BATH, Maine — Derek Morin remembers a day when he was heavier, going into a bicycle shop to find a ride to help him live a healthier life.
“The place was filled with all these really tiny people who were really fit and dressed all in spandex,” Morin recalled. “It took a lot to get attention there. It was pretty intimidating, and if I wasn’t bound and determined to walk out of there with a bike, I would have just left embarrassed.”
One might never know by seeing Morin — a tall, slender athlete — today, but the Bath man once weighed more than 400 pounds. With his wife, Alison, and close friend Tim Bryce, Morin last year helped launch Team Velo Grande, a bicycling group geared to be friendly and accepting to people of all skill levels and sizes.
“Weight issues: Most people in life have them at one time or another, and they’re very personal,” Morin said. “In competitive cycling, if you’re 200 pounds, you’re competing in what’s called the ‘Clydesdale’ class. You compete as a ‘Clydesdale.’ I’ve been called a lot of things, and I didn’t think that was flattering.”
Morin, who works at Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta with Bryce, lost 200 pounds since having gastric bypass surgery in the spring of 2007. He said there’s a stigma associated with the procedure, in which the stomach is banded to leave less room for food, causing subjects to feel full quicker and eat less.
“People kind of look at it as cheating,” Morin said. “People say, ‘I lost the weight, why can’t you?’ But [the surgery] is a tool, it’s not a cure.”
Morin said people who have the surgery must undergo extreme lifestyle changes as well, changing diet and activity levels to dovetail with their altered digestive track. For him, bicycling is an integral part of his new life, and he wants to support others who take on the sport to help lose weight — with or without surgery.
But Team Velo Grande, whose name translates to “Team Biking Big,” also sells itself as a group for those who simply want a “safe, non-intimidating” atmosphere for cycling. Both Bryce and Alison Morin found the activity to be an athletic salvation after they suffered serious leg injuries.
Bryce said he ruined his knees in football nearly two decades ago, when he practiced with the New England Patriots. Morin tore ligaments in a skiing accident more recently.
“Cycling is one of the least impactful activities you can do,” Derek Morin said. “You burn calories like mad, but there’s virtually no impact to your joints or lower body.”
More important, when riding with Team Velo Grande, the group’s founders say the activity should have virtually no impact on your self esteem.
“When we go on a ride, everybody is meant to finish together,” Morin said. “Even if Tim or Alison or I have to get off our bikes and walk alongside somebody because they can’t ride any more. It means that much to us. We’ve all been there. We’ve been embarrassed and left to go it alone, and we don’t want people to feel that way.”
To learn more about Team Velo Grande, join, take part in the team’s regular rides or see a list of upcoming events, visit www.teamvelogrande.com.