Joan Joesting-Mahoney, 76, Life Well Lived
Monday, May 5th, 2014
Have Bike Will Perimeter
by Lisa K. Harris
She was the Perimeter Queen.
“There is no one like Joan and there will be no one like her … ever,” said Richard DeBernardis, president of Perimeter Bicycling and a friend of Joan Joesting-Mahoney, who passed away on April 19,
2014 from congestive heart failure. She was 76 years old.
How else do you describe a woman who was as eclectic, electric and energetic as Joesting-Mahoney? After all, she is the record holder for perimeters cycled, according to the Perimeter Bicycling Association of America. She cycled more than 110,000 miles on Bike Friday, a fold-up bicycle with 20-inch wheels. She also completed many perimeters in tandem with her husband, Matt Mahoney.
She completed the perimeters of at least 24 countries as well as counties, lakes and islands in North America.
Among her many records – way too many to count – she completed the most perimeters cycled (1382, in her home area of Palm Bay, Fla.) and completed the most distinct perimeters (124). She lived by her motto “Have Bike Will Perimeter.” Sometimes the only things stopping her from completing a planned cycling journey were treacherous road conditions, police or unstable politics.
Described as an eccentric by close friends, Joesting-Mahoney was passionate about many things throughout her long life, including running, rowing and, well, four husbands.
She finished the Ironman Hawaii three times and the Ironman New Zealand once. She held indoor rowing records for 100K meters and 24 hours (60-69 female lightweight), and the longest continuous row by a woman of any age or weight class (30 hours).
“Joan was one of those people that no matter what someone said, no matter how many road blocks were put in front of her, if she wanted to do it, she would,” said Susan Moore, a friend.
Cycling perimeters became her obsession. She often cycled alone, and all of her foreign perimeter rides where completed solo. While on the road, she slept in youth hostels, ate food purchased from grocery stores and used the “Lonely Planet” travel book series as her guide.
In her 1995 self-published book, “Bicycling Around Australia without Booze, Drugs, or Flat Tires”, Joestling-Mahoney wrote that she used cycling as therapy to recover from abusive relationships and addiction.
It began in 1979 when she conquered Australia … or so she thought. She used money for the trip by saving to buy a gun for protection from an abusive ex-husband.
Originally, she set out to run the country’s 9,580-mile perimeter, but was unable to because of a back injury. Healthy and undaunted, she cycled around Australia instead, all but about a 150-mile section through aboriginal territory. She had been told it was too dangerous.
In 1991, when she learned there was an organization that kept track of perimeter records, she reported her success to DeBernardis, president of Perimeter Bicycling Association of America. But DeBernardis couldn’t accept the ride as a success because of the missing 150-miles.
“I told her that she had to go back and do it again – all of it – if she wanted me to accept it (as a perimeter ride),” DeBernardis said. “I thought she’d get angry with me but she didn’t. She turned it into something positive and decided to do perimeters.”
Several months later, he received a postcard from Joesting-Mahoney. It was from Australia. Another card arrived shortly thereafter; then another. She finished her second Australian perimeter, this time covering the country’s entire perimeter. It took 141 days.
“How many people would cycle Australia and then do it all over again?” DeBernardis said.
Joestling-Mahoney was determined, not to set perimeter records, but to connect with something inside her, pushing her body and mind to their limits. According to her book, she loved the solitude and freedom cycling gave her. After Australia, she successfully bicycled around Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, Ireland and many more countries. In Bosnia & Herzegovina, she cycled through war-ruined villages.
Not all her rides were successful. She crashed while cycling the island of Mauritius, suffering a concussion and temporary blindness. She spent a week in the hospital. In Singapore, police would not allow her to leave the airport with her bike. In attempting to confiscate it, they bent the derailer, brake caliper and shifter while stuffing it into its travel case.
She never wavered, however. Joesting-Mahoney was “fearless, resilient, and driven,” according to Elaine Mariolle, Perimeter Bicycling’s public affairs director.
“She traveled anywhere and everywhere – from pastoral countries to former war zones and places of personal heritage,” Mariolle said. “Joan braved challenges of all sorts: weather, traffic, terrain, equipment malfunction, language barriers and gender bias.”
Joesting-Mahoney’s story is one of inspiration and determination. She traded her addiction to drugs and alcohol for one of running and bicycling.
“Instead of sinking into despair, she exercised,” Moore said. “She ran, rowed, and cycled perimeters – and excelled at them all.”
She married her fourth husband, Matt, in 1993 after they crossed the Great Floridian Triathlon finish line, and before she landed in the race’s medical tent for an IV. Throughout their life together, they often cycled tandem, and completed the perimeter of Palm Bay several times a week.
“When she found Perimeter Bicycling she found her family,” DeBernardis said. “She found it to be reinforcing; it encouraged her to live a healthy life through cycling different perimeters.”
Her many perimeter records will likely go unbroken, DeBernardis said.
“She has taken perimeter bicycling to the nth degree,” he said.