Homeless and disabled, a local actor/artist discovers healing powers of cycling

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My cycling began unexpectedly nearly a decade ago.  My car was totaled, I lost my job, moved everything into storage and couch/floor/ shed/garage-surfed, all the while negotiating crippling, chronic pain.

I could barely walk, but I swam laps, meditated to disassociate from the pain and worked odd jobs. Fearful of potholes, crazed drivers and horror stories, I stared at my bike for a year before I finally hit the saddle, and only then because I couldn’t afford the bus. I soon cycled all over Los Angeles, sometimes for hours a day.

I have a shorter femur from a childhood accident. It was re-broken with a hammer (without anesthesia) when I was just three by the doctor after traction failed to correct the initial alignment.  I slowly realized my skeletal frame was quite asymmetrical, but only after I’d lost both parents, broke the longer leg at age 30, spent a year in four successive plaster casts, lost my blossoming art career and ran out of money for health insurance.

Ironically, I was denied disability (again) last year because my muscle tone is too symmetrical now after years of cycling and working out rigorously.  Yet friends are surprised when they see me limping. I run errands by foot and bike, because there’s less pain if I keep moving. Meanwhile, I often went hungry, suffered through PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) without help and negotiated recurring homelessness.

My bicycle and dog accompanied me through more than 30 moves. Without a phone or car, I joined the Echo Park Time Bank. I checked my time bank account at the library and earned “time dollars” performing a myriad of tasks like cutting hair, which often led to the next house sitting gig or a bed. I spent time dollars borrowing a car for moving, getting a well-woman visit and the list goes on.

Since moving to the Valley six years ago, I’ve hoped to start a Time Bank here, but I need the resources. “Time as currency” links us to each other’s talents, fortifies the local caregiving economy, and connects us to homegrown food, food pantries and community gardens. Homeless folks could access a much-needed service like a good haircut.

Last year, when my bike was stolen, time bank member Chris let me use his bicycle for time dollars for six months, while I saved up money. Then he advised me on my bike purchase and outfitted it with handlebars and peddles.  What a lifesaver. Subsequent art sales through ArtLifting also helped me pursue acting again, which helps my recovery from PTSD, as art always has.

Today cycling is the best transportation for me, even though I experience many drivers dangerously distracted by their devices.  New car commercials show drivers isolated and safe, yet statistically the car is as dangerous as a bicycle.  Whenever I borrow a car and sit in traffic, I experience physical pain very quickly, while my bike keeps me limber, “present” and heals my PTSD.

Many Americans opt for sedentary, automobile-dependent lives, incurring more pollution, health problems, medications, and expensive operations. Because driving feels so comfortable and powerful and symbolizes status, I suspect an unconscious dependency forges resentments against cyclists and an addictive relationship to fossil fuels.

One day, I would like to see our nation’s leaders ride a bicycle to work, even for one day. I’d like to see our president bicycle to and from the Oval Office, demonstrating true courageousness, care for others and environmental responsibility.

Take it from me: cycling every day is not for the faint of heart or weak of spirit.

Before her recent success at ArtLifting.com (a website that supports artists living with homelessness or disabilities) Alicia Sterling Beach created comedic shorts, biopics and art videos for her YouTube channel.  Her prior art exhibition history includes a two-woman show at The Phoenix Art Museum and a mini-retrospective at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena.


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