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Inclusive biking group improves doctor’s fitness

Memories of her dad enjoying group cycling rides when she was a kid gave Dr. Chemen Neal confidence to try cycling when her clinical partner, a triathlete, encouraged her. Just out of residency, Chemen quickly fell for the sport. Before long, she completed her first triathlon. Twenty years and six children later, Chemen, now an OB/GYN at IU Health, competed in an Ironman at the age of 50!


As she was training, she decided she needed to find others to join her on those long, challenging rides. She found the IU Health Momentum Indy Divas, a women’s cycling program that organizes weekly rides for riders of all skill levels.


Being part of the Divas has been life-changing for her, both physically and mentally. Through the group rides, Chemen found women who were willing to stick with her pace, even if she lagged behind. That patience and camaraderie helped Chemen build both her skills and her confidence, as well as her passion for group riding. She doubts she would even still be cycling if not for the Divas.


Now that she has benefited from the compassionate support of the Divas, she pays that forward whenever she can. She also has become a cheerleader of participating in the Major Taylor Fondo, no matter your ability.


“If you’re feeling kind of slow, I know what that’s like,” said Chemen, who has completed the ride several times. “I will wait for you or probably just be slow with you.”


She is grateful for her employer’s support of the event and of the Divas. It’s a reflection of the health system’s commitment to community wellness.


“Having IU Health be mindful of women’s mental health by creating and promoting spaces where women can join together in fellowship to do activities together is important for cardiovascular and mental health,” Chemen said.


As chief diversity officer at the IU School of Medicine, Chemen also values the Divas’ inclusive approach. She credits sister Divas member Karen Smartt, director of admissions at the School of Medicine, with drawing women of color into the cycling program. Many women who are beginning cyclists might not ride with a group or commit to their fitness without an explicit invitation from a welcoming group like the Divas, she added. But with the program’s support, they make the time and continue to prioritize health and exercise.


Witnessing the power of the Divas’ inclusiveness has informed Chemen’s own work. Experiencing firsthand the benefits of being in a diverse group has strengthened her confidence in the positive impact of her equity efforts at IU.


“It’s important to create spaces where people with shared identifies can have safety and psychological safety,” Chemen said.


Why I ride?

I look at it as something I really need to do to be able to be a parent, to be a spouse and to do all the work that I have to do with a clear head.

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