By Karen Tetor
Laura Van Gilder
A Change of Course
When the winningest North American female road cyclist of all time – with more than 300 career wins and countless podium placings – decides to reinvent herself, she changes the game. Six years ago, Laura Van Gilder parked her road bike and entered her first Cyclocross competition. “I no longer wanted to focus on the finish,” she says. Cyclocross involves many laps of varied conditions, including grass, pavement, rock, mud or snow. The timed event also requires competitors to dismount in order to navigate obstacles.
Now representing Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, an Atlanta-based business with over 150 franchises nationwide, Laura marvels that she didn’t start to compete until she was 26 years old. “That’s later in life for such a high-level sport,” she says. Laura now averages about 60 races a year; this past year she competed in 74. “With my travel days, I am typically away from home 200 days a year,” she explains. “While most of the races are on US turf, Laura has also competed in Australia and New Zealand.
Loved Ones Off the Trail
Laura’s first event was a benefit for Multiple Sclerosis. In that event, she raised $1,500. Laura’s mother had been diagnosed with MS. Laura then started MTB and met a road-racing enthusiast who would become her coach and her partner. “My boyfriend nurtures the strategy. His coaching took me to a new level,” she says. “For over 20 years, he has supported me.” The couple enjoys nurturing their beloved dogs. Laura is an active advocate for homeless animals. “Adopt; don’t shop,” she professes.
Brynn Benson tucks her pigtails into her pink helmet, flashes her Cover-Girl smile, and slips her baby-blue kayak into turbulent rapids of the Youghiogheny, the Lower Gauley, or her home river—the Lehigh. Two years ago, at only 16 years old, Brynn placed sixth in the US women’s kayaking Olympic trials. Brynn says that training at the Lake Placid Olympic facility prepared her for the competition: “I trained with the same women I competed with,” says Brynn. “Then, at the Charlotte, North Carolina Olympic trials, I was pitted against the best of the best.”
Now in her senior year at North Pocono High School, Brynn is enjoying her decision to “step away from racing to be a regular high school student for a while.” For years, she focused upon competition. “It was about getting in the water in one spot and practicing maneuvers,” she says. “Now, I get on the river and paddle.” As a ski instructor at Skytop, she enjoys earning money while waiting for the spring rapids. In the summer, she works as a camp counselor at River Sports School of Paddling on the Youghiogheny River.
Soon after Brynn entered elementary school, Brynn’s parents, Gretchin and Stewart, became river guides for Whitewater Challengers. Their young daughter soon took to the water; by the time Brynn was nine, she was carting her own boat and gear. Next year, Brynn will leave the family nest to attend a college “that is hopefully near whitewater.”
A Pilgrim Ascending
When she was in her 20s, Cathy Laughna’s youthful embrace of technical climbing and hiking took hold in the Tetons, as a perk for her summer job in Yellowstone. For almost four decades, her hiking boots trekked summits that included Grand Teton in Wyoming, Katahdin in Maine, Mt. Rainier in Washington, Cerro Chirripó in Costa Rica, Machu Picchu, Kilimanjaro, and 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. In the summer of 2012, Cathy’s global pinnacle seeking came to a tragic standstill. Her beloved husband and hiking companion, Michael, died of a heart attack. “The last year and a half has been filled with challenges that have tested me to my core,” says Cathy. “I have felt like Job, torn by trials, and have become a searcher for answers.”
Carrying her heavy heart, Cathy is once again packing her backpack to hike the Amalfi Coast in Italy this spring. This summer, she will hike the 212 mile John Muir Trail and summit Mt. Whitney; next summer, she will take on the Camino del Norte, along the coastline from France to Spain. “My doctor encourages these pilgrimages; she knows that they help to heal my battered spirit and body,” says Cathy.
When Cathy’s sons, Ryan and Brendan, were only five and seven years old, she hitched their gear to a mule and hiked 200 miles from Tahoe to Yosemite, with her 70-year-old father along side. As adults, the boys have accompanied her on some of her journeys. Her husband Michael, however, was her trail mate and soul mate. “I am doing what Michael would want me to do – ‘Carry On’,” she says.
Jocelyn “J-Rok” Shilling
World Class Duathlete/Triathlete
Jocelyn “J-Rok” Shilling, a multisport athlete, Personal Trainer, and Substitute Teacher, says her first priority is her husband Mark and two sons, Alec and Kelly. Her healthy and active lifestyle involves eating healthy organic foods, keeping physically and mentally fit, and competing at the local level as well as the national and international levels. As a member of Team USA since 2010, she has competed at Duathlon World Championships, travelling from her Saylorsburg home to international destinations in Scotland, Spain, France, and Canada.
Jocelyn trains for duathlons (run/bike/run) and triathlons (swim/bike/run) at home and at Unlimited Personal Training. She says her former coach, Don Messing, “prepared me for my first Duathlon Nationals in Virginia. He recognized my potential and took me under his wing.” Since Don’s passing in 2012, she has been coached by Adam Coffman. “Don and Adam were both pivotal in my success as a world class athlete, and Adam continues to be a huge part of my success,” she explains. Along with hard work and dedication, she attributes her success to her “coach, family, and friends who provide patience, support, and encouragement.”
J-Rok says, “I do what I enjoy and enjoy doing it. I want to inspire and motivate people to find their passion and enjoy the journey.” She suggests that others set short and long term goals and strive to do their best to accomplish them. “I am adamant about promoting a healthy lifestyle. Life is amazing, and I love to live it to the fullest. Stay focused and dedicated and watch your dreams come true.”
For nine years, Chris Loebsack kept busy as an independent yoga instructor conducting weekly classes in NYC, NJ, and PA. In 2012 this “Goddess of Strength and Wisdom,” (as one student hailed her), grounded her feet and purchased the former Sundari studio in Stroudsburg. Rebranded as Boundless Yoga, the studio offers a plethora of choices, such as pranayama, chanting, outdoor yoga retreats, and Hatha yoga, Chris keeps a focus on “anatomy and safety.” And in such specialty classes as AcroYoga®, she teaches students “to step back and really play.”
Chris’s RTY 500 hour certification and an additional 3,000 hours of yoga specialty instruction enables Chris to conduct teacher-training throughout the globe. As one of the only five mentor teachers in the world certified to teach AcroYoga®, she led classes in Australia and New Zealand this past February. In April she will be teaching at the Yoga Journal Conference in NYC. “As a beginning student at the conference, I remember being amazed at the master teachers and their platter of knowledge,” she says. “It is now an honor to be counted among their ranks.”
“Our physical bodies are linked to our emotions and our thoughts,” says Chris. Her mantra of Clarity, Integrity and Love infuses students with “trust, playfulness, and Divine connection with themselves and the community.” Chris’s mother introduced her to yoga, and Chris credits her philosophy to Mom, who “has an internal strength like no one else. Her heart has enabled me to see the best in all things.”