When Gracie Cole decides to take on a new challenge, she doesn’t mess around. Where most people start small and build their way to greater goals, Cole is the type to dive head first into an Iron Man race, with no other races under her belt. Motivated by the motto, “I want to live longer with the ‘have done’ than the ‘to do’,” Cole has given herself to many unique experiences, and has directed her passionate undertakings towards helping others.
Her motto of doing rather than sitting with the list of to do’s has taken her on quite the adventures thus far in life. Cole’s list of ‘have done’s’ contains, but is not limited to: being the first woman to unicycle coast to coast, followed 2 years later by becoming the first person to ever unicycle off-road from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide, all in the name of Lymphoma and Leukemia research. YouTube- Enjoy The Ride After completing her first Iron Man, she proceeded to run from Pensacola, Florida to Daytona Beach to raise awareness and education about skin cancer. She also ran the Leadville 100 in Colorado, and won first place in the women’s division of the ultra marathon that is hosted in Antarctica, where she works. (Yes, she works in Antarctica, seasonally, as a fuel operator. Add that to the list.) Most recently, Cole finished her coast-to-coast roller skate journey known as Skate the States.
When SBM got to chat with Cole, she was on her way back from her final destination of the States on Skates tour, which took her and four other women from Cocoa Beach, FL to Santa Monica, CA, in the name of ending domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.
Skate the States began March 5th, with 4 roller derby gals embarking in a cross-country tour armed with roller skates, personal goals and a powerful message. Pushing their gear in Thule Chariot strollers, these women fought their way through 2,800 miles of varied road conditions, changing weather, personal fatigue and injuries from Florida to California in 78 days. When the journey was complete, $26,000 was raised for the Joyful Heart Foundation. Cole explained some of the challenges to us:
“The scariest thing we experienced was the traffic. In the first week of the journey, one skater’s stroller was run over by a car who did not look both ways. Then, just a couple weeks later, we had a very close call with a swerving, high-speed car on a country road whose driver seemed most definitely under the influence. And, while 18-wheeler drivers were always quite courteous on the road, RV drivers didn’t seem to have the same comfort level behind the wheel; many of them did not move over an inch for us on the road.”
Despite the literal and figurative bumps in the road, these ladies stuck to the plan and accomplished the conceived goal. They gathered women together to carry the message of the No More campaign, featured during the 2015 Super Bowl. Rallying behind statements like, “No more abuse, no more shame, no more silence,” the ripples of what these women set out to do are continuing to gain momentum now that the journey and fundraising are over. Cole knows that the outcome is bigger than what can be measured monetarily. When asked how she felt about not hitting their $50,000 goal by the time they completed the journey, she explained that getting the message across and starting the conversation are equally important as the funds.
When Cole unicycled across the country, she realized that what she was doing was so unique that it would draw attention for that fact alone, making it a great tool to influence change. So why roller skates this time? Yes, skating across the states is a unique and outrageous goal but the significance of the skates is more than a quirky display. It’s an extension of the personal strength and support she has found in her local roller derby team in Salida, Colorado.
“I think as adult women, it’s difficult to find a competitive team sport outlet. Roller derby meets that, along with other criteria being that, it’s full contact. It’s a pretty unique opportunity and there is a lot of camaraderie in it. During Skate the States, we met up with various groups across the country and they all felt like family. It is empowering to me to meet other strong women and, in turn, be empowered by them.”
Photo by Jason Moore
Cole shared a story about a woman she met during the trip who was a survivor of sexual violence. The full contact aspect of roller derby has given this woman a need to care for her body more intently and diligently. In this process of self care, she has found a way to reclaim her body, which is a huge part of the healing process.
Being a survivor of emotional and spiritual abuse as a child, Cole feels personally connected to the cause. Not only has she suffered, she has become very close to women who are directly affected by issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. Doing this ride for the Joyful Heart Foundation only made sense due to the personal connection, as well as their global reach. Cole explains how she and the team were personally affected by the people they encountered along the way,
“One thing that each of us learned to our core on this journey is how good most people are. Everywhere we turned, people of all walks of life were reaching out to show us kindness. The kindness that people demonstrated cemented the concept that you don’t have to know someone or to agree with them to be kind.”
According to Cole, setting out to take on a physical challenge of this magnitude requires two key factors: personal goals and a greater cause. When asked about the greatest challenge the women faced on the journey, Cole had a lot to say about the vast state of Texas. They endured physical injury from the chip-seal roads, winds of 30+ miles per hour, no established place to rest for days on end and countless flat tires on their gear strollers. Despite the challenges, these ladies found strength in one another.
“This challenging stretch of west Texas tested us in a way that no other section did and required us to take care of ourselves, encourage each other, find laughter in something each day and take on the challenges of the road by trusting that one step at a time would get us across this expansive state.”
Photo by Jason Moore
Just a few days after Skate the States was complete, we asked Cole how she was feeling about the journey being over and her answer was simply, “relief.” She went on to explain:
“There is a lot of concrete inspiration from the accomplishment that can only be obtained through a finish line. We fought through excruciating pain, while trying to care of ourselves, not knowing how our bodies would react to this. I would say it was less about surprise and more about discovery. Discovering what was out there for us to accomplish during this journey.”
Now that this project is complete, Cole will take some time to relax, attend a wedding and simply be with her friends and family. Her next big undertaking is yet to be determined, but we will no doubt see this woman accomplishing more amazing feats in the near future. Clearly she lives her life with a purpose and has the guts and perseverance to drive that momentum.
“There aren’t things to be solved but things that we learn how to manage. In the darkest of times, you learn to keep going. Getting through the daily grind of an inspirational journey is usually a matter of just getting people to know that one step at a time can actually add up to really major accomplishments.”