls about that day.
It’s been almost 30 years since Karen first got on a bike – and fell in love. “It was 1986. I was a teacher in Infanta, Quezon, where I met my husband, Rosar. On our first date, we rode bikes. We biked to the beach, we drank lambanog!” Karen shared. A hopeless romantic at heart, Karen fell in love with her husband of over 25 years during a bike ride, and ended up falling in love with the sport, too. “I got into cycling mainly out of love,” she says. “Rosar was really the one into biking and enjoyed biking anywhere and everywhere. He also was part of an org that was promoting bicycles for clean air.”
Karen, along with Rosar, went on adventures on their bike. In 1987, they found themselves in Morong, Bataan, where they both worked for the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC). Here, Karen thought she would use her degree in European Languages and her knowledge in German and French to communicate with refugees. She instead met refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (which used to be under the French rule). “I thought I’d be able to use French, but I picked up Vietnamese instead! So what happened was – I majored in languages, learned German and French, but spoke in Vietnamese. And the universal language of love. Ang corny!” Karen jokes and laughs.
After a few years, Karen and Rosar made their way back to Manila, where they would establish their respective careers – Rosar taught Theology, while Karen put up a tutorial center and conducted corporate trainings as a human resources practitioner. Biking has become so much a part of Karen’s life with her husband. “We’ve always gone out on our wedding anniversary on our bikes. I would bring my knapsack with candles, food. Then we’d have our own candle-lit picnic! And because we ride our bikes every day, every day tuloy is like going out on a date with him,” Karen shares.
A life of health and happiness
By the year 2000, Karen had more time to ride her bike. “I started joining Rosar on his bike rides in 2000 – when our children were a little older and bigger. My husband would invite me for a bike ride and without asking where and how far we were going, I would find myself biking from QC to Antipolo, QC to Sierra Madre, and so on. Then sometime in 2006, he invited me to bike to Lipa, Batangas. That was when I realized that I was a natural at long-distance cycling.”
Karen also saw biking’s positive effects after her years on the road. “I am now 50 years old. I do not have the aches, pains, and illnesses that many people my age complain about. My heart and my blood circulation are in excellent condition, which means that I do not have to take any sort of medication. Being physically active has helped me maintain my weight, have good balance and posture, and it keeps me energized to continue to keep up with my busy schedule as a wife, mother, grandmother, HR practitioner, and cycling advocate.”
Today, Karen’s chooses to be active because it not just improves her appearance, but her overall well-being. “A healthy lifestyle keeps me happy and fit able to focus and appreciate what is important in my life: God, my family, and the relationships with the different people I encounter daily at work and at play.” As a woman, Karen recognizes how staying active allows her to keep her independence as she gets older. “I am able to carry my weight, lift myself up and stretch with greater flexibility due to constant exercise. Being active allows me to continue to do the things I love and even try out new things,” she shares. Karen is proud to say that she is a ‘proof of concept’ for women – that being active “helps one be healthy, strong, look younger, and be happier. A lot of my lady friends – and even strangers – often ask me how I am able to keep my figure… I tell them simply that I bike. They often respond with: ‘I should start biking too!’”
Photo by Charisma Lico, Edge of Light; Make-up by April Feliciano; Hair by Jannet Saberon. Clothes by Running Skirts and Alii Sport, Shoes by Saucony, and Shoelaces by EZLaces – all from www.atletaako.com.
Biking for a cause
Karen grew accustomed to riding her bike everywhere, and over the years, she became more passionate about the greater impact it has not just on her health, but on her surroundings. She credits her husband, Rosar, for introducing her to biking. “It is fun knowing that our shared passion for cycling has grown into an advocacy that tries to save the environment and work towards legislation that will benefit all cyclists.”
“We don’t want to be part of the problem. We want to be part of the solution,” stresses Karen. “My commitment to biking stems from a desire to address environmental and social concerns. It is a personal decision to do my part to save the environment. Biking does not emit toxic fumes, nor does it add to traffic congestion – two real issues our country is challenged with today. Perhaps my commitment also stems from being concerned about the world my children’s children will live in.”
She has spent years working with various organizations to raise awareness for this cause and gain support from local government units. Karen offers a point for reflection: “I wish more people would get out of their comfort zones. It’s not comfortable anymore to be stuck in traffic. People are stuck in their comfort zone of discomfort. We should do our part for the planet and for the country.”
These days, the emergence of bicycle organizations holding simultaneous group rides and events is a great indicator for the government to provide a safe cycling infrastructure that will encourage more people to start biking. Dreaming of a bicycle-friendly Philippines, Karen continues to push for bike-related ordinances including the declaration of a National Bicycle Day as it will allow more people to experience the fun, healthy, and environmental benefits of biking.
Karen is often asked why she works so hard for this cause: “It’s about being an example. So many people are complaining about air pollution, traffic, and yet they are part of the traffic. So you have to do something instead of complaining. Now’s the time while we can. Because when we’re older, we won’t be able do it anymore. And for as long as I can, I will keep on cycling.”
“I believe that life is short and that where there is love, there is life. So do what you can while you can for the people you love – and you will live an active and meaningful love-filled life with no regrets.”
Photos from Karen Crisostomo