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COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT: MELISA JENNINGS


“Representation is my motivation.”


Meet Melisa: past chemistry teacher, coach, recreational cyclist, solo mom, and a lover of the outdoors. She is busy using her science knowledge and teaching skills to make a difference in the cycling community.


Melisa was born in South Korea, smuggled into the USA, and officially adopted by a white family. Being assimilated into the white culture, she didn’t necessarily have a problem “fitting in” ; however, she was often the only Asian student in her school, church, and neighborhood. As an adult she began learning more about her Korean heritage.


Teachers are assigned other duties beyond the classroom, luckily, Melisa found a school club that really fit her interests well. She co-sponsored the hiking and biking club at a small high school in the River Valley. She quickly discovered that the biking part of the club was not developed but simply there by title. So she dusted off her old Gary Fisher mountain bike and dove straight in.


When she moved to Northwest Arkansas, she settled on the Springdale area because of its diverse populations; she knew her kids wouldn’t grow up in the same whites-only environment like she had. It was upon joining a Fayetteville Wheelmen beginner’s group ride where she learned group riding etiquette. A short time later she met Finn Taylor, who led a weekly women’s group ride. Finn encouraged these women to “just keep spinning”. With her aspirations to complete a century ride, the Big Dam Bridge, Finn sold Melisa a Specialized road bike. The difference between a hybrid trail bike and a road bike allowed her to ride for longer distances and even experiment with bike racing.


Later, she began volunteering as a level 1 NICA coach so she could learn to ride dirt trails with her son. She had a vested interest in youth outdoor education, loved learning to mountain bike, and is now a level 3 coach. She helps with GRiT (Girls Riding Together) and coach training when time allows.


Following the COVID pandemic, she began reflecting on her 10 years of teaching in public education, her health, and core values she wanted to exemplify for her kids; she was ready to try something new. Melisa transitioned her career in education to the biking industry. The transition led her to the Strider store in downtown Bentonville as the Events and Education Manager. She didn’t stay there long before joining PeopleforBikes. She enjoys making biking better for everyone.


Promoting a diverse, welcoming, and supportive cycling community is what motivates her. Representation is important in many industries, especially the outdoor industry. She is proud to be an ethnically diverse, BIPOC, female participating with NICA, serving as a race official with USA Cycling, and is on several non-profit boards. “My schedule is extremely packed but I do all these things because representation matters.”


If that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she helps her friends with their bikes on occasion. A hearing impaired friend asked for her opinion on a class that would be best to learn some bike mechanics. She could have recommended various classes but she felt compelled to ensure her friend didn’t struggle while attending any of these classes because of her disability instead offering one-on-one instruction. This is an example of the kind of person Melisa is and her commitment to help make biking better for everyone.



Next time you see Melisa, be sure to give her a wave and a quick shoutout!


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