Traverse City Bike Life: Mary Mantei

Ed. note – This personal narrative was written by Mary Mantei during the Traverse City Advocate Academy.

I am a privileged woman. I am privileged to have access to many resources; energy, health, enough money, good friends, a great life partner, a fun and loving family, and at this point in my life, time to do pretty much what I want to.

Some might say that I earned my privileged life. I made a plan and worked the plan. Growing up on a huge dairy farm in the central Lower Peninsula with 9 brothers and sisters certainly gave me a strong work ethic. I have always been grateful to my parents for that. I was the first and only sibling in my family who chose to go to college. That decision, along with other factors, opened doors for me I could not have imagined, and I walked through most of them.

But it doesn’t really matter if my privileged life was handed to me, or I earned it. The end result is the same. I am a privileged woman. And in my life experience, privilege comes with responsibility. I grew up watching my parents’ involvement in organizations and causes they believed in. They both assumed leadership roles and encouraged us to do the same in our youth. My parents believed that no matter how busy you were, or how much you had going on in your life, other people needed your time, energy, and “smarts”, as my Dad called it.

In my first career, as a teacher of middle school students for 18 years, I engaged with such a varied and diverse group of young people and their families. I loved it. They took me to the school of life every single day. I met the single Mom, or Dad, who were doing all they could to meet the needs of their children and raise happy kids. I met the two-parent families who were doing the same, and those who were not. And I met the parents who were working multiple jobs and still couldn’t pay the field trip fees for their kids. And I met the grandparents who were raising their grand-kids because for any number of reasons their parents weren’t capable. And I met the bright, shiny penny kids, who appeared to be sailing through life just because.

One of the many realities of life that I have always remembered from those days is that some peoples’ days are consumed with just making it through the day. Their minds are full of “how will I’s”. They may not have the luxury of contributing their time beyond their family dynamics and needs.

But I do have that luxury, that privilege, and that is one reason I am so happy to be part of this academy.

I have been riding bikes for 40 years. For fun, for transportation, for tripping, and even a little racing. When my husband and I decided to move to Traverse City 4.5 years ago, a top priority was to live in a neighborhood where we could walk or bike to most places we wanted to go. So we moved from 10 acres and a house in the woods to a half city lot and a house half the size of what we left. For us, it has been a “less is more experience”.

In no time at all, the advantages of a safe, bikeable, walkable community became evident to us. We regularly talk with so many of our neighbors because we are on bike or on foot. We know and care about one another. We save time and money when we travel around town on our bikes. If you know anything about T1 Diabetes, which I live with, you know that movement is the second best tool for managing a healthy glucose level. And the simple fun and pleasure one gets from moving under their own power, the self-sufficiency, the freedom, the independence, support our well-being and happiness. Our choice of Traverse City for a bikable, walkable community has been exceptional. And we also see there is more work to be done.

Every member of our community deserves the opportunities all of us here are striving to create. We are working in the name of everyone in our community and perhaps particularly for those who don’t have the time, energy, or awareness to participate, and yet, will benefit from all the advantages that a safe walkable and bikeable community offers. As Toyota has been saying all through the Olympics, “When We are Free to Move, Anything is Possible”. Not only do I love that notion, I believe it.


Mary Mantei is a former teacher and current leadership development/life coach, Oak Park neighborhood resident, Norte bike train conductor and Traverse City Advocate Academy participant. She likes the U.P., her husband, Pete, and adventures to awesome places.