As she crossed the line at that 50km gantry at ride’s end, she was laughing, and smiling, and crying…all at the same time. The emotions flooded in and crossing the line was almost impossible as the tears clouded her vision and the laughter took her breath away. Exhausted, barely able to get off the bike and depleted of every last bit of energy, she did it…and she believed that 6 months ago she would never do this. We hugged as she suddenly burst into sobs of joy.
That’s the nature of what we see at Wheel Women all the time…we’re lucky! It is truly a joy to be a part of that journey. As coaches and providers of cycling skills to build women’s confidence on the bike we see some incredible stories of self doubt turn to self belief and extraordinary accomplishment. It’s a pretty magical experience….enough to bring tears to our eyes too!
In our opinion the rider who goes from the ‘around the block’ rider to smashing their first 50km ride is an extraordinary person. And when we say ‘smashing’ that distance, we don’t think of this in the same terms as others - fast, furious and a few Strava records along the way! Nope, we think of it as doing something you doubted you could do!
For us, no matter how long it takes you, how fast you ride that distance, or whether it was just half of what other riders did it is an amazing achievement. You are doing more than you did before and that is the prize.
I was a little taken aback recently when I was told that the 65km distance on an upcoming event ride is the ‘consolation prize’…it’s just for those who can’t finish the 100km, or those not fit enough to make the climbs, or those just not ‘elite’ enough. Don’t get me wrong, 100km is a noble goal and probably every century rider remembers the first time they make that distance…I certainly do! But you see, this is where the big difference lies for me.
At Wheel Women we are about getting women onto their bikes, encouraging women to ride more, to make some healthy choices, to step outside their comfort zones and start something new that they thought they might not be good enough for.
What rocks my boat, so to speak, is to see that a woman who has turned up on one of our rides telling me all the things I’ve heard a thousand times before, totally transform herself from non-rider into a cyclist! “I’m not very fit’, “I don’t like riding on the road’, ‘I’m really slow so I don’t want to hold anyone up, don’t wait for me’, or maybe even ‘I don’t really like riding, but I have to ride my kids to school’. But we watch her succeed…it isn’t us at Wheel Women who transformed her, we just facilitate and encourage (okay, gently persuade might be a better description)! She does the work herself….she creates the change herself.
A rider who is aiming for their first 100km ride is already riding (usually) and is also making sure they increase their distances and fitness so the 100km is a perfectly reasonable and achievable goal. In other words, they are already a cyclist…they are just going for a bigger bite of that pie! I take my hat off to them because I know how it feels to get off the bike at the end of that first 100km and know how amazing it feels. It is incredible…it’s a long way on a bike!
But the shorter distance rider does not diminish one bit in their awesomeness in our opinion at Wheel Women. We all started somewhere once…in fact I often relate a pretty funny story to our coaches! It’s funny for them and funny for me now as a veteran of many long distance rides, including multi day rides of over 600km.
I remember when I first got into riding I thought I was pretty amazing because my average speed on my simple little bike computer was 11kmphr. And that was probably across a distance of about 15-20km. I proudly waltzed into the local bike shop one day thinking I was pretty pro because my speed had moved from 11kmphr to 18kmphr as an average speed, just after a few short months…my god I was almost professional!! Looking back I must have looked like a complete twit to the guys in the bike shop who think nothing of a 130km round trip!
But I also remember how awesome I felt…I’d improved, I’d started riding regularly, I was getting fit! I never forget how that felt, so I know when I see a lady cross that finish line at 50km after putting her heart and soul into the ride, that she has created some major changes in her life. She has gone from inactive to active, she has gone from possibly not being very fit (or at least not bike fit), to being on the path to fitness. She has made time for herself…this is behaviour change. Yes, this is what rocks my boat!!
Seeing that woman transform her self doubt and ‘I’m not fit enough’ attitude to the ‘I can do this’ zone, seeing her not just make that change, but make it a habit is what makes me want to kneel before her and bow in honour! Seriously!
On the day of the ride we may well not ever know of the stories behind the riders, or the hurdles they have jumped on their path to give it a go. But for every woman who sets out to just get to the 65km mark, because that is what YOU can manage, do not feel less awesome, do not feel like you have a ‘consolation prize’ and do not let anyone tell you it was ‘just 65km’! You may have no desire to ever ride any further, and that is allowed…we all have our own goals. You have started somewhere, once, and whatever your story, it’s amazing! Walk down the street the next day and ask yourself, how many other women can I see here who can ride that far on a bike?’ Probably not many!
The 65km route is not a consolation prize. That’s why we have decided to take the role of ‘ambassadors’ on the 65km leg of this new event ride. Not because, as we have heard some suggest, we are not fit enough, or not able to climb…no, it’s because we believe in those women who are going to give this their best shot. We will be there for those women who will ride further that day than they have ever ridden before, who will climb higher than they have climbed before, but are also the women who are creating their journey of behaviour change to become a CYCLIST!
They have started their journey…and I wouldn’t miss that for the world!