LUMBERTON — Maria Parker has been riding her recumbent bicycle since 6 a.m. today — and she plans to be pedaling steadily until about an hour before Sunday’s sun peeks over the horizon.
The 49-year-old is attempting to make a 24-hour ride on rural Robeson County roads, and hoping to shatter a world record.
“This is the last record that I think I can do, that I haven’t done yet,” she said. “So this is the last one on the list.”
She will be tying to surpass the 442.46 miles that Sandy Earl, 48 years old at the time, rolled up on a recumbent bike in August 2011. To break the record, she will need to average covering about 18.5 miles an hour.
Parker, who lives in Lumberton, holds records in the 100- and 200-mile road categories, which she set traveling at an average of 21 mph; and on Oct. 8, 2011, Parker set a record by traveling a little more than 250 miles in 12 hours, according to UltraMarathon Cycling Association, an organization that certifies cycling records. Still, the mother of four says her success is all in her head.
“I’m not a great athlete,” she said, “but what I have is the ability to keep going and not give up.”
Parker is traveling a 32.3-mile triangle-shaped loop that includes portions of U.S. 74, N.C. 710 and U.S. 301 in Lumberton, Rowland and Pembroke. She said she would continue to travel the loop until the 24 hours run out.
“I’m excited to be out there,” she said. “I like these long events. They’re about keeping your mind focused. It’s not so much about physical ability, it’s just the ability to keep going.”
While part of Parker’s motivation has been making her mark on the record books, she said she has plans to take part in future cycling events to raise money for brain cancer in honor of her sister, Jenny Mulligan, a wife and mother of five who was diagnosed with an incurable form last week — an event that Parker says “breathed new life” into her cycling.
“A lot of what I’m thinking about now, every time I ride, is her,” she said. “You can’t do anything about the diagnosis, but being able to move and able to move my legs, it feels really good … I guess I’m just grinding up the cancer in my head.”
Parker and her husband Jim, a radiologist, own “CRUZBIKE,” an online business that sells recumbent bicycles. It was when the two first opened the business six years ago that she got involved in competitive riding.
“We were a brand-new company and I was one of the better riders, so I started riding long distances and started competing, and ended up setting a bunch of records,” she said.
Parker said although a recumbent bicycle looks a “little weird,” it provides comfort as the rider is in a prone position.
“There’s this sort of culture of pain in regular cycling because there’s so much discomfort,” she said. “It’s a masochistic sport.”
A recumbent bike features a regular seat instead of a saddle, and the pedals are in front of, rather than beneath, the seat.
“These bikes are fast because they’re aerodynamic,” she said. “On a regular bike, because wind resistance is such a huge issue, you crouch over and try to get really small in the wind. In our bike, because your legs are leaned back, you don’t have to crouch and you’re always aerodynamic. We have the advantage that we just slice through the wind.”
Parker begins a ride before sunrise on Tuesday and Thursday mornings on Robeson County roads, where she said she sees “all kinds of wildlife” and gets chased by more dogs than in any other part of the country.
“One of the things I just love about Robeson County is I can leave my house and in two minutes be on a beautiful, smooth, quiet road,” she said. “I often get to see the sunrise over the fields in Robeson County … I always feel privileged.
“It’s like riding a magic carpet,” she said. “You’re leaned back and you can see everything. It’s a lot of fun.”
Parker said she has also met people along the way, some of whom are strangers who love to yell, “hey, cool bike,” as she rides by. She said that she hopes when people see her, they take note of more than just the bicycle’s unusual design.
“I hope that doing something like this inspires people,” she said. “… I hope they think wow, that’s neat, I wonder if I could do that.”