Late afternoon sunlight refracts off Lake Arrowhead, mountains hugging the park’s edges. I put my goggles on for a pre-race practice swim open to all athletes competing in tomorrow’s Olympic distance triathlon. My feet meet the squishy moss of the lake as … Continue reading
He pointed to his back tire. I knew now what that meant. I believe it was his way of subtly but firmly saying, “I see you’re pushing yourself. You’re reaching that point where you’re getting close to exhausting your energy. I want to see you succeed. Draft off my wheel and keep going because you’re capable. NOW GO.” I nod and stare intently at his back wheel, no longer worried of hitting his back tire like I used to fear in the beginning. I trust my instincts and that he was paying attention to the road and traffic around us. It feels so good to have allies, now, I think to myself, and we attack the remainder of our sprint. It’s Wednesday night and I’m riding on my local bike shop’s weekly ride. I’m one of three females out here—something I’m making my mission to change— but at least it no longer feels intimidating. I can’t speak for all of the men out here, but the ones I’m getting to know so far are allies, open to hearing new ways to support women in cycling.
It hasn’t always been that way. Like many women, I’ve battled feelings of inadequacy, intimidation, and fear in bike shops and on the road, despite having grown up biking with my dad in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, and being a triathlete since 2005. In fact, it wasn’t until 2012, when I signed up to ride in a 365 mile women’s bike ride across Maryland with World Relief, that I even learned basic bike mechanics. The great folks at Race Pace gave our team a general bike maintenance overview, including instructions on how to change a flat tire. But being a tactile learner, I went home that night and quickly forgot everything I was taught. It wasn’t until I started consistently bike commuting in spring 2013 that I realized there’s no way to fully avoid a flat tire and knew it was time tackle this skill. I confess, I went to a bike shop and paid to have it done the first time. The mechanic let me intently peer over her shoulder to learn—and my, was it awesome to learn from another woman. “Just practice in front the TV and you’ll get the hang of it,” she encouraged me. Satisfied with simply being able to successfully get home, I called it a night.
When I had a little more time, I went to another bike shop to buy tubes. “What size do you need?” the gentleman asked. What size do I need? Why don’t I know this stuff!? I thought. “I don’t know; what kind do you need for a road bike?” I asked, sheepishly. I learned that I needed 700×23-25c and scribbled this in my notebook as newfound vocabulary as soon as I got home. It wasn’t until my second and third flat that I used the tubes and gave myself a pep talk: “You’re gonna fix this damn thing if it takes you all night!” I then You-Tubed, grumbled expletives, levered, and pumped my way through fixing a flat 38 minutes later- a long time, I know, but at least it was a starting point.
As I began training for my first half Ironman, I began having gearing issues. “What kind of gearing do you have?” the gentleman at the bike shop asked. Here we go again… why do I STILL not know this stuff? “Um…” He came from behind the checkout counter and started counting: “3×9,” he shared, which I scribbled in my notebook later on that night.
After addressing the gearing issues, it wasn’t long before I experienced shifting issues on a training ride. So I went back to the bike shop and spent five minutes trying to describe what was happening when I shifted. “I’ll take it outside, shift through all the gears, and I’m sure I’ll figure out what you mean,” the gentleman reassured me. A couple minutes later, he came back in the shop. “I see what you mean. It’s skipping gears.” Yeah. Skipping gears. That’s what I was trying to say. The staff pointed out all sorts of parts I needed and $238.35 later, I made a commitment to learn how to do some of my own repairs and to actually understand the parts I even ordered. I spent months bingeing on Youtube bike anatomy videos, scribbling in my bike notebook, and vowed to lift my head a little higher each time I entered the bike shop.
Fast forward to now, and I love everything about going to the bike shop. The new tire smell. The myriad of shiny bikes that inspire me to dream of new races to register for. A place to test out the vocabulary I’ve accumulated and to laugh at myself when I invent names for parts that don’t exist— like I did last night. Ask me to tell you my story about “lib nuts.” But I think the thing I love most, though, is that my eyes now meet the eyes of each employee and my voice is louder than when I first walked in. I stand a little taller and don’t beat myself up when I mis-name a part.
