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AUSTIN EDITION Cyclist has streak of her own

She's no Lance Armstrong, but she's a 15-time winner

By Roxana Orellana

rorellana@postbulletin.com

Mary Nelson is one of the few who've committed themselves to hop on their bicycles and ride across Minnesota each year for the last 15 years.

Today she began her 16th year as a participant of the annual Multiple Sclerosis Society's TRAM, The Ride Across Minnesota.

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"It's really rewarding," Nelson, 52, said. "I do it to help out. There is so much MS in this area."

This year the five-day, 300-mile bike ride will take cyclists from Grand Rapids, through Hibbing, Giants Ridge, Two Harbors and finally to Duluth. The 2005 MS TRAM is the northern-most route to date.

Nelson will be representing Spam town with her Spam Trammers jersey and various pig figurines that accompany her on the ride.

She does not have an official team, but plenty of people join her during the ride.

"Once you get there, you meet all sorts of people," Nelson said.

As a rider of all past TRAMs Nelson pretty much has seen it all: rain, winds, a tornado, grasshoppers and crickets crawling on her legs. But there is always something to look forward to, she said.

"I've never been to Duluth," Nelson added. Instead of traveling north to south or vice versa, this year riders will be going west to east, then south.

Nelson said the best part is meeting people along the way and seeing little towns she'd never see if she were in a car.

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In her earlier years, Nelson remembers riding up to 800 miles to prepare for the trip. This year she's ridden about 100, but that's not stopping her.

"I've been blessed with good health and energy," Nelson said. "You share it and try to make people happy."

Nelson began riding after the birth of her son, when she asked her husband to go to her parents' home and get her bike.

Her husband, Michael, was skeptical, but he dusted off the old Schwinn and filled the tires with air.

Nelson hasn't stopped riding since, and she has a story to tell about every bike she's ridden.

For Sunday's race, she'll be using the same bike she's ridden for the last 11 years.

"The key to success in riding a bike is that you have a bike that you like to get out and use," Nelson said.

She raises funds for the MS ride by selling bracelets. She also carries along a blue piggy bank strapped on the back of her bike for donations.

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In previous years she has raised up to $1,000. She said the support of her family and friends keep her going.

"It's a good cause," Nelson said. "It's just a whole adventure."

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