Age 45 was a life-changer for Dana Parra. Newly divorced with two grown children, she had no idea where life was going to take her.
Or that she would get there on a bike.
“I was just recently divorced and I needed something to do,” said Parra, the administrative assistant in the Business Office of the District Attorney’s Office. “I had a friend who had a bike and she asked me to go cycling. She let me ride her bike – and the bug bit me. I went out and bought my first bike.”
Parra started cycling after work and on weekends. She pedaled in good weather and in bad, through city streets and country roads, alone and with friends. Before she knew it, she had pedaled through eight more birthdays and dozens of organized, endurance rides.
Parra, who has worked for Tarrant County for 25 years, is expected to be featured in an upcoming issue of Tarrant County’s Wellness Newsletter. She was asked to write a first-person account for the newsletter about her mid-life adventures – including finishing the Cowtown Marathon in February with a broken foot.
“I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself,” Parra said recently. “Cycling has completely changed my life.”
In 2007, after cycling for about two years, Parra said she decided to participate in her first organized ride – the Austin Charity Ride for the American Diabetes Association. The 65-mile trek, which she cycled with two friends, took eight hours to complete.
“We were the last three in,” Parra said. “It took forever. When I finished, I just started crying like a baby. It felt good to accomplish something like that.”
Over the next few years, Parra participated in a number of local sanctioned events. When she turned 50 in 2011, she stepped up her game, riding in the Katy 100 (100 miles in July) and in the Hotter ‘N Hell (100 miles in August).
Back-to-back endurance rides in the Texas heat was miserable, but the satisfaction she felt afterward was immeasurable.
“There were times when I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it but I kept going and I finished,” she said.
In August 2012, at age 52, Parra began running with her dog, Grace, who seemed to prefer running over walking. Up for a new challenge, Parra decided to sign up to run a 5K in the Cowtown Marathon.
For several months, Parra trained hard. She started going to the free Muscle Pump and Yoga classes that the County offers on her lunch break.
“They really helped a lot,” Parra said. “I was in the best shape I had been in a long time – probably since my 30’s.”
When race day arrived, Parra was excited. She knew the 3-mile run wouldn’t be easy, but she was ready.
The gun went off and she started to run. About a mile into the race, the unexpected happened.
Parra, who was running in the grass to pass people, felt her right ankle turn in and heard her right foot crack. She went down. A runner stopped to pick her up and offered to call someone to get her.
Parra wasn’t ready to quit.
“I said, ‘You know, I’m going to finish this race. I worked too hard to give up,’” she said. “So I kept trotting along.”
At the finish line, Parra spotted her friend, Kay Massengale, who helped her to the nearby infirmary. The doctor there told her she needed to go to the emergency room
Sure enough, Parra had broken her foot.
Earlier this week, Parra turned 53 years old and – yep, you guessed it – she’s ready for a new adventure. In June, she’ll ride in the Oklahoma Freewheel – an 8-day, 500-mile trek that will take her from the Texas-Oklahoma border to Kansas. It will be the biggest ride of her life.
And she doesn’t plan to stop there.
“I’m going to keep going until I can’t go anymore,” she said matter-of-factly. “I figure when I’m 80, I’m still going to be pedaling.”
- Melody McDonald, Public Information Officer