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Life as a Stoker

by: Cheyenne Knight
A few months after moving back to Pittsburgh in 2014, Catherine Getchell stumbled upon Venture Outdoors and decided to give their programs a try. Catherine, the Pittsburgh District Administrator for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, is a cycling enthusiast who also happens to be completely blind. What once began as casual riding with her father as a child became a passion after renting a tandem in Maine during a 2010 vacation with her husband. After that trip, her mother-in-law bought the two of them a custom-made Cannondale, which is the tandem bike she rides today.
IMG_9160A tandem bike is a two-person bike that is manned by a captain (the person in front) and a stoker (the person in back). The captain’s job is to control and steer the bike, while the stoker’s job is to help pedal and maintain balance. To be the captain of a tandem bike, you do not need to have tandem experience, but you do need to have some cycling experience.
As a blind rider, Catherine rides as the stoker and reaches out to people in the Pittsburgh area who would be willing to ride as captain. She says that this planning and coordinating is the biggest obstacle that she faces. Not only does she have to find someone who is willing to ride tandem, but she also has to find a time that works for both of their schedules and a time when the other rider  can meet her in the area because she cannot transport her bike easily. Catherine is able to ride at least one time every two weeks, but she wishes she could ride more often.
As far as experiences go, Catherine believes her greatest one to be the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia’s annual Peter Odell Memorial Ride from New Hope to New York, but says that “any ride is a good ride.” Her experience on this ride was recently featured in ReImage, a project of the PA Council of the Blind. You can listen to the podcast here to learn more about Catherine and the Odell ride. She went on the ride again this past Sunday. One of her next adventures is to the New Life Hiking Spa in Killington, VT.
Through Venture Outdoors, Catherine has participated in various hiking programs, including the Ohiopyle Waterfall Hike, the West End Hike, and the Southside Slopes Hike. She has been on roughly 10 different outings through the organization, her seeing-eye dog by her side for all of them. Her favorite parts about the outings so far have been the ability to gain insight and get more information on a new area during each outing and the exercise from vigorous hiking and walking.
So what kind of outing is on Catherine’s radar now? Kayaking. Catherine and her husband recently bought a 22 foot tandem kayak that has a middle cockpit for her seeing-eye dog and are planning a weekend kayaking and camping trip. She hopes to also participate in more adaptive recreation opportunities in the area.

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