By Janneke “The Tron Mom” Gradstein
Few things are more powerful than a middle-aged woman battling irrelevance and menopause. I love my kids, but the roots of this challenge are epic and primordial.
It sometimes takes work to get kids to be active. We’ve tried to keep our three sons into sports and away from screens, but this gets trickier as they age. They start saying, “no.” They want to stay home. Pandemics happen, and they attend school virtually, meet their friends online, and begin to shape their lives around digital interactions.
Eventually, they get sucked into this immense world of flashy games, interweb lingo, and immediate gratification. By contrast, long training days on wet, cold soccer fields, arenas, gyms, pools, and running tracks, and navigating actual face-to-face social situations and sports dynamics with other awkward kids (and parents, with all their left-over high school emotional baggage) —seems like a non-choice for some!
My husband understands and navigates this world with them. I work two full-time jobs and have watched enviously from the sidelines of my home life.
I’ve often worried that I’ve lost my man-herd to the dopamine drip of the online universe.
Enter Zwift. In February 2020, I had the lucky foresight to set up a little in-home gym. Obviously, my timing was amazing, but I didn’t actually have any premonitions. I am just a middle-aged casual runner with aging knees who decided to start transitioning to biking in the interest of staying active past my 40s. I had developed an equipment list over many long runs with friends, who had nothing to talk about but switching to a less grueling sport than marathon running (little did we know).
So just before the onset of months to years of COVID isolation and in-home schooling, I naively set out to buy the 50 or so pieces of equipment needed to ride a bicycle indoors.
While looking at all the cool, shiny objects at the bike shop, I thought of my kids, especially Tomas. My oldest son likes running, my youngest son likes swimming, and both play soccer. But Tomas, my introverted and quiet middle son, whose slender frame towers uncertainly over us all, does not enjoy sports. He hadn’t even shown much interest in the bike we’d just bought him for his 13th birthday.
Maybe Zwift would help? So instead of buying one smart trainer, I bought two.
The Who For!
At this point, I would love to say that Tomas fell in love with Zwift and became an avid cyclist. That would be a lie. Tomas had just turned 13 and wasn’t very interested in spending time with me. He did bike on his own, but only if I was home to set everything up and encourage him.
In addition, I work in healthcare, and 2020 was busier than usual, so I could only do this sporadically. 2021 was even busier, and 2022 was brutal. The last months just about did me in, and I decided in December that I would do better to work out my stress on Zwift than let my job kill me imminently.
I started riding more, and to my delight, Tomas noticed. “I want to Zwift again, mom” was music to my ears. I set him up, and away he went.
The Family, otherwise known as The Cast of Characters
The Sigtryggsson family includes Gisli Sigtryggsson, the household rock and stay-at-home dad for 17 years. He is now a busy shipping clerk in the food services industry, and his hobbies include board games and pickleball.
His wife, Janneke Gradstein (That’s ME), is a family physician with a busy and varied practice in Amherst, Nova Scotia (Canada), where she and Gisli have been living since she finished her training. She enjoys running, biking, and community development work. They have three sons: Oskar (2005), Tomas (2006), and Peter (2010).
Oskar is athletic, conscientious, kind, and hard-working. He enjoys running and learning about math, chemistry, and space travel, and you can often see him watching YouTube videos about those and other STEM topics.
Tomas is the tall, handsome middleman of the herd. He is a brooding introvert with a razor-sharp intellect who says very little but doesn’t miss a beat. Tomas is interested in psychology and ridiculously complex strategy games.
Peter is the joyful, empathetic, and idealistic youngest whose sheer grit and passion for friends and fun mean he’s involved in as many things as he can squeeze into a day.
The whole family collaborates to participate in Baha’i children’s classes and youth groups every week. They also enjoy camping, hiking together, and, more recently—Zwifting!
The How Come?
Of course, his brothers would not be left behind. Several years of mom at work, and school at home, meant that these cats knew how to play. They instantly figured out all the ride-on, XP, badges, routes, powerup secrets that we had never really figured out before, and in no time, discovered the Tron bike.
Like magpies to shiny objects, the boys fixated on the glowing elite bikers, sailing past their plodding mother and looking oh-so-very much better than they did on their base-model bike. The hook took.
Everest called, and when I proudly showed them that I was 23% of the way up into the sky, I could almost see their boy brains jumping to an obvious conclusion: if mom can 23% do this, obviously we can 100% do this. Probably by next week.
The man-herd vs. mom, Tron-bike challenge, was born!
We are now through week #1. The boys are almost halfway to the top of Everest. I know what ALL ZWIFTERS are thinking as they read this. I am very sad to say that I did NOT think to conceal the spoiler of my own progress, which clearly shows my non-Tron bike climbing into the sky, well past Everest’s peak. Oh well!
The man-herd took the challenge and are on their way! Stay tuned for updates on our progress and the battle for the Tron.
I admit that I have a very significant head start, but please note that their group FTP is 20 points above mine (on the same bike and trainer), and they collectively have about 1000% more free time than I do. They’re also teenage boys who can pull off ridiculous feats of athleticism without training, sleep, or vegetables.
You could argue that I stacked the odds against myself. However, I have learned that few things are more powerful than a middle-aged woman battling irrelevance and menopause. I love my kids, but the roots of this challenge are epic and primordial. May the most deserving party win!
Any words of advice or encouragement for the Tron Mom or her Man-herd?
Comment below! They’d love to know.
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Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!
OMG Loved this article. Is the man herd just the kids or husband too? Do lots of group rides, the blob will help on difficult routes. I also did tons of reps up the hilly KOM, not too long, but 1 rep is 100 meters. Also, the Banditz group does more difficult hilly rides every weekend, they just finished the Uber Pretzel and will be working towards the PRL Full in March. No rider is left behind on these rides. Find “M Chimo (Banditz-NI)” and ask for invitations to the rides.
Thank you! My husband is siding with the boys. I’m fully outnumbered in our family. Even the dog is male, and I’m pretty sure he’d join his man-herd on Zwift if there was a dog walking feature.
Go Janneke, you have all the menopausal ladies ( pre and post too) behind you. You are the torch bearer for Mums (moms) across Watopia. Grab every sneaky metre of climbing when you can- top tip- do the workouts in erg mode and always choose a hilly one. Look for any group rides that are rubber banded with climbs and use the pacepartners. Let us know when you are riding and we will give you ride ons. Spend your drops on light wheels ( you could also be super sneaky and go on a virtual diet, dont tell them, as long as you’re not racing who cares) . Great article, your family sounds fab. My husband also Zwifts but somehow we fall out as he says I always push too hard. He sits with Miguel for hours. Good Luck and keep us posted. Go the Mums.
Awwww I love this!!! And your tips are golden 🙂