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Paul Ficklin-Alred: Finding joy in the journey

When it comes to cycling, 54-year-old Paul Ficklin-Alred considers himself a late-bloomer.

As a child, he wasn’t exactly a natural. In fact, it wasn’t until Ficklin-Alred was around 10 years old that he really got serious about mastering the bicycle.

So it’s a little ironic that this easy-going Emory employee has emerged as a very public spokesperson about the benefits of biking to work, his enthusiastic message recently showcased in an online profile that won first place in the 2015 Pedals 4 Professionals Video Contest.

In the clip, Ficklin-Alred extolls the physical and mental benefits he’s realized over the past decade from his daily bicycle commute, a 12-mile round trip to and from his job at Emory, where he works as a program coordinator in the Department of Pediatrics at the Emory School of Medicine.

Today, Ficklin-Alred is a full-time bicycle commuter — among a steadily growing cadre of Emory cyclists who have chosen to leave their cars at home in favor of a two-wheeled ride to work, which fits his commitment to building sustainability awareness as a campus sustainability representative.

Emory Report caught up with him recently to talk about the pleasures and challenges of his journey, and what he’s discovered along the way.

How did you find yourself in a video about being a bicycle commuter?

It came about because my neighbor, Nathan Scronce, is a professional graphic artist and videographer who used to bike to work himself. Nate happened to notice that I bike to work every day. He saw an announcement about the Pedals 4 Professionals video contest and asked if he could tell my story. I was very flattered to be asked. We worked on it for several weeks in April and early May. At first, I didn’t realize it was a national contest. (laughs)

Why did you decide to become a bicycle commuter?

About 10 years ago, I saw that parking rates were going up. I’d never been crazy about commuting by car anyway. At the time, I was working for the Center for Ethics and we’d moved into a new building with a dedicated shower facility. I liked biking — I had lived in Japan for two years and biked everywhere. I considered all the variables about commuting to Emory by bicycle and decided that I would try it.

How was your transition from car to bicycle?

I began by biking to a shuttle stop by the North DeKalb Mall — a distance of a couple miles — and then riding the shuttle to work. After awhile, I decided that six miles wasn’t much more than two miles, so why not try? Over time, I really began to enjoy the benefits and felt better both physically and mentally. From that day on, I’ve been biking pretty much every day.

It really doesn’t take me any longer to get to work on my bike than in my car. I usually arrive between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m., shower and am at my desk by 8:30 a.m. After work, I’m home between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. This time of year is ideal, because I get daylight in the morning and on the way home. In the fall and winter, I wear reflective gear and make sure that I’m well lit.

What have been the physical benefits of becoming a bicycle commuter?

I’m probably more fit than I have been since I was in my 20s. I’ve lost weight, my blood pressure has gone down — my doctor told me if I continue to tone up and lose weight he may take me off my blood pressure medication. I have more energy and just feel so much better about myself.

What are your greatest challenges with your commute?

Fortunately, Atlanta has a pretty moderate climate. I tend to bike in most weather, unless it’s over 100 degrees or under 20 degrees. In cold or wet weather I have rain gear or just bundle up. If it’s really hot, I’ll take the shuttle. Unless it’s raining so hard that I can’t see in front of me, I don’t let the weather slow me down.

Have you found support for taking a bicycle to work?

Attitudes are changing. Ten years ago, drivers were more aggressive about bikers. These days, they’re much more tolerant. That may be because Atlanta has become more friendly to recreational biking with the Beltline.

At Emory, I’ve found a strong, supportive community on campus toward people who bike. And I appreciate the fact that every new building that goes up on campus now is LEED certified, and many have showers, lockers and a bike rack. That makes a big difference.

What’s it been like becoming a break-out video star?

Response to the video has been incredible. People have congratulated me about it, talked about how cool it was, and told me how much they wish they lived close enough to bike to work. I think they realize it’s taking one more car off the road and is just better for the environment.

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