St. Luke's Hospital's Laura Walker Pushes Pedals to the Top

Run. Check!

Bike. Check!

Swim. Check!

Pedal 102.7 miles in less than 10 hours.
Check and double check.

The 102.7-mile bike ride to the pinnacle of Mount Mitchell was recently checked off Laura Walker's "Bucket List" of things to do in her lifetime.

A very fit physical therapy assistant at St. Luke's Hospital, Walker says she participated in the May 20 "Assault on Mount Mitchell" purely for the experience. And she's certain it was one experience she will never forget; nor ever repeat!

"This was my first attempt to ride the 'Assault on Mt. Mitchell,' and it's safe to say it was also my last!" Walker said. "It's great to cross the finish line, but it's even better to cross and say 'it's finally over.'"

The "Assault on Mount Mitchell" is an annual bicycling endurance contest that starts in Spartanburg, S.C., winds through country roads and crossroad towns before climbing 10,357 vertical feet to end, amid cheers and chants, at the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Mount Mitchell is located in Mount Mitchell State Park in Yancey County, N.C. Only 1,300 cyclists are accepted to participate. Half choose to stop in Marion at the base of the strenuous climb up the mountain. The other 650 cyclists continue the climb; this year, Walker was one of only 50 women who finished the entire ride.

Other St. Luke's employees who have challenged themselves in past years were unable to participate in the bike ride this year. So Walker began training on her own back in January, following a training program on the website for the Freewheelers of Spartanburg. The Freewheelers is a group of cyclists who help sponsor and organize the elite bike ride. For the past six months, Walker was cycling up to 100-150 miles a week.

Though this was Walker's first cycling event, she is no stranger to competition. She is an avid runner and competes in numerous road races. Walker also competed in numerous sprint triathlons (running, cycling and swimming) and placed in the top three of her age group every year.

Just like the energy and enthusiasm she shares with her patients, Walker can empathize with a patient's mental and physical push through the pain and doubt on the road to recovery.

"I understand how difficult it can be to keep pushing yourself, whether it's pain from hours on a bicycle or pain following knee replacement," Walker said. "But it's a really great feeling when you reach your goal, whether it's to the top of the mountain or a walk around the hospital."

Her first time up a mountain on a bicycle, Laura pushed and pedaled for nearly 10 hours to reach her goal. And then she checked it off the list.