Bike shops can be an intimidating place for some women initially, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. I believe that women can make a conscientious effort to familiarize ourselves with bike terminology and to practice effective communication skills. To go into the places that make us feel uncomfortable, even if we’re nervous. To ignore any internal dialogue of inadequacy and to remember that most people in the shop just want to see you experience the joy of cycling. To do it scared. To say yes. To surprise ourselves. Because I’d rather lack knowledge (and learn) than lack courage to embark on something new.
There are some things bike stores can do, however, to become a little more “female-friendly.” Take a look and share your comments & experiences below:
-Hire more female staff. An estimated 89% of bike shop owners are men, while 33% are owned by a husband-wife team, and 45% of paid bike advocacy staff are female. If more women are hired as bike mechanics and employees, perhaps more women will feel a sense of belonging.
-Conduct free or low cost bike mechanic workshops at the store. This is a sign that the store is safe to newbies and less experienced riders, thus making it more inviting to ask questions without fear of how it will be perceived. Furthermore, 26% of women say that learning more about bicycling skills would encourage them to ride more. Similarly, 20% of respondents in a 2010 Women Cycling survey said that a bike repair class would cause them to start or increase their riding.
-Host women’s rides from the store. While I realize a male-only ride can be off-putting, given that men outnumber women in riding 3:1, a ride designated for women can tilt the pendulum back to center and provide an unintimidating space to ask questions. And hey, since you’re at the bike shop anyway, it’s easy to go into the store afterwards for parts or tools. If you live in the Baltimore area, check out Twenty20’s women’s rides- 9:30 AM the second Sunday of every month.
-Examine the interior for subtle gender messages. Are all of the shop’s wall posters pictures of men biking? Is the TV in the store only showing men’s cycling events? Take a mental note the next time you’re in a bike shop as to what images you see. I did this recently and every piece of wall art featured a white male cyclist. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong about this, there also isn’t anything inspiring or inclusive of the rest of the world that’s not a white male. A few small changes in ambiance can help convey the message that women belong in the biking world.
-Stock child carriers and trailers. One factor that some women cite as a barrier to cycling is the inability to carry children and other passengers (19% of women reported this, compared to 7% of men). To increase ridership among different demographics, such as mothers and fathers, bike stores can have on display children’s bike seat attachments. If you’re going to promote the product with a poster advertisement, earn a brownie point for featuring a man toting his child via bike instead of a woman.
While we’re on the topic of reaching different types of cyclists, let’s place panniers and fenders on visible display to inspire men and women to commute and run errands via bicycle. Women comprise 24% of trips taken by bike, but on average, take an additional 110 trips per year than men, so same as above: if you’re going to have a poster promoting these products in the store, show a picture of a woman riding a bike with panniers and fenders to challenge gender norms.
It’s not just women who benefit from inclusive settings. As Chicks on Bike radio points out, not every man cycles competitively, so making bike shops more friendly in general can go a long way to make both genders of every ability level feel welcomed.
Moreover, we also know that both men and women cite traffic safety (both perceived and actual), lack of infrastructure, and the inability to bring bikes on other forms of public transit (such as trains) as a few of the many reasons for not biking, so in the mean time, let’s keep riding, keep advocating, and keep educating our friends and family on the realities of cycling.
See you on the roads—
For more info, check out the following resources:
Local Baltimore Bike Collectives:
Bearings Bike Project and Velocipide Bike Project: Open environments designed to be safe spaces for learning about all things bikes, including how to do your own bike maintenance.
Local Baltimore Bike Advocacy groups:
BikeMore– advocating for biker rights, bike friendly infrastructure, and increasing ridership.
Baltimore Bicycling Club– Partners with area organizations to promote advocacy and ridership
Local Baltimore Groups to Ride With:
Biking in Bmore– weekend, evening, and morning rides of many distances and paces
Baltimore Area Triathlon Club– weekend, evening, and morning rides of many distances and paces- newbies to experienced riders. Road bike with clips recommended.
