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Female Cyclist of the Day: Katharine Hepburn

July 17, 2011

I shouldn’t be surprised that Katharine Hepburn enjoyed the liberating powers of cycling. After all, she was an accomplished athlete, even showing off some of her skills in the movie, Pat and Mike. (If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a great celebration of women in sports and even features superstar Babe Didrikson Zaharias!) Still, I was very pleased when my mom recently showed me some passages from I Know Where I’m Going: Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler, in which Hepburn recounts her early experiences on a bicycle.

“I saw my parents riding their bicycles, and my brother Tom had his bicycle, too,” she is quoted as saying. “It looked like a lot of fun.” She related how, at age three and a half,  she learned to ride a special children’s bike her dad had made for her. Her first ride took place when he brought her to a hill in a nearby park, placed her on the bike, and gave her a shove. “He had a philosophy, you see,” she recalled. “He believed people will do what they have to do.”

Hepburn survived that ride, though her dad had neglected to explain the use of brakes, so she only stopped when she ran into a man at the bottom of the hill. But that didn’t dampen her enthusiasm. “The bicycle offered a wonderful chance to see the world,” she said. “I rode all over the city on my bicycle. I don’t know how Mother would have felt if she’d known how far I went. A city seen from a bicycle is an entirely different city.”

Those wonderful sentiments earn Hepburn the first posthumous designation for the Wheels of Change Female Cyclist of the Day.

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