Margaret Struder has dreamed of riding her bike across the United States for the past 30 years, but time and circumstance always got in the way. When she became a full-time grandmother of four, her goal was permanently put on the back burner.
Now, Struder is revisiting her dream, and on a much bigger scale. Not only will she complete the long bike ride, she is using it as an opportunity for another dream — funding an arts and fitness camp for kids.
Despite having been an avid cyclist and former P.E. teacher, Struder let her health and appearance go in order to take care of her grandkids. "I used to be very health-conscious," she says. "I barely used my car, and I wouldn't even eat preservatives. But now the bottom line is, I'm a fat granny."
When enough became enough, and Struder was sick of the excuses (and her growing behind), she decided to take up cycling again — but this time with the entire family involved.
"For the first time ever, our children are not expected to live longer than we do because of obesity issues," she says. "I'm a horrible role model for my grandchildren right now."
Dubbing herself the "Fat Granny on a Purple Schwinn," she began researching routes and equipment, and continued her daily rides with her family. While visiting a local bike shop to inquire about gear, Struder was told she wouldn't "make it out of Summerville on a bike."
But as her health improved, so did her confidence. "I got really excited about it," says Struder. "I realized it was time to live this dream."
Then the sponsors came.
Inspired by her story, the state's First Lady, Jenny Sanford, got behind Struder's efforts with the Healthy S.C. Challenge, a statewide fitness initiative, and will now participate in the first stage of her trip in May.
"Margaret Struder's endeavor reflects the spirit of the Healthy S.C. Challenge — real, outcome-based lifestyle changes infused with fun that I think will really motivate others," says Mrs. Sanford. Cycling seems to run in the Sanford family, as her husband, Gov. Mark Sanford, is an avid roadie who gets out on his Trek when he can.
The West Ashley Earth Fare is also helping out, organizing a practice ride set for Saturday, Feb. 18. "We're supportive of Fat Granny's healthy new lifestyle and how she's empowering her grandkids," says Earth Fare community coordinator Margaret Grant. "This is a perfect fit." The store is encouraging locals to come out and bike for fun and fitness. "We could use some company," says Struder.
Struder's friends at the Healthy S.C. Challenge introduced her to Dr. Ann Kulze, a nationally-recognized nutrition expert and Charleston native. Struder used Kulze's book, Dr. Ann's 10 Step Plan to lose weight and get healthy. So far, she's managed to lose 21 pounds — only 99 away from her goal weight.
"Dr. Ann really turned the lights on for me," says Struder. "She showed me good carbs and fats. This is a life plan, not a diet."
When Struder first moved to Charleston, she joined Coastal Cyclists, a local biking group. There, she met Charles Fox, a man who shared her dream of starting a camp for children that focused on creativity and health. Now, the two are carrying out their plan, using Struder's bike ride as a fundraiser.
Dubbed Blue Frog Purple Dog Arts and Fitness Camp, the program will focus on self-expression and fitness. But parents shouldn't expect to just drop their kids off and leave. "This is not a latchkey program," says Fox. "It will involve parents and coaches who could come in and help with mental, physical, and spiritual activities."
Struder hopes the camp will help working-class families who can't afford extracurricular activities for their kids. "Kids who can afford to pay, should," says Struder. "But we'll also have a strong scholarship program."
Both Fox and Struder believe the camp will teach families communication skills and conflict resolution through daily activities and outings in the summer. "The arts and music will give kids and families an avenue for expressing themselves," says Struder.
"A common goal for our camp is to develop a family relationship that centers around wholesome and creative activities that teach caring, compassion, and compromise," says Fox. "We want to get kids away from TV, video, and internet."
Fox estimates that Blue Frog Purple Dog will need $2.5 million to get up and running. He and Struder are looking at property in Goose Creek, but don't plan on getting in over their heads. "I don't believe in going into debt," says Struder. "If God's called you to do something, he'll provide what you need."
The camp's start-up costs are daunting, but Fat Granny's trek should reduce some of her financial strain. In turn, Struder wants to help the towns she visits on the trip, using either her background in graphic design or just her bare hands.
"We're going to help using the skills we have," she says.
Kingsland, Ga. will be rolling out the red carpet for the Fat Granny crew, complete with police escorts and a welcome ceremony. In return, Struder will design the city's logo. While biking through the Gulf Coast, the team will also try to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Struder expects the trip will last all summer and is excited that her grandchildren will be able to join her. "Some people think I'm crazy to take the kids on a cross-country bike trip," she says. "But everyone who knows me knows that my grandkids are the most important thing to me. I intend to keep them safe."
Fat Granny's cause has gained support, but the team is still lacking financially. "We still don't have any financial sponsors," she says. "But that's not going to stop us."
Before her departure on May 27, Fat Granny will invite the public to join her on five to seven longer practice rides, including a spring break ride to Myrtle Beach.
Struder hopes her endeavor to get healthy will inspire others. "I've definitely been inspired by what I've seen her do so far," says state First Lady Jenny Sanford.
"After all, if the Fat Granny can bike around the country, anyone can make little changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator."