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‘Bike to Work Day’ encourages healthy, active lifestyles

By Lydia Nuzum, Staff writer
Randy Brotherton, an IT infrastructure analyst for Highmark West Virginia, bikes 7.5 miles to work in Charleston every morning from his home in Dunbar.

 For Randy Brotherton, the only thing that has changed about his commute to work in the last 24 years has been the color of his 1985 Panasonic touring bicycle.

"I bought it used in 1986; it was maroon until a couple of years ago, and now I've painted it blue," Brotherton said.

Brotherton, 51, rides his bicycle from his home in Dunbar to his office in Charleston every day, weather permitting -- a 15-mile round trip. It's something Brotherton, an Information Technology infrastructure analyst, said he enjoys doing, and he's encouraged by his employer, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, the largest health insurance company in the state.

"I even ride during the winter, although this winter was difficult because of the extreme cold weather; I didn't get to ride as much," he said. "Typically, I might drive to work two weeks during an entire winter. My cut-off temperature is 15 degrees, and if there's any snow or ice on the road, I consider it too dangerous."

Fred Earley, president of Highmark West Virginia, said the company has been encouraging health-conscious behaviors and providing programs for the communities it serves for decades. Highmark has recently launched a new initiative called "Walk the Talk," an informational campaign designed for its employees to see the value of understanding various health risks and to tailor their plans for self improvement.

"Anything we can do to encourage our employees to stay active and health, we want to do that," Earley said. "Taking care of yourself can come in many different forms and sizes, whether it be biking, walking, yoga -- whatever is best from their perspective."

Highmark's current offices have a wellness center, on-site locker rooms, bike racks and showers, which Brotherton said have made his biking commute much easier. The company plans to move its location in September and will open a new office at Northgate, which will also have accommodations for cyclists. It will make Brotherton's ride a 24-mile round trip -- something he said he's willing to try to tackle.

"The company has actually promoted biking for me; it's always been a positive," Brotherton said. "It has been a plus."

Today is National Bike to Work Day, and research has shown that the health benefits of cycling are numerous: it improves coordination, increases stamina, improves cardiovascular health, builds strength and is low-impact exercise ideal for sensitive joints. According to Brotherton, one of the greatest benefits for him has been for his mental well-being.

"I've seen a lot of benefits, not just physically, but mentally," he said. "Just riding over driving does so much more for you; it's a good way to relieve stress. The ride itself isn't really that long, either -- the seven and a half miles takes about 30 to 40 minutes."

Charleston has mixed review on its bike-friendliness -- in October, West Virginia Connecting Communities and the Mountain State Wheelers Bicycle Club held a "Legislative Bike Ride" to promote clearer state laws to protect cyclists and pedestrians on the road. 

"The route they created on Route 60 between Spring Hill and St. Albans, where they actually painted lanes and paved for bike routes, that was really good, but other than that, I haven't seen much," Brotherton said. "If they could clearly paint more burms and keep them clean, that would be great."

Cycling has also benefited Brotherton financially; he estimates he spends $100 per year maintaining his bicycle, and he rarely puts miles his car.

As part of its pledge, Highmark is encouraging employees to participate in the The National Bike Challenge, a free event that runs from May 1 to September 30. For more information on the challenge, visit www.nationalbikechallenge.org. 

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189. 


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