Monica Holmes didn’t know how much longer she could keep riding.
First there was the pain in her right leg, where she had lost a third of a quadriceps muscle in an accident. In 2013, she was hit by a car while watching a motorsports race with her husband and two of their sons. The race car came off the track in a curve and struck her.
Then there was the fear. After two surgeries, it took three months before she could start riding easy again. Even though she wasn’t on her bike at the time, the crash still haunted her when she got back on the Texas roads.
“I’d go out riding, and every time a car would pass, my heart would just stop,” says Holmes.
A friend invited her to try Zwift in late 2015, so she could ride indoors without being alone.
“When I started Zwift, I instantly fell in love,” she says. “It is just life-changing.”
Holmes fell hardest for the community and the friends she met. Over the next four years and counting, she would regularly lead many group rides and become an encouraging community presence. She just had to keep going when she felt like giving up.
From Straggler To Leader
Holmes’ first group ride was a struggle. She had a much harder time keeping up than she expected.
“I came off that ride and said, ‘I am never riding a group ride again,’” she says. “I never realized it’s just like any other game. Even though it’s easy once you get the hang of it, it’s not so easy the first time.”
She decided to try again when she saw that the ZZRC (Zwift Zlow Riders Club) group rode at a slightly slower pace. This time, it was a little easier. As she kept trying and others encouraged her, she realized she was having a lot of fun!
Holmes became a regular participant in ZZRC rides and even volunteered to lead occasionally. When a sub-group called ZSUN broke off to take over their Sunday Social Rides, she volunteered to be a regular leader.
Other riders still were having difficulty on their group rides, like Holmes did when she first started. To help them get their bearings at an easy pace, she began leading a “Back to Basics” ride (now held on Tuesdays).
In early 2017, Zwift asked Holmes--by now an experienced ride leader--to head up a series of official rides affiliated with the Amgen Tour of California. Many of the events featured celebrity guests and professional riders. The big names drew the crowds, but Holmes was their steady and uplifting guide around Watopia. She loved it.
“It was just the most incredible experience of my life. I was honored to even be asked to do it,” Holmes says. “That was when leading really became part of what I wanted to do for Zwift.”
“The best thing about social rides is getting to meet people from across the world, getting to see life through their eyes,” Holmes says.
She marvels at how she can ride on the London course with someone who’s from London, talking about what it’s really like and explaining all the landmarks.
Regular riders get to know each other and talk about not just bikes, but other aspects of their lives. When people share their experiences, Holmes says, it can let others know that they’re not alone in their struggles.
“I truly do think of them as friends. I care about them and their lives,” she says.
Holmes’ advice to other Zwift group riders?
Don’t give up.
“A lot of people who join these group rides think you just get in and hold the advertised pace, but it’s not like that at all,” Holmes explains. “You have to stay focused. You have to pay attention. You can find yourself off the back pretty quickly, even if it’s a slower-paced ride. Don’t expect it to be super easy the first few times.”
She says she thinks of it like learning how to play any other video game. It seems hard at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can become second nature.
Or, if you don’t play games, it’s a little like learning how to ride a bike!
“It’s about learning the draft, learning when to push and when to back off,” Holmes says. “I think that’s another thing that makes it so much fun. The fact that you don’t just get on and pedal endlessly. You have to pay attention and know when to shift gears.”
Battling With A Smile
Eventually, Holmes returned to the ride that once gave her so much difficulty--the TGIF Beer Ride--and had a much better time.
She’s applied the same perseverance to other struggles, too.
Holmes had wanted to try racing since she first started cycling. When she was injured, she decided she shouldn’t put it off any longer.
“As soon as I was able to ride, I started training, and I did a time trial,” Holmes says. “I was horrible!”
She knew she had a lot of work to do to get faster, and she says Zwift helped “immensely” with her training. Later, in June 2016, her local cycling club was entering the Texas State Championship Team Time Trials and asked if Holmes wanted to be part of it.
She agreed, and the team took second place.
“It meant a lot that I was able to do it for them,” says Holmes, “but it was extremely hard. I cried for hours afterward, I was in so much pain, but it was so worth it.”
Holmes still experiences pain from her injury, due to some nerve damage in her leg. Cycling helps her manage it, but sometimes riding can hurt--badly. It’s easy for her to overexert herself and tear a muscle without realizing it, so she decided to give racing a rest for a while.
Zwift helps her schedule her rides around both her pain flares and her family life.
Holmes has four sons, three of whom are adults, and she recently welcomed a baby granddaughter to the family. Helping to take care of her granddaughter during the day means she doesn’t get to ride as much as she used to. She often has to wait until the evening when she tends to be hurting more.
Still, she says she’s determined to keep getting on the bike as much as possible, both indoors and outdoors. In 2017, she underwent a third surgery to remove some debris that doctors found in her leg. That kept her off the bike for a month, but she used Zwift to get active again as soon as she could.
“It’s an ongoing battle, but I’m grateful to be here and still have my leg,” Holmes says. “I don’t take anything for granted anymore.”