Crank Mavens-women only rides Monday nights, ~10 miles
Twenty20– Wednesday evening rides for experienced riders- road bikes and clips; women’s ride 2nd Sunday of every month, all paces welcomed
Race Pace– Beginner rides Sunday mornings out of Columbia; advanced rides Tuesday evenings at CCBC
Baltimore Bicycling Club– several rides per week of varying distances and speeds
Baltimore Bike Party– last Friday night of every month in costume!
Women on a Roll, The League of American Bicyclists, August 6, 2013
The Uphill Climb of Women’s Pro Cycling, Stuff Mom Never Told You, August 28, 2013
How to Get More Women Riding Bikes, The Bike Show Podcast from Resonance FM, March 12, 2012
Women: Expanding our Presence in the Bike World, Chicks on Bikes Radio, December 20, 2012.
How did Women Pedal Their Way to Emancipation? Stuff Mom Never Told You, May 11, 2011.
10 Myths About Women & Cycling, The League of American Bicyclists
Women Mean Business: Will the Bike Industry Benefit? Women Bike
Overcoming Bike Concerns, Women Bike
10 Myths About Women & Cycling, The League of American Bicyclists
Women Mean Business: Will the Bike Industry Benefit? Women Bike
Opportunities in life don’t always come for the swift, the fastest. Sometimes opportunities come for those who are willing, who are looking, who are ready. And so, sitting here in this plane listening to the songs that guided me through … Continue reading
“Swatting the air with the back of his hand, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme says he has nothing to say to a group of female cyclists hoping to one day ride in the sport’s greatest race.” That familiar grit returned to … Continue reading
I had a conversation on a plane last week with a woman who lamented, “I just feel like I haven’t accomplished anything and I’m 65 years old.” This woman, mind you, runs her own business, volunteers with her Church, has raised 3 daughters, is active in the lives of her grandkids, and has poured out her painful experience of divorce to support other friends who’ve walked the same crestfallen lines.
“I thought I’d be married by now,” I heard another friend say.
“I thought I would have been more successful at this point in my life.”
“I thought I would have accomplished more by now.”
Do you hear voices you know in those sentiments? Have you ever felt that way?
I turned 26 a few weeks ago. From the get go, I knew it would be a hard number for me. Throughout college, I talked non-stop of serving in the Peace Corps in Africa post-college and then attending grad school immediately after. “I kinda know what I’m doing with the next four years, or so, at least,” I shared with a friend a few weeks out from college graduation. “I’ll spend two years overseas and then two years in grad school, and by that time, gosh, I’ll be 26!” I remember exclaiming, and wow, did 26 seem much older then.
Peace Corps was my dream. My passion. The thing that drove me to put all my energy into swimming Division 1 athletics now, because one day I would be on a plane headed off to Africa. I saw the faces of women and girls I met on a short term trip back when I was 20 in Botswana. I dreamed of meeting more of those animated smiles. I scribbled “Peace Corps” all over notebooks, especially my senior year, when I was tired of learning about people and just wanted to be out in the vast, wide open world with people. I’d dream about which country I’d get selected for. I poured over University of Denver’s Masters in International Human Rights program with vigor, glancing on their website when I should have been writing papers. Life seemed big, seemed open, seemed exciting and filled with possibilities and wonder.
Until that stopped.
It was January 20, 2010, 10 minutes before the close of business on the day before I was supposed to leave for South Africa with Peace Corps. I had knots in my throat all day and stared at the phone until 4:50 PM, pacing my room with trepidation, sadness, loss, fear, and most notably, uncertainty. My mental health had taken a downward turn. During my sophomore year of college, I developed anxiety for the first time in my life. I began to withdraw from my daily activities, including friendships, then entered in anxiety’s menace counterpart: depression. Throughout college, I attended a couple of clinical counseling sessions (but couldn’t afford to do a series of consecutive sessions that would have enabled me to really address my issues) and relied on my anxiety/depression medication and prescription sleeping pills. It was something I hoped would get better, would go away. I didn’t think it would turn into something that would take me away from the dream I’d been building.
But it did, and I made that painful phone call to say I wasn’t going to be leaving tomorrow. After receiving a few minutes of condolences and logistical instructions (“You can expect your passport to be mailed back to you in approximately 4-6 weeks”), I bawled my eyes out. My dream lie crushed, broken, smashed on the floor, like a million photographs shredded into one thousand pieces, all within a matter of a 5 minute phone call.
