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Team Ride Red to pedal across the country to raise awareness about heart disease

Pam LeBlanc: Fit City

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Team Ride Red (Vicki Ford, left, Carol Pope, Sue Schrader and Susan Farago) encourages women to responsibility for their health.

Welcome to 2011.

Go jump in a pool. Run down a trail. Bike to work. Walk around the block. Paddle a canoe. Stretch.

Do it often. Make it a priority. Make it fun.

Eat more vegetables. Drink less soda. Spurn processed foods.

Stick with it. Celebrate the tiny steps. Don't give up.

It's going to be a great year.

Team Ride Red is staring down an especially daunting fitness goal in 2011.

The four women who make up the Austin-based cycling team are pedaling 3,000 miles from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md., in the Race Across America in June.

They're doing the famously grueling race, chronicled in the documentary "Bicycle Dreams" from director Stephen Auerbach, to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke. They're riding for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign.

They'll bike up mountains, across deserts and through cities. Their quads will burn; their brains will beg them to sleep.

But they are determined.

Endurance events are nothing new to them. All four athletes — Susan Farago, 40; Sue Schrader, 47; Carol Pope, 45; and Vicki Ford, 40 — have completed Iron Man triathlons and other races that would stagger the average person.

Their motivation comes from within.

Farago refuses to let her family history of heart disease dictate her future. "I strive to be living proof that heart disease can be stopped through exercise and diet," she says.

Cardiovascular disease is not just a man's problem. It's the top killer of women in the United States. It kills 430,000 women each year — more than the next five causes of death combined.

Team Ride Red wants to stand as an example of how women can take responsibility for their own health.

"We're all women over 40, we have significant others, and we still make time to be healthy and take care of ourselves," Farago says.

Pope, 45, is the mother of two. "By riding red, I hope to be an example to women everywhere that it is never too late to start an exercise program, and with a little bit of planning, family does not suffer," she says.

The team started planning for the event nearly two years ago. They're now ramping up their already-rigorous training programs, logging hundreds of miles on their bikes each week. They competed in a 12-hour cycling race in November and have a 24-hour race on the books this spring.

As part of the media crew for the 2010 race, Farago saw a rider get hit by a vehicle, saw a support bus flip, and saw someone break their fingers while dealing with equipment — "things that happen when people get tired."

The sleep-deprivation part of the Race Across America is huge. Solo riders have up to 12 days to complete the distance; teams have up to nine days.

Relay riders will be lucky to get six hours of sleep a night. Chances are they'll get half that.

"You never know how you're going to react," Schrader says. "I've been tired at times, but nothing like what this will be."

Things look different in the dark, too. "Being chased by dogs at night is a whole lot scarier than being chased by dogs during the day," Farago says.

The first Friday in February — Feb. 4 this year — is National Wear Red Day. The Go Red For Women Summit is March 11 at the Hilton Austin. For more information about the campaign, go to GoRedForWomen.org.

For more information about Race Across America, which raises more than $2 million for charity annually, visit www.raceacrossamerica.org. To donate to Team Ride Red, go to www.ridered.org.

Need a band of furry apes to motivate you to stay fit?

Check out the Austin Gorilla Run on Jan. 22. Everyone in the race will wear a full, head-to-toe gorilla costume to help raise awareness about the worldwide plight of the mountain gorilla.

Everyone who registers (entry fee is $99.95) for the 5K run gets the gorilla suit for keeps, lunch at Fado Irish Pub and an after party with live music. Proceeds benefit the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, which works in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to train locals in becoming park rangers and veterinarians.

The race starts at 9 a.m. outside Fado Irish Pub, 214 W. Fourth St. For more information, go to austingorillarun.com.