Given her history, which includes a 2002 USPRO Cycling Tour championship as well as a reputation for rescuing abandoned kittens on pre-race ride-throughs, Laura Van Gilder may want to look into the aerodynamics of adding a comfort basket to her handlebars.
The story goes like this: before the 2002 National Road Race in Nashville, on a pre-ride with her Saturn Cycling teammates through the “country” portion of the course, Van Gilder spotted something out of the corner of her eye. “I thought it was a squirrel,” recounts Van Gilder. “It kept heading my way and I swerved to avoid it, then I realized it was a kitten.”
Worried that another cyclist might not be so lucky to miss it, she quickly picked up the wayward kitten and held it in her jersey while looking for a safe drop-off spot. Van Gilder continues, “a bit further up the road, my teammate and I found another kitten. Then another.” Further along, they found the remains of the kittens’ mother. So, with orphaned kittens stuffed in their biking jerseys, Van Gilder and her teammate made some decisions. “Since we weren’t from the area, I had no idea how to get to a shelter,” she says. Luckily, they rode past a retirement home, and found a cat-loving employee who agreed to harbor the kittens. The next day Van Gilder raced, keeping her eye out for any other possible members of the litter. “No one mentioned seeing any kittens on [race] day, so hopefully we found them all and got them to a safe place.”
So it goes, another day in the life of Laura Van Gilder, champion of cycling and equal champion of needy animals. Her history of impressive pro wins (she ended the 2002 season atop the National Racing Calendar rankings) is rivaled only by her capacity to help animals in need. One day, she’s winning the Denville Cycling Classic, a race made up entirely of male racers. Another, she’s filling vacancies in her Paradise, Pennsylvania home with one of the four dogs she has rescued from shelters (Duke, an Australian Shepherd; Meg, a Border Collie Mix; Punkin, a Lab Mix; and Fred, an American Eskimo). As for any other additions to the home: “I have an open home and heart for any animal in need, but I realize that my home is only so big, and I would get too attached to more animals.” Instead, she spreads the word (“I try to educate and influence friends to open their homes to animals and not to purchase them”), and encourages people to follow behind her lead, a position she has grown professionally and personally accustomed to.
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