Esthela Casale is passionate about cycling. So much so, she’s turned the healthy hobby into a job and a nonprofit that empowers people of all abilities to better their lives through the sport.
A single parent of two young sons, Casale entered the OU Extended Campus online Organizational Leadership program last fall to gain the skills necessary to grow her nonprofit and reach her dreams of giving back through the sport of cycling.
Pedaling through the pain
Although she grew up in a family of cyclers, her love for the sport blossomed in 2011 after she attended an indoor cycling class at a gym in Muskogee, Oklahoma. She began the process of getting certified as an instructor after only a few sessions in the class.
Casale said she didn’t do much with the certification right away, but she began outdoor cycling regularly after receiving a bicycle that Christmas.
In 2017, circumstances left Casale a single parent to her two sons. She found herself relying more and more on her cycling hobby, both for her physical and mental health.
“I spent so much time on my bike during this time. I know every pothole in the streets of Muskogee,” she said. “Nothing made sense at that time, and riding my bike was the only thing I could control amidst the chaos that was going on in my life.”
Being on the road allowed her to work through some of the issues she was dealing with, and she began to restart her life.
“I saw cycling as a form of moving meditation,” she said. “I could clear my mind and focus on the task at hand. I’m sure that being surrounded by nature and breathing fresh air had a lot to do with it, too.”
Helping others heal
After experiencing her own healing through cycling, Casale began sharing it with others. She started leading community group rides and working with area veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other health-related issues. She also began teaching cycling classes at the Oklahoma School for the Blind, located in Muskogee.
“It’s not easy to climb up hills. Having the skills and ability to coach people through this process is very rewarding. I like to help people understand that there’s power lingering inside them, and learning to use that is a skill that can help in any situation. With every encounter, I encourage people to love themselves enough to create a positive change in their lives, even if it starts with small changes.”
That same year, she started a nonprofit for cyclists, Live, Love, Cycle. She teaches cyclists of all levels the mechanics of cycling, bike handling skills and how to ride on both streets and trails. She also incorporates self-help concepts like meditating and breathing into her lessons.
“There’s nothing more gratifying than helping other people. It’s what brings joy to my life,” she said. “Cycling is such a beautiful sport. It’s just so gratifying to experience nature, see animals close up and see how the leaves turn gold and fall all over the road. All of these things are what make me feel alive.”
Casale said working with individuals with disabilities has been one of the most rewarding parts of her journey. She recalls helping one particular child at the Oklahoma School for the Blind. At 4 years old, the child was struck by a car, suffering a brain injury that left him visually impaired. Casale was able to help him overcome his fear of cycling and once again get on a bike.
“I had mixed feelings about trying to get him on a bike since he hadn’t been on one since his accident,” she said. “I let him take time to explore the tandem bike, and after a couple of sessions he finally agreed to get on.”
Casale said eventually he was able to ride the bike and now enjoys cycling to keep him healthy and fit.
“Working with children who are visually impaired always brought me to tears. These young adults live in a perfect world with their disability. They are free to express themselves in the purest form,” she said. “Experiencing freedom of expression without fear of being judged is very beautiful. I’ve never felt more comfortable in my skin than hanging out with this group.”
She said helping people achieve their cycling goals, whether it’s for recreation or competition, has been equally satisfying.
“It’s not easy to climb up hills. Having the skills and ability to coach people through this process is very rewarding,” she said. “I like to help people understand that there’s power lingering inside them, and learning to use that is a skill that can help in any situation. With every encounter, I encourage people to love themselves enough to create a positive change in their lives, even if it starts with small changes.”
Riding into the future
As for the future, Casale said she hopes a degree will help her continue helping others through Live, Love, Cycle. She hopes to implement a youth program for students interested in competitive cycling and create sanctioned races where proceeds benefit other nonprofits, such as the Salvation Army Angel Tree program, ensuring all foster care children receive a bicycle. She’d also like to create a rehabilitation program for veterans one day.
Casale, who also works at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Tulsa, said the Organizational Leadership program has already taught her a lot. She’s also finding that OU Extended Campus is a great fit for her hectic schedule.
“Leaders can envision a better outcome and future, and that’s what I’d like to do – make a positive impact in the world starting in my community,” she said. “This degree offers many options that direct positive change, and I’m all for that. I love that the degree program is flexible and works perfectly with my busy life.”
To learn more about the OU Extended Campus Organizational Leadership degree and other programs offered by the college, visit the website pacs.ou.edu.