Community Champions- Blake Strasser

For the past twenty years, Blake Strasser has focused her efforts on one main goal- relentless advocacy for ending the transmission of HIV/AIDS. As a tri-athlete, ride coach, and event producer, she fights for social justice awareness with a quick tongue & strong will; never taking "no" as an answer. 

LifeCycle Biking had an opportunity to connect with Blake and learn more about her biking lifecycle. 

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Blake! Let's get right to it- What brought you to the sport of cycling?

I learned how to ride a bike as a child but only did it casually. I moved from San Francisco to NYC in the late 80’s after losing a lot of friends to the {HIV/AIDS} epidemic. I was very scared and angry and felt really helpless.  I was on a really bad date and excused myself from the table and back by the restrooms I saw a postcard for the original Boston to New York AIDS Ride. I called and signed up to ride right then. That was twenty years ago. What started as a physical challenge turned into so much more than I ever expected.  It was how I grieved my friends, made a difference in the fight against AIDS and became an athlete and eventually a coach. Now producing charitable sporting events (including BRAKING AIDS® Ride) is my full time job.

Your dedication to the cause is so inspiring and admirable. In your current life cycle, what’s been your best moment on the bike so far?

There are too many to count! I am a firm believer that there are only good and great days on the bike. One day that stands out though was on day three of the SF to LA AIDS ride. There is a hill they call QuadBuster. It’s really not that bad – about a mile long, steep, but doable. They make such a huge deal out of it though that people get all nervous before hand. I was getting close to the hill and I could feel someone behind me. There was a guy on my wheel looking super nervous. I asked if it was his first year and he said “yes”. I asked if he was freaking out about the hill and he said “yes”. I asked him if he had a good song in his head and he got even more nervous and said “no”. I told him to get some angry Whitney Houston in his head and he’d be fine. We climbed the hill together singing “It’s not right, but it’s ok.” At the top of the climb he thanked me, we stopped and hugged and didn’t see each other again. A couple years later I was approaching the hill and called out to pass a couple riders and as I did I heard this man saying “Get some angry Whitney Houston in your head” and it was him helping another new rider! We all climbed it together with even more hugs at the top.

It seems like you were made to be a ride coach! You're also a triathlete; how did you get into the field? Are there any tips you can give to anyone interested in exploring the tri-arena?

Do it! Work your weakness, and unless you are coming from a serious swimming background get some swim coaching. I’m not a fast swimmer, but I am confident and efficient which saves my energy for the bike and run. Also, unless you have money to burn, don’t buy into they hype. I’ve done Ironman three times on my road bike, have had the same $100 wetsuit for 10 years and a basic $25 bike computer. Upgrade yourself through training and experience, not your equipment.

We could not agree more. Not only are training and experience important, so is nutrition. Any tips on wellness while cycling?

EAT!!! Seriously – you have to feed your body. If you are going out for more than an hour eat before you ride, while you ride and after you ride. Trial and error will lead you to what works for you but you need food to get going, keep going and to recover.  And eat food (actual food – not processed junk) – just like with equipment you can blow a lot of money on bars, gels, etc. I use gels when I’m racing and electrolyte replacement on long rides/runs, but otherwise just food will do everything you need.

What cycling accomplishment are you most proud of?

This is my 20th year riding to fight AIDS and I am committed to raising $20,000 for Housing Works! When I hit that it will be my biggest accomplishment! HELP

That's awesome! Tell us about your team No Fucking Filter. Where did the inspiration for the team come from?

Heeheehee- it is an unofficial team. I was riding in CA and out of nowhere there were 45 mile an hour headwinds. Seriously up on the pedals, cranking to go 6mph. I dropped my chain and when I was fixing it the constricted nerve in my neck started spasming. After a few miles of tears, snot and screaming non-stop profanities the wind died down enough that I could relax my grip and stretch my neck. It was only then that I remembered that I had been taped into my red dress, (red dress day is an old AIDS ride tradition) so I somehow managed to calmly pull over and lay my bike down but then I ripped my dress off Incredible Hulk style. It was just then that my buddy Ramon came around the corner and called out “Are you ok? What’s going on?” I replied “I’m starting Team Mother Fucking Tourette’s!” and that was that. When it came time to make the jerseys (ask me! They are awesome looking and funds raised are going to Housing Works!) I started looking into Tourette’s and realized it is a lot more common and serious than it is portrayed to be, so I switched it to Team No Fucking Filter. Anyone who cycles, particularly in NYC, has had that day.  I am a strong advocate of cursing. It lowers your blood pressure ;-)

Fuck yea! How do you think you influence your immediate circle of cyclists and the cycling community?

I always try to get people to do more. Ride more, raise more, and get more friends involved. I’m sure I drive people crazy, but we actually have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic, we just need the funding and political will.

Is there anything you would change in the landscape of today’s cycling scene?

I love the way the sport is growing, but I fear our respect of each other and other people on the road is not growing at the same rate.  It’s frustrating when the bridge you used to have to yourself is full of people on CitiBikes going for brunch, but nobody has ever died from slowing down and making way for people. I am working on being more respectful…but I am the captain of Team No Fucking Filter, so you know it is a work in progress.

Absolutely. What advice do you give to women who are new to riding a bike?

Same advice I would give a man – buy a bike that fits you from a store you feel comfortable in. If you are on the wrong bike and intimidated to go to your shop you won’t ride. That, and don’t be afraid to ride alone. There are great groups to join, but there is nothing like taking off on your own for an adventure!

Are there any notable cyclists that inspire you? Or any other people that are doing inspiring things in the cycling world that you think we should highlight?

I am very lucky to be surrounded by people who inspire me every day. We have a woman how did her first AIDS Ride shortly after a double knee replacement, people who have been living with HIV/AIDS for 30 years and are riding, people who have never been on a bike, but learn to ride so they can take part in the Ride and support Housing Works. Professional athletes have nothing on these people!

Last but not least Blake, can you finish this statement? In my life cycle, biking has been . . .

My therapy, my weapon and my pleasure.

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