Heidi on her first Climate Ride, 2017, San Juan Islands.

Heidi Soliday Benson is a Climate Ride veteran with an entertaining story to tell! From her varied efforts to combat climate change outside of Climate Ride events to her interesting career in sports broadcasting, Heidi is a true go-getter. She will be participating in the 2022 Green Fondo New York this month. We were lucky to have the opportunity to hear her story and share it with you!

Climate Ride (CR): Why are you participating in Climate Ride?

Heidi Benson (HB): It was a no-brainer for me to sign on to do the Green Fondo Western New York Ride after Team Iffy Lube Captain, Tim Frick, alerted me about the ride and joining a team.

Heidi with her husband, Bob, on Climate Ride Glacier NP in 2019. “He’s my biggest supporter!” – Heidi

I met Tim on a Tour da U.P. years before and he introduced me to the Climate Ride organization. Eventually, I would participate in Climate Rides for 4 straight years before 2021, when residual “Rona” concerns put the kibosh on another sign-up that year. Fun Fact: Climate Ride withdrawals prompted a few of my “partners in cycling crime” to gather together in Door County, Wisconsin last October for a 2-day impromptu ride there and on Washington Island.

My first CR event, in 2017 was in the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. My beneficiary then was the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, which is rather like a mini version of Rails to Trails. It really gave me all the good feels to be able to inspire people to donate to the Climate Ride and INHF cause, which includes promoting the care and protection of Iowa’s water and land and the critters which inhabit both. Climate Ride allows those of us who are lucky enough to understand the power of pedaling for enlightenment, education, and environmental change to do just that, along the way, we inspire our donors, ourselves, and others who we encounter as we ride.

CR: You have really gone the extra mile to inspire people and better our planet, literally! It is awesome to hear about the personal challenges that you have set for yourself and completed. What’s motivating you on each Climate Ride?

HB: It is exciting to meet so many folks from around the world, who are like-minded and share a concern for how to protect and preserve our outdoors, water, land and wildlife. And at the same time, we get to see areas we may never have visited before. There is no better way for an up close and personal experience, than on a bike.

I am always stunned by the donors and how they always come through, many of whom are repeat supporters. There is a double incentive for perseverance: I want to ride strong for the donors as well as the causes. What a great feeling to be able to help fund local advocates for safe streets and cycling laws, for local access of land for trail development, which leads to an active lifestyle and pollution reduction, for watchdog support of the Great Lakes, for protection of Glacier National Park, and for the preservation of the Climate Ride organization.

CR: Bringing like-minded people together who want to commit to a common goal and inspire change in others is what it’s all about! Sharing experiences of Climate Change can help motivate others to do the same. Can you tell us a little about how climate change has impacted you and/or the area you live in?

HB: I’m old enough to notice how the weather has changed so dramatically in the Midwest over the past 7 decades. I often listen to Iowa Public Radio and Programs like “Horticulture Friday” while I ride, I hear stories of new, invasive, and destructive plant and insect species due to increasing temperatures. Drought has adversely affected large areas of Iowa and its crops for years. Sudden, massive weather events, which may bring 100-year flooding or never-before-seen intense winds, or golf-ball-sized hail, seem to be the norm. Two years ago, while Climate Riding in August along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan, a derecho, with winds reaching 100 mph,  hammered Iowa for hours, destroying thousands of trees, businesses, crops and homes. Over 10 million acres of Iowa’s corn and soybeans (43%) were damaged or destroyed. That is almost half of a multi-billion dollar industry. Climate change is pointed to as the cause of this crazy, scary, and, seemingly, here-to-stay weather.

CR: It’s a sad but true reality that we are facing. But your efforts are helping to change that! Which beneficiaries are you supporting, and why?

HB: I have joined Team Iffy Lube to raise money for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. This is the second time I have been

Heidi in the Upper Peninsula with Climate Ride in 2020, wearing her Alliance dor the Great Lakes jersey.

pleased to join this cause. I consider the Great Lakes as the freshwater oceans of the Midwest. They are the largest surface freshwater source in the world. The Alliance’s roots began in the Lake Michigan Federation in the ’70s. It became the #A4GL in 2005, with a mission “to conserve and restore the world’s largest freshwater resources using policy, education and local efforts, to ensure the health of Great Lakes and clean water for future generations of people and wildlife.”

CR: Amazing! That’s a great choice to support. When you’re not kicking climate change butt, what do you do for your profession?

HB: My profession was broadcasting, specifically in sports. I served as Sports Director for KCCI, the CBS television affiliate in Des Moines, for about two decades, during a 31-year career. I was the first female local TV Sports Director in the country. I covered all types of sports and was lucky enough to see some world-renowned sporting events such as Bruce Jenner winning the 1976 Olympic Decathlon, Larry Mize winning a playoff in the 1987 Masters, Kurt Warner leading the Rams to the 2000 Super Bowl title, Lance Armstrong riding RAGBRAI, etc., etc. Post-TV, while working as a USA Swim Official, I had the honor of calling races at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Des Moines, including a victory by Katie Ledecky as she began yet another spectacular drive toward Olympic glory.

CR: What an incredible life experience! When it comes to your own riding goals, are there any personal challenges you’ve confronted or foresee in preparing for the ride? How did/will you overcome them?

Heidi with a few of the Dream Team in July in Lansing, Iowa right after finishing RAGBRAI.

HB: The only personal challenges I’ve had are staying motivated to keep riding with consistent attention to staying healthy. Growing old ain’t for sissies, as the saying goes. Last year, with no Climate Ride, I had a goal to ride 5,000 miles. That discipline for pursuit became a chore at times. This year I decided to ride for something/somebody else. I became a mentor for Dream Team Des Moines and helped train 30 teens from February to July for the world’s oldest, longest, largest, and continuous multi-day bike ride: RAGBRAI. Some of these youth have never learned to ride a bike! This was wonderful motivation and an ongoing reminder to educate and promote active lifestyles and engage in discussions on how to help conserve and protect the areas where we live in order to continue those lifestyles. Knowledge is power.

CR: You really do an incredible job of combining things that you love to do with doing good for others and the earth! It’s really inspiring. Has preparing for the upcoming Green Fondo New York spurred you to take any action on climate (personally, locally or nationally)?

HB: There are many little things I try to do to feel like I am not just going through the motions. From personal donations to attending gatherings that promote active lifestyles, safe streets, cycling education, political events…I just believe doing something, even if it seems small, is important. As John Wooden said, “It’s the little things that are vital. Little things make big things happen.

CR: Little actions every day can make a big difference in the long run! Do you have a fun fact that you would like to share?

HB: I was named to the 1970 U.S Olympic Luge Team as a teenager! There’s more to the story, but that’s for another time.

CR: That’s so cool! Thank you for taking the time to share a bit about your incredible life with us and the readers! If you’d like to support Heidi in her fundraising for Green Fondo New York, you can do so here. Any donation you make will be doubled thanks to the Algorand Foundation!

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