Cycling advocate Lisa Nutter is right on track


by Andrea Doray

To say that Lisa Nutter is attracted by the track is to underestimate her enthusiasm. Nutter, 50, has always been an athlete, and first took up road cycling about 13 years ago when her knees rebelled after years of running. Her journey to the track, however, was to take a few more turns.
When running no longer became an option for Nutter, a friend suggested that she try cycling for fitness. Nutter’s first ride on the road was a 35-mile epic through the hills of Pennsylvania, and, although she had been spinning, Nutter says, “I thought I was going to die!” Nutter, who says she had not thought of cycling as a sport before – but rather as a way to stay fit – found that she enjoyed the road: “I saw things I hadn’t seen before, and traveled roads where I had never been before.”
It was actually Nutter’s spinning classes that catapulted her into the sport of cycling. Her instructor focused training “on a real bike,” Nutter says, and she instantly found a community of cycling enthusiasts in her class. When she moved her training outdoors, Nutter said: “If I’m going to start a new sport, I’m going to do it right.”
For Nutter, doing it right meant perfecting her form and following the leads of her cycling compatriots, even if that meant riding in Philadelphia winters. “At first I thought, this is what we do? Then I realized my threshold was no lower than 40 degrees…below that I wasn’t having any fun!” she laughs.
Nutter, who is married to Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, also points to the extraordinary community of cyclists in the Philadelphia area. “Everyone is really open – and patient – when teaching others about the sport,” she says. “And, most importantly, they knew not to talk to me on the uphills!”
However, for Nutter, road cycling wasn’t satisfying her desire for a long-term sport that met her goals for both fitness and fun. When a friend urged her to try track cycling at the velodrome in Trexlertown, PA, Nutter knew she had come home.
“What my body was designed to do…”
On the track, Nutter found a sport where she could both excel and enjoy herself. Even as she continued distance riding for training, Nutter became part of another cycling community on the track. She considers track cycling to be a “pure form of the sport” that requires a different type of fitness for the constant pedaling, and, she says, “You can’t actually practice track cycling without being on the track!”
Nutter immediately became interested in the mechanics of track cycling. “I wanted to focus on technique,” she says. “This is what my body was designed to do.”
Nutter has been a competitive athlete since her high school days when she participated in both running and baseball. So it was no surprise that she began learning track racing. Her strong performances in events such as the 2013 Rodale Corporate Challenge (where Nutter made her track cycling debut) have fueled her plans to shoot for the 2015 USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships. “I want to get enough races under my belt that I feel comfortable,” Nutter says.
“Where are the people of color?”
When Lisa Nutter’s husband, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, began attending her cycling events, one of the first things he asked was, “Where are the people of color?”
“Much of cycling is about access,” says Lisa Nutter. “Some people of color may not have opportunities for equipment or training, or even grow up riding bicycles.” That’s one of the reasons that Nutter and her husband have championed programs to promote bicycling among people of all ages and ethnicities.
As part of this effort, Mayor Nutter created the Philadelphia Bicycle Advocacy Board, of which Lisa Nutter is a volunteer board member. She cites the Board’s goals to promote cycling as more than just physical activity or transportation, but also a means for youth development, sustainability, healthy living, and overall economic impact on the city.
Nutter and the Advocacy Board work in conjunction with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, which includes Cadence Youth Cycling, a program for kids from all walks of life. Cadence helps increase their physical fitness and well being, and incorporates life skills such as teamwork, perseverance, and goal setting.
“The objective is to get them on a bike,” says Nutter, “and provide the experience of a cycling community. That can make all the difference in the world.”
“Riding a different race…”
Nutter’s involvement with access to cycling also extends to providing more opportunities for women to participate. She is leading an effort to increase awareness of women’s cycling, both amateur and professional, in Philadelphia. To this end, Nutter has worked for equal purse prizes for men and women in Philadelphia-area races, such as the 2014 Philly Cycling Classic.
“Establishing equal purse prizes got a lot of attention,” says Nutter, “especially from those who believe that the different distances for men and women should factor into the purse.” However, Nutter points out, the women are riding just as hard. “Neither race is better than the other,” says Nutter. “They are simply different races.”
Another victory for the Philadelphia cycling community is the return of the Women's Road World Cup to the U.S. for the first time in 14 years. Lisa Nutter traveled with Mayor Nutter’s delegation to France in July last year, which met with UCI President Brian Cookson, to work toward bringing the 2015 Women's World Cup for the first time to Philadelphia, the only women's World Cup event to be held in the U.S. this year. Also on the horizon is construction of the city’s velodrome, set to begin in 2016, to bring world-class track cycling to Philadelphia.
“It’s about the beauty of cycling…”
In addition to her racing and her advocacy for cycling, Nutter is the president of Philadelphia Academies, Inc. (PAI), a nonprofit youth development organization whose mission is to expand life and economic options for Philadelphia public school students. Having described PAI as the perfect marriage of community development and systemic change, Nutter says the organization provides career-focused programming that prepares these young people for employment and post-secondary education.
Such a role seems natural for Nutter, who continues her volunteer work to bring what she calls “the beauty of cycling” to residents of Philadelphia. “You don’t need a team such as football or baseball to participate,” she says, “and almost anyone can enjoy it. That’s why it’s so important to provide access to bicycles and safe places to ride them.”
In addition to pursuing her own racing career, Lisa Nutter’s efforts advocating access and opportunity – for amateurs and professionals, serious cyclists and those biking for the absolute fun of it – seem to be right on track.
About the author: A freelance writer and free-time rider, Andrea Doray is based in Denver, CO.

This Article Updated February 9, 2015 @ 05:03 PM For more information contact: