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In a packed class at HYF, there’s a good chance that you’re practicing near someone whose life has been touched by cancer. Scratch the surface, and you will find yogis who practice through diagnosis and treatment; yogis who are supporting loved ones with cancer; yogis who are gratefully recovered, and yogis who find a place in the hot room to grieve loss and remember their own strength.

If you’ve practiced with Rina Drake, you have practiced near a generous, determined, beautiful-inside-and-out woman who also happens to be a cancer survivor. Rina and her family are in the midst of six months of intense training for the 2017 Pan-Mass Challenge Ride bike-athon.

Cancer is a scary diagnosis, but researchers continue to discover life-saving treatments, and the The Pan-Mass Challenge raises money for research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Teams fundraise, and the PMC sends 100% of the money directly into the Jimmy Fund.

Rina started riding when her kids were very little, and her husband Mike would follow her across the state with the kids in tow (which Rina thinks actually might have been the tougher assignment!). Eventually, Mike started riding with Rina, and their daughter Hannah joined them eight years ago, when she was 15. Their daughter Sarah, who is 19, organizes and drives the “cheer squad.” The whole Drake family participates in the fundraising; Hannah’s sweet 16 birthday party was a PMC fundraiser, and she generated $2,000 in donations.

Supporting the Drake family as they prepare for their yearly ride has long been a tradition at HYF, and we hope you’ll join us for a special Hot Pilates donation class to raise money for the Drake family’s ride at 4:30 on Saturday, May 6.  

We’re asking for a $20 minimum donation, cash or a check made out to The Jimmy Fund. 

Read on to learn more about Rina and Hannah and why they ride, and be sure to introduce yourself and cheer them on the next time you see them in class!

How does your yoga practice interface with and support your riding as you train?

Rina: I began Bikram Yoga about 4 years after I started cycling – it’s been about 10 years of Bikram now!  I noticed immediately that my rides became less painful and more enjoyable.  My core strength and endurance changed – and that changed my cycling technique – I have more skill in being able to stabilize my trunk making for a more efficient ride coming from the hips. I have pretty terrible hayfever as well with exercise induced asthma. Due to the breathing practice, my lung expansion has improved with asthma attacks occurring very infrequently and being more manageable.  I try to always practice the day before and after a long training ride (these go up to 100 miles) and always notice improved preparation as well as recovery.

Hannah: You’ll know this if you’ve ever been in class with a Drake, but we are some seriously inflexible people. Hips and knees especially are rough areas for all four of us – one of my sister’s legs is significantly longer than the other, my mom has perma-tightness from year-round hiking/biking/skiing, my dad has the world’s flattest feet, and I’ve had on-and-off lower back pain since I was 12. All four of us in one hot room is like watching the circus try to ballroom dance. But holy crap, the yoga helps.

Like my mom said, I usually try to accompany my long rides (or even my short rides) with a Bikram class to stretch out my hips and re-align my spine. Back bends feel especially good after a long ride hunched over the handlebars. A bike ride and a yoga class make for the perfect combo-workout. Sometimes we do both in one day, and my mom kicks my butt on the road and in standing bow. (On these days, I swear she’s a robot.)

Do you see any parallels between your intense training and the challenge of this yoga series or a tough Hot Pilates class?

Rina: That’s an interesting question!  I feel like each class has a different result even after all of these years. A midsummer class with Louise or Terri leaves me pretty spent and I make sure to leave a day before taking on a tough ride. However, that ride is inevitably a great one!!!

Hannah: Yes! So many parallels. When I first started practicing yoga, I’d walk into class already dreading Triangle. And Camel. And the one where you try to touch your forehead to the ground between your legs (spoiler alert: my forehead doesn’t quite touch). Dreading the pain of all the poses made class feel slower and way more miserable. But when I figured out how to focus on the pose I’m in, to really feel my body and my breath (for better or for worse), it made everything easier.

Biking is the same way. You can’t think of mile 90 when you’re at mile 2 or you’ll go crazy. You just have to feel your feet on the pedals and your heart beating in your chest. If you can focus on that, life is good.

What’s it like to ride and train with your family year after year?

Rina: When I started riding, my girls were 3 and 7.  Mike worked harder in chasing me across the state with them in tow than I did riding!  He was there with them at most water stops and the finish line for two days in rain and sweltering heat! They were always at the Finish in Provincetown and then drove back to Boston in traffic to meet me off the boat (which is an amazing pmc party!). As the girls got older, he joined me and they cheered with friends.  The girls are now 23 and 19. When our oldest turned 15, she began riding with us. Her sweet 16 party was a PMC fundraiser. She raised $2000 that year. Our younger daughter, Sarah has organized and driven the cheer squad since she turned 16. She has asked for PMC donations instead of gifts for every bday she can remember.  Our PMC lifestyle has taught our girls so many life lessons – they are grateful and kind and appreciative.  They do not shy from commitments or hard work. They have perspective and they too have made exercise and health an integral daily part of their lives.  Hannah practices regular Bikram yoga now as a young adult, including the financial commitment.  Mike and I are empty nesters now and we enjoy training together and plan on bike trips all over the world.

Hannah: My family is a huge reason why riding season always gets me excited. I don’t live in Nashua anymore, so biking is always a good excuse to jet home for the weekend and hang with my parents. (They’re pretty cool dudes.) My mom is really good at challenging me to do more than I think I can (because she’s a robot, and she can do everything always). My dad can keep an almost metronomic pace, and he’ll always wait for me to catch up so we can talk about movies while we pedal.
My sister, Sarah, hates biking (or so she says), but her cheering might be the most important part of the whole PMC weekend. I’ve done both – cheering and riding – and cheering is hands-down the harder experience. It takes grit, logistical planning, and bottomless enthusiasm. Sar has all three of those things on lockdown.H

What are some of your favorite stories from your years riding?

Rina: Oh my gosh – so many!!! But just a few thoughts: the pedal partner stop where we partner with a child and their family every year and celebrate together at mile 90 on day 1. As you ride in there are a hundred life sized pics of these kids one after another. There has been our little friend Jack who survived leukemia – he stood on the sides lines when he was 5 holding a sign that said, “I’m here because of you.”  He holds that same sign every single year – he’s in college now. There was the year 2 years ago that our dear friend and team captain passed away after surviving for 15 years. His daughters grew up with mine and they train and ride together now as young adults. There’s the opening ceremonies in Sturbridge where we hear the stories of pain and survival. There’s our team pasta dinner the night before we leave – we gather for food and stories and helmet decorations. And of course the review of the financials of the year. Our team is now over 1 million for Dana Farber. I could go on forever!

Hannah: For me, it wouldn’t be the PMC without my friend Annabelle. We cheered together when we were younger, and then we started riding together with my mom and her dad – our team captain Andy – when we were in high school. The year Andy died, Belle led our team across the finish line in P-Town. That weekend had the most beautiful weather in PMC history. We’re pretty sure Andy called it in.
It’s not so inspirational, but one rainy year I fell on a hill and ripped my pants. Belle took a look at my shorts and said, “oh… hello bum.” It poured, and it took us close to 6 hours to bike 50 miles, but we did it, pants be damned.
Have you ever taken a Hot Pilates class before?
Rina: I just started, and I love it!!!
Hannah: I’ve never done pilates, so I’m nervous/excited to step into the inferno on Saturday.
Thanks so much, Hannah and Rina! We’re looking forward to a great turnout on Saturday, May 6!
-Ellen Olson-Brown, The Hot Yoga Factory Chelmsford




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