On Saturday, August 9, at 7AM, I’ll be crossing the starting line at Venus de Miles 64-mile course ride. This isn’t the first time I’ve participated in the all women’s cycling event. I was so touched after my first ride I knew I’d be back at it.
Venus de Miles, an all-women’s cycling event and festival held in Lake County since 2012, is open to women of all ages and ability levels. Participants choose from one of three scenic course options (64 miles, 28 or 13) followed by a post-ride celebration on the campus of Lake Forest College (500 North Sheridan Road, Lake Forest) featuring gourmet food, live music, cocktails, beer and spa services. The event is organized by and benefits Greenhouse Scholars, a non-profit that serves exceptional college students from Illinois and Colorado. I had the pleasure of getting to know one of the scholars; her story is truly amazing and I’m happy to share it with you.
Michelle Kruk, a native of Chicago’s northwest side with immigrant parents, wasn’t sure if college would be a reality for her. “With both of my parents not speaking English and having a combined income of $40,000, I didn’t see college in my future,” she admits. “My parents didn’t understand why I wanted to go to college so bad. I managed to get good grades and apply with the help of my high school guidance counselor.”
Ms. Kruk’s counselor at Walter Payton High School also encouraged her to apply for the Greenhouse Scholar Award. Her determination, relentlessness and leadership won her the scholarship, and she’s now a sophomore at Bowdoin College. “I have an adult mentor, Greg, who is in the profession I would like to be in, but he has also helped me make decisions that my parents are unable to because they work a lot and do not understand college,” explains Ms. Kruk, who says Greenhouse Scholars changed her life.
Not only does she receive a mentor to help her both professionally and personally, but she receives a renewable college scholarship and she was able to fly for the first time to Colorado for the Greenhouse Scholars Synposium. “It’s so important to have peer support, meet the other scholars and have them to lean on,” notes Ms. Kruk. “I have very good friends now that I keep in touch with all the time and have visited them while they are at their colleges.”
At 20, Ms. Kruk is mature for her age. This comes from raising her two younger brothers now 9 and 11. “I used to get home from an hour-and-a-half bus ride from school to make and feed them dinner, help them with homework and get them to bed, then do my own homework.” Through it all, she managed to keep her grades up. “You have to maintain a minimum of a 3.5 GPA to be considered for Greenhouse Scholars program,” explains Ms. Kruk.
The first in her family to attend college, Ms. Kruk credits Greenhouse Scholars for providing her with an exceptional peer group and mentor who have helped her navigate the college experience. This is the second summer that she has been interning with Greenhouse Scholars in Chicago. She also spent five weeks this summer doing her own research on food deserts, food sovereignty and urban gardens through the Mellon-Mays Research Fellowship Program (a program that serves students who are typically underrepresented in academia and prepares them for Graduate School). A double major in sociology and earth and oceanographic science with a minor in education, Ms. Kruk is determined to pursue a career that will benefit not only the people around her.
That’s where Venus de Miles event comes in. Ms. Kruk and several Illinois Scholars participate in the event, providing an opportunity for riders to meet some of the students benefiting from the ride. “Venus de Miles is an extraordinary celebration of sisterhood and community,” says Andra Pool, COO, Greenhouse Scholars. “The funds raised help us to provide comprehensive support – both in terms of scholarships and essential personal and professional mentoring – to the remarkable students in our program. The scholars from Illinois are leaders within their communities and universities, and are on the path to positively impact the lives of people around the world.”
As I said before, the ride is for women of all ability levels. I don’t own a road bike, and TREK was generous to loan me one. My ride was smooth and fast. And, a bonus is that along the course, riders are treated to delicious snacks provided by Whole Foods, G.H. Cretors Popped Corn, Hi I’m Skinny Snacks and electrolyte-enhanced water from Nuun, keeping us nourished and hydrated all the way to the finish line. And, if you are like me and do not know how to change a flat tire, never fear, a support crew is on hand to provide mechanical and motivational support.
The fun really gets started as riders cross the finish line. You can register by clicking here. I’m looking forward to this amazing event, to join us and help support scholars like Ms. Kruk and get some great outdoor time with like minded women.