Naked Women's Racing: http://nakedwomenracing.com/
Four years ago, Amanda Cyr weighed 350 pounds. A doctor told her she would die unless she changed her lifestyle.
Cyr, who now races for the Boulder-based Naked Women's Racing cycling team, knew she had to change her lifestyle but had never really participated in organized sports, or a regular exercise schedule.
"Oh yeah, couch potato was a big sport of mine," the now-29-year-old said, laughing.
Today, she's lost 170 pounds, has joined a cycling team and has more friends than she can count, she said. Her life has changed dramatically since she made the choice four years ago to get healthy.
The wake-up call came after Cyr graduated from the University of Florida with a music performance degree. She didn't know what she wanted to do with her life, so on a whim she moved to China to teach English.
Once there, she was subjected to daily ridicule for being overweight. People would stand in her view and point at her, she said, or outline the shape of her body with their hands while laughing. Some taxi drivers refused to drive her because they thought she would use too much gas.
"When you're obese in China, you're a spectacle and it's OK to make fun of that because they've never seen an obese person before," Cyr said. "Emotionally that was really tough. Most days you could take it, but if you'd had a hard day teaching, it was so defeating."
When she came back to the United States, she picked up and moved to Denver for a change of pace. Once here, she looked around and saw healthy people everywhere. About that same time, a doctor told her she was dying.
Her doctor put her on a restrictive diet, but Cyr said without food in her life to keep her busy or dictate her social schedule, she grew bored. So she started running, or "waddling," as Cyr called it.
At first, she could run one city block. But slowly, she began setting goals and picking races to train for. Six months later, she ran a full marathon.
She found cycling after dabbling in both running and triathlons. Running, she said, helped her start exercising, but wasn't her passion. Triathlons seemed fun at first, but then she realized the only part she actually enjoyed was the cycling leg.
A Google search led her to Naked Women's Cycling, the Boulder team with members from entry level to elite cyclists.
Her first race was March 2012, the University of Colorado Stazio Criterium. Cyr came in dead last (the race official had to tell her the race was over because she didn't know how crit races worked), but made dozens of new friends -- women she was supposed to be competing with -- and knew that she'd found her sport.
After that first criterium, she signed up for every race she could find. In total, Cyr raced in 31 races her first season, mostly because of the community she found within the women's cycling world and through Naked Women's Cycling.
"It's the whole package, so that's what clinched it for me. You need to feel community," she said.
To her teammates and other female cyclists, she's the glue that holds Colorado women's cycling together. Cyr chats with the competition at the stating line, cracks jokes constantly and takes the workhorse role so her teammates can podium. Cyr knows "everyone in the peloton," said Naked Women's Racing co-founder Rachel Scott.
Sharon Madison, 51, and Cyr became instant friends during their rookie seasons. Though they're 22 years apart in age, their unlikely friendship started during one of their first races together last year when neither of them "knew what they were doing," Madison said. Now, Madison tells everyone she knows the "Amanda story."
"It's so inspiring," Madison said. "A year ago, she gets on her bike and accomplished what she did in one season. She'd never ridden a bike, was overweight, and then she gets on the bike like she owns it. It blows me away."
It's hard for Cyr to think back to her "old" life now that she's been "reborn," she said. This year, she's officially co-captain of Naked's Cat. 4, or entry-level team, which means more jokes, more racing and more rallying the team together.
"I don't think of life four years ago," she said. "It's hard for me to remember how I was so sedentary. It's hard to remember a year ago, I didn't know 200 female cyclists who would do anything for me at the drop of a hat."
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.