By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough – As a child growing up in Southeast Asia (her father worked for the CIA/foreign service), where roads were often void of traffic and open space offered almost limitless play, Millie Milton was in her element. While other children ran and played, Milton found freedom on her bicycle.
“It all started with a beautiful, shiny green tricycle – a harmless little birthday present for?a 6-year-old,” Milton recalled. “I could conquer the “neighborhood” with that machine and was a menace to any living thing – plant or animal. I rode that first bike right through the rusty gates of bicycle heaven.”
A “super spiffy” two-wheeled Spyder bike with gold flowing tassels dangling from the handlebars and a sparkly banana seat followed the tricycle. Milton was in her element, darting along the dirt roads and through town, embracing the freedom that the bike allowed. In the years that followed, Milton's bike was replaced with a moped.
In 1976, when Milton was 16, her father retired from the CIA and moved his family back to the United States. For her high school graduation three years later, her parents bought her a top-of-the-line, all-steel, 10-speed Motobecane Super Mirage bike. It was “midnight black and fierce.”
“It was a men's bike, a bit unwieldy and something of a reach, but it was a thing of beauty,” Milton said. “She took me all through college, all over campus, and got me into and out of a number of situations that I care not to ever be in again.?I still have her – she hangs proudly on my garage wall, and we ride once or twice a year, just for old times.”
Milton took a 10-year reprieve from cycling from 1987 to 1997 to pursue a degree in nursing, get married and have children. It was during this time that she settled in Northborough. As the black 10-speed Motobecane collected dust in the garage, Milton's desire to get back on and ride grew.
“It wasn's long before that Motobecane was dusted off and the wheels were rolling again,” Milton said. “This is where it all really begin to take off.?While I had been away, a new type of biking began – mountain biking – biking on dirt roads, on paths, over, under and around things. This kind of riding was just like the old days growing up.”
A bright orange, hard tail, specialized Stumpjumper replaced the now outdated Motobecane.
“It would seem that my old friend, faithful as she was, was not going to be able to keep up with some of these younger, lighter, sleeker, technologically advanced designs. It took me three years to let go. Regretfully, the tried and trusted bike that had so dutifully ferried me all through college and beyond was no longer consistent with my cycling goals.”
The new “roadie,” affectionately named Bling, was a super-spiffy pink number with black flames. She?rode and handled like a dream and shifted like butter, Milton said. She even looked fast.
Milton began riding with regularity.
While riding in Westborough in 2001, Milton met Larry Felton, an avid cyclist and level 2 cycling coach. Felton introduced Milton to cyclocross, a cross between road and mountain bike racing and began coaching her. From what Milton could tell, it seemed to be?possibly the most “frighteningly crazy?fun” to have on a bike.
In 2006, Milton found herself in her first competition. It was a mountain bike race in which she came in dead last. Regardless, she was hooked.
“The race was an absolute blast. In most races, there were very few other women racing so, by the end of the season [January], Larry and I decided that it would be fun to put together?a team of young women riders?and hopefully increase interest and?participation in the sport.”
In 2008, LadiesFirst, a collection of enthusiastic, dedicated and supportive young women from the New England region, was created.?The team started?with all riders competing in the beginner/intermediate races,?and within two years, several women placed in the top of the elite field – the highest level of racing.
“I’ve raced for the past six years – not well, I may point out, but I mange to have a blast every?single time. I?realized that I had just as much fun thinking I was coming in last as I would if I was in first place. It really didn’t make a difference to me at all. It's all about the ride!”
This year, Milton teamed with Westborough cyclist Todd Savage to form a team for young girls ages 10 to 14 years old at the junior level under the umbrella of LadiesFirst. The younger?girls team will be racing under the name GirlsFirst.
“The?idea is to give young girls a positive, supportive experience while gaining knowledge, skills and expertise in the racing environment,” Milton said. “We also want to help parents to familiarize themselves with the process of bike racing, equipment and the general cycling scene.”
“Ultimately,” Milton added, “the main goal is to get younger women and girls interested and involved in a sport that is fun, healthy and promotes a positive team spirit. And,?as I can attest, lasts a lifetime.”
For anyone interested in learning about bike racing, Milton suggested contacting New England Bike?Racing Association (NEBRA), New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA)?or Lance Armstrong junior race series (LAJRS). In addition, USA CYCLING?has a great deal of information on races and events?nationwide.
To learn more about LadiesFirst Racing, visit http://ladiesfirstracing.com/blog/cx-faqs/
Contact NEBRA at http://www.nebra.us/, NEMBA athttp://www.nemba.org/ and LAJRS at http://www.usacycling.org/lajrs/