First thing was to schedule an appointment to see a psychiatrist. It was the best gift I ever spent on myself. Through medication and counseling, I began to gain new footing and spent my days writing cover letter after cover letter, wondering if anyone would even read the text over which I labored.
But sure enough, I had a job interview one long month later, and within two weeks, was hired as an HIV research assistant for a start date in April, giving me one whole month to re-focus, re-gain strength, and most importantly, breathe in the beauty of the spring air around me underneath the solace of Magnolia trees.
So many wonderful things have happened over the past four years; things I could have never foreseen at 22 when I said “no” to my Peace Corps dream. I spent 10 days in Cambodia with a women’s advocacy group. I began weekly therapy sessions, finally able to crawl out from underneath the rubble I felt like I created. I began writing and even got a few articles published. My family celebrated my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, bringing together all of my cousins who are scattered across the US.
But I knew 26 would still bring back memories of realizing that I never accomplished the life goals I had for myself at 22.
Which begs the question…
What do we do when our dreams get smashed? When your dreams are taken from you? When your dreams become trampled upon, left for dead? When that gaping whole in your heart where your dream once was pangs with emptiness and longing for the dream to return?
To find that out, I went back to water, my first love.
I headed out to a reservoir with one of my best friends on my birthday, gathering small rocks and stones scattered along the shoreline. We wrote each of our regrets, fears, worries, and uncertainties on the rocks with a sharpie. All of the things we needed to make peace with. The things we thought we would have done by now- the way it was “supposed” to turn out– and we tossed each and every one in the water. Sunk them. Skipped them. Hurled them like a shotput, letting all of the shame, disappointment, and fear of the future go with the rocks we now released into the water.
It was a holy moment.
A freeing moment.
To acknowledge crushed dreams and to affirm that my dreaming spirit never died; it just got revamped.
The thing I’m learning about dreams is that they are changeable, moldable, adaptable. They are resilient, yet flexible. True dreams offer life, not shame. They guide you but don’t harness you in. True dreams don’t immobilize. They recognize the wind and waves, and move with you, not against you. A passionate current that allows you to be washed over and over again with hope.
It’s that hope I think about when the Bible talks about “turning swords into ploughshares.” I’ve always been fascinated by the symbolism of taking something negative and turning it into something positive, useful, something better and more beautiful. I think that’s what God longs to do with dreams that never came into fruition. To take our crushed spirit and set us on a new trajectory, one that is more open, and free, and ever-passionate. One that accepts that things change, and don’t turn out the way we think they are “supposed to.” Ones that don’t feel too heavy because we can hold onto them tightly enough to put in our blood, sweat, and tears, but loosely enough to let the light in, let in air, let in matter, creativity, open-mindedness, and acceptance.
Right now, I say I want to get married sometime in my 30s and adopt a child in my 40s. But I hear a little bit of my obstinate, so-sure 22 year old self in there. I’m learning that dreams change, including timelines, and to not get so hell-bent on insisting things turn out the way I want them to right now, because who knows, that 22 year old girl who was sooo sure of the future has learned a thing or two now.
And so what about you?
It doesn’t matter if you’re 26 or 36 or 96 or too afraid or too scared.
Your dream is still there.
Oh sure, it may have changed shape since you first dreamed it up, but there’s still something tugging at your heart, calling you into life each day.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve said “no” to opportunities that you just weren’t ready for.
You still have the heart of a dreamer and that can never be taken from you.
May we have the fortitude to express our disappointment in not accomplishing what we thought we would, without shaming ourselves.
May you have eyes to see the amazing things you have done, though perhaps not your main dreams, the things that have shaped and molded you, and given meaning to your life.
May we come to understand that dreams shift, dreams change, and may our hearts be open to new directions, confident that there is something bigger going on here, things that if we were to see ahead of time, all at once, we could hardly contain ourselves in joy.
I’m 26 today…
… and I’m still a dreamer.
Have you ever lost a dream? What was that process like?
How did you gain a new vision for your life?
