While other professional cyclists use their time off the bike to rest, catch up with friends and family or even make a bit of cash on the side, 23-year-old Skil-1t4i rider Linda van Rijen volunteers her time to raise awareness of animal abuse. She has been seen on the streets of Amsterdam dressed as everything from a bunny rabbit to a seal to make her point known.
"Many people - especially the kids - love the outfits, and it more easily grabs people's attention," said Van Rijen. She also sets up stands throughout The Netherlands to hand out informational brochures. While her message may be received positively my most, periodically she runs into passerbys who feel threatened and lash out with harsh words. She handles those situations just as she does when on the bike - brushes them off and keeps her eye on the goal.
Van Rijen's venture into animal rights began a few years ago after watching a few documentaries about animal abuse that broke her heart. "From that moment, I knew I had to do something to help," said Van Rijen. Her unwavering dedication led her to recently complete 560 hours of volunteer work for two animal organizations, Union for Animals and Four Paws. "I used those hours towards my diploma in marketing and communications, but I will continue to be involved in animal rights."
At the moment, she is sidelined from volunteering due to her hectic racing schedule combined with her continuing studies. As she is both a cyclo-cross and road racer, down time is a luxury not afforded to her, especially considering her seasons often overlap. While right in the middle of her cyclo-cross season she attended her team's training camp for the upcoming road season, causing her to miss her own national championships - one of the sacrifices Van Rijen makes when contesting both a full cyclo-cross and road season. Her current 'cross season concluded with world championships in Koksijde on January 29 (when she placed 15th), and a mere three days later her road season kicked off with the Tour of Qatar.
During these busy periods in Van Rijen's life, she seamlessly continues to help the animals by donating to several organizations. "If it's not with my time than it's with my money," said Van Rijen. "Once my racing and studies are over, I see myself again becoming heavily involved with helping animals. At this time, I'm not sure if it will be my money-making job but I do see myself spending lots of time in the future most likely at the animal sanctuary donating my time. I really liked it there."