Meet Gabriela “Ika” Kovacikova. In 2013, she swam the English Channel solo. Four years later, she swam in the first all-female relay team to double cross California’s Catalina Channel. This year, she wants you to join her for her favorite day of the summer: The Prouty™.
Kovacikova’s passion for The Prouty began as a student at Richmond Middle School in Hanover when she befriended a family that invited her to ride The Prouty with them. Even then, Kovacikova excelled in water rather than land sports, including biking. While most Prouty participants bike, others may walk, row or golf during the two-day athletic event to support the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center.
On her first Prouty, Kovacikova pedaled a heavy, limited-gear mountain bike for the 20-mile Prouty ride. Just as she was struggling up the final hill, she heard a steel-drum band whose cheerful tunes energized her weary legs. Then she noticed inspirational signs interspersed every 10 feet up the hill, which gave her to final push she needed to summit Chieftain hill.
As she finally crossed the finish line to the cheers of the crowd, her friend’s mother waved. Kovacikova raised her hand to wave back and immediately fell off her bike. “Maybe you should stick to water sports,” the mother teased. Yet that final topple only strengthened Kovacikova’s resolve to ride The Prouty the following year.
Since then, Kovacikova has convinced her family and friends to ride alongside her. Their team, Blueberry Nation, considers The Prouty a holiday. Family members and friends travel to the Upper Valley to participate. The day before the ride, everyone feasts at a blueberry-themed picnic.
Kovacikova and her friends celebrate after a triumph Prouty ride in 2015.
When she was a student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Kovacikova would travel to the Upper Valley, when possible, to ride The Prouty, riding 100 miles instead of 20. Now a second-year medical student at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, Kovacikova trains for the ride in the Upper Valley.
This year, Kovacikova is dedicating her ride to the memory of Dorsi Raynolds, her former swim coach at the Upper Valley Aquatics Center. Raynolds passed away in April this year.
Ika gives five reasons why she loves The Prouty and why she thinks you should join her.
1. First, she says, the joy of being active is enhanced when you are touring the rugged beauty of the Upper Valley.
2. The Prouty offers opportunities to connect you with your neighbors and community members.
3. Participants help preserve and uplift a wonderful resource in the Upper Valley – the Norris Cotton Cancer Center.
4. The Prouty benefits the research of some of Kovacikova’s professors, which has allowed these scientists to advance cancer research in their respective fields. This not only benefits patients but also students in our community who learn from them. When the professors receive research grants, they often hire graduate and medical students to help conduct the experiments. As a result, the students gain valuable experience in medical research.
5. Finally, it’s fun! Last year, Kovacikova’s friend participated in her first Prouty. At the end of the ride, she exclaimed, “I knew it would be fun, but I didn’t know it would be this much fun!”