Lone Star Ride Journal: The cycling bard

Valerie Skinner has, for 8 years, put the poetic coda on the end of the annual Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS

M.M. ADJARIAN | Contributing writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

Valerie Skinner loves to tell stories. And for eight of the last 10 years, she has harnessed her talents to write the narrative poems that have become a staple of the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS closing ceremonies.

Indeed, her efforts have become so much a part of the ride experience that for many, to imagine the event concluding without Skinner reciting her poetic coda has become unthinkable.

The LSR’s “cycling bard” is also the administrator and vice president of the Holloway Family Foundation, which helps individuals who — through illness, age or disability — cannot help themselves. For the first six years of LSR, the HFF was the presenting sponsor; since then, it has become a stalwart contributor.

“[In1999], Mike McKay, then executive director of the AIDS Outreach Center, talked with me about whether our family foundation would be interested in sponsoring this new event,” Skinner recalls. “We were already [donating to] the three targeted beneficiary agencies [AIDS Outreach Center, AIDS Services of Dallas and the Resource Center of Dallas]. So of course I thought it was a fantastic idea.”

Skinner had no intention of doing more than offer financial assistance through the organization that her parents, Graham and Carolyn Holloway, had established in 1994. However, her attitude changed drastically after she attended the first LSR closing ceremony in 2001.

“The energy and excitement of the crew and the riders and everybody that was participating — it was overwhelming,” says Skinner. “I don’t really even have the right adjectives to describe what a powerful experience it was. And I just thought, ‘Wow! I don’t just want to be an outsider, I want to be involved in this.’”

Her enthusiasm piqued, Skinner promptly bought a bicycle and began to train to do the full ride, which typically averages 175 miles over two days. But between her duties at the Holloway Foundation and the demands of her four-child, three-dog household, she was unable to cycle more than a minimal amount for an LSR “marathoner” — just 20 to 30 miles a week.

Despite always finishing dead last (or very close to it), Skinner prides herself on having peddled almost every mile. She does admit, though, to having used the LSR sweep truck one year to cover five miles she simply could not manage.

“I was so far behind,” she explains, “that I knew it would detrimentally affect other people in the ride.”

Being consistently among the “LSR laggards” never bothered Skinner. If anything, her dogged slowness and ability to evade LSR sweep trucks when she’s just a few miles shy of ride’s end — but also late to the finish line — have gained her notoriety.

“I don’t try to do it on purpose. I just call it playing my diva card,” says the rogue cyclist. Or her poet’s card. Jotting down the lines of verse she will read at the LSR closing ceremonies, after all, takes time.

For Skinner, being part of the LSR isn’t only about participating in a worthy cause. It’s also about spending time with what she calls her “ride family” and having fun, even under what can sometimes be very trying circumstances.

She remembers a time when she and an old college chum were cycling along an open stretch of road during the 2005 LSR. The weather was hot and unbearably humid; it was a day that had chased everyone else indoors.

“We [were passing by] this farm and there was this methane gas from these cows,” she says. “And it was just the nastiest thing. We [wanted] to throw up. We were so sick [and] hated each other for being out there.”

Then rain from a sudden storm soaked both women to the bone.

“We started bobbling and then she fell under me and I fell into a ditch,” Skinner laughs. “It sounds silly, but it was one of the most crazy fun experiences ever. I don’t know how, but we finished. And [what with] the pictures we have and everything else, it was a great memory.”

Skinner is definitely not your average rider. But listening to her talk about her experiences, you get the impression she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS takes place Sept. 24-25. For details or to donate to a specific rider or team or to the ride in general, go online to Lone StarRide.org.

—  John Wright