Jenny Brown is a friendly and familiar face to regulars at the gym at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Community Centre, as a coach and trainer, but she won’t be found there for several days in March. Instead, she’ll be fulfilling a cycling and personal quest in northern Italy.
It’s a long road that’s led Brown to the two-day Gran Fondo race in Italy on March 16 and 17, when she will cycle 80 kilometres on the first day, and 100 kilometres on the second. The story starts in 1991, when, as a competitive cyclist, Brown started training with Glauco Ceroni, who had competed as a top junior in Italy, and ended up in Canada.
“First he was my coach, and then he became my friend and mentor and colleague. He had a huge impact on me as a cyclist and a person,” says Brown, now 48, adding, “He always talked about Italy and his passion for the country, the food, and the cycling there. So I always had it in my head that I was bound and determined to get to Italy.”
When Ceroni developed multiple cancers, Brown helped him through his dying process, with trips to and from hospitals, and kept him company. Ceroni’s sister Laura came from Italy to help at that time as well, and Brown says the two became friends. Ceroni died in 2013.
Fast-forward to March 2019 and Brown’s trip. As an avid cyclist, coach and trainer, Brown has become what’s known as a cycling influencer: someone with a large following on social media and strong credibility in their particular area of expertise. Companies often seek out influencers to help promote their goods or services, and that’s exactly what happened with Brown.
She says Cycling Emilia Romagno Tourism is covering her expenses to travel to Italy, to promote cycling tourism, and “encourage women to attend.” She’ll be doing public relations events and blogging.
Brown smiles as she describes the Gran Fondo rides, including 1,000 metres of climbing, though the prospect would bring more of a grimace to most faces. And there’s more – Brown will also ride the time trial of Stage 1 of the Giro D’Italia course, on March 18, which includes a very steep hill at the end. The Giro D’Italia course is second only to the Tour de France for competitive cyclists. Brown says she’s “been racing and coaching for more than 25 years” and this trip is important to her, both for the cycling and the connection to her much-loved coach.
Brown says “training has been a challenge with the weather this winter. There’s been so much ice I’ve been doing a lot of indoor training, which normally I don’t.” But that doesn’t appear to dampen her excitement and anticipation of what she calls a “bucket list” trip.
After the cycling events, Brown will meet with Ceroni’s sister, who lives just 50 kilometres outside Bologna, where Brown will be based. “It’s been six years since we’ve seen each other, so it’s pretty special.”
Brown, founder of Re-activated training systems in St. Catharines, will return on March 20, with many tales to tell.