I yawned sleepily and opened my drawer to find a bed shirt to sleep in tonight. I pulled out the first one I could find. It was a familiar one. A golden yellow cotton t-shirt with only four large, bold, … Continue reading
1.19.13: One of my favorite views of Baltimore City right now is entering into the downtown area from the 395 off-ramp. Our city is painted with Ravens spirit-purple lights dancing on skyscrapers, “Go Ravens” posters taped to city windows, and, my favorite: the billboard that simply said “WOW” after the Raven’s win last Saturday. In fact, as I sit down to write this at the Towson Public Library, a woman just pointed out that the bookshelf next to me contains an entire collection of books with purple covers, complete with a border of purple stars cut out of construction paper.
Purple has become a unifying topic bringing complete strangers together in conversation. All week at work, I’ve asked patients, “You see the game last Saturday?” or I’d see someone wearing a purple scarf and fist bump in the air an amiable, “Go Ravens!” (and often hear, “I know, that’s right.”) I think this is one of the beautiful things about sports: its ability to bring people together, irrespective of socioeconomic status, race, or political beliefs.
But I can’t help but notice something else too.
When did “football” become so analogous with “God” like “God” and “America?” (i.e.
“God Bless America” bumper stickers, etc.) Faith and football, faith and flag. Is this what God is all about? In comments sections of Ray Lewis’ exhortation of “No Weapon Shall remain” are statements such as, “God was with our team.” Is God not with the team who loses? “God blessed our team.” Is God not blessing the teams who lose? Is God up in Heaven writing out the play by play of who will pass to who, and who will miss the ball, to make that person score, to make this team win?
Don’t get me wrong.
I’ve prayed throughout competitions. Not so much to win, but to focus my mind on something bigger than myself to draw upon for strength. I’m not saying people should or shouldn’t pray or talk about their faith in the arena of sports.
But what I am questioning is the amount we partner “God” with “football.” In a nation with “In God We Trust” written on our currency, and in a nation in which “God Bless America” is uttered in many speeches, auditoriums, and pre-game concerts, I wonder at what point we’ve made a show out of God being on “our side.”
What would it look like to live in a world in which we had murals about praying for peace, rather than praying for football? What would it look like to talk about God in correlation with social justice as frequently as God is talked about with America and football? What if we had prayer rallies not for our team to win, but for no children to be trafficked at the Super Bowl? As Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott stated prior to the 2011 Superbowl in Arlington, Texas,
“The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly. It’s commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.”
Something tells me we are off kilter when we pray for teams to win the Superbowl, while forgetting about 14 year old girls sold off as “Superbowl Specials.” Because when you look at Jesus’ priorities, it was always for those on the fringe to be brought into inclusion, while nationalism and religiosity were shunned.
So bring on the purple. Pray about anything and everything. But let’s realize that God is much bigger than football. God is much bigger than America. God cares about more than blessing solely either one of those. Let’s remember that God loves and blesses all people, and for those who do not experience such blessings due to poverty and war, let’s be conduits of peace and justice. And win or lose, let’s know how deeply God loves our opponents, our enemies, and ourselves, showing no favoritism while at the same time cheering each of us on to become more and more into the likeness of our Creator.
So, what do you think?
What does America most often couple God with? Love? Justice? Homophobia? Sports?
Do you believe that God shows no favoritism while at the same time cheers us on as we seek God’s heart?
What’s your passion?
That thing that gets your heart beating faster, your mind imagining and creating, aliveness pulsing through your veins?
What do you need to do to pursue it?
What scenes do you see when you daydream?
Is your dream out there? Can you find it? If you can’t find it… is it time to create it?
I’ve found myself in the latter part of that sentiment. I dream about how sports can be used in the developing world to address the Millennium Development Goals Most days, I’m not sure what that looks like. While I wave my hands in the air asking God for a road map, all I hear Him/Her say is, “Just begin.” So I decided to begin somewhere… at a refugee healthcare class at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health last fall. Below is a link to my final paper “Sports as a Tool for Refugee Empowerment” featured on Sport&Development.org. Feel free to check it out and if you know anyone who might be able to help me on this journey… I’d love to know!