Flight connections. Internet connections. Physical connections. Emotional connections. The connection that happens when practice and frustration turn into perfection and fluidity, and everything seems to click. Our lives are fuelled by connections; intertwined like a complicated jigsaw puzzle, that once put together, make sense. For the 203 women who attended Women’s Weekend at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin between March 15th-17th—a record breaking number for the bike park’s 6th annual event—connections were made as soon as these women walked into the indoor playground. There was one connection, however, that brought all of these ladies together in the first place: the relationship between a girl and her reliable companion… her bicycle.
Hosted by former UCI downhill mountain bike champion Leigh Donovan, and accompanied by a diverse team of lady shredders (including Carley Young, Felicia Stancil, Lindsay Voreis, Becky Tesch, Sarah Rawley, Angela Houghton, Jaci Riley, Wendy Palmer, Hillary Elgert, and Jacke Blout-Van Woerkom), Ray’s Women’s Weekend is all about empowering women both on and off their bikes. Inspiring doesn’t even begin to cut it when it comes to describing the impact these ladies have in women’s cycling; they exemplify what it means to be humble leaders.
Friday morning around 8:00am is when the ladies started shuffling in to this exclusive event. What makes it so exclusive, you ask? Well, for this one day of the year, the park is only open to women (thanks Ray!), to encourage a comfortable and pressure-free learning environment. Sorry boys, sometimes telling us to “just send it” doesn’t always work, but we do appreciate the effort.
As everyone was signing in, you could tell that there was a combination of nerves and excitement streaming through everyone’s veins. This event draws women from every cycling background: there were the BMX gals in skinny jeans, hardcore XC riders clad in spandex—there was even a woman on a “fat-bike”—but it didn’t matter what kind of bike anyone was riding, all that mattered was that we were there to ride.
Promptly after everyone was checked in and suited up, a kick-off meeting was held in the park’s street section to get everyone acquainted with the weekend’s coaches and to go over the day’s plan. With multiple levels, rooms, and features for days, Ray’s has the same whimsy as Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, minus the freaky Oompa-Loompas, which makes it easy to be overwhelmed. To make deciding what to do a bit easier, coaches were stationed throughout the park at the pump track, novice skills area, micro-rhythm line, skinnies section, and cross-country loop.
At first, some of the features in the park seemed daunting. It wasn’t uncommon to hear things like, “There’s no way I’m doing that
,” and the infamous, “I can’t
”. But the coaches wouldn’t take those statements as responses to the challenges we were presented with. They gave us real talk instead. Coach Leigh Donovan put it perfectly: “The only thing getting in the way of you is yourself
|The only thing getting in the way of you is yourself. - Leigh Donovan|
Sure, at first, this might not seem like the positive and encouraging statement you’d expect from a coach, but it was exactly that, because it was true. This realness was how each coach connected with every rider in the room. For many of us, it’s natural to assume that those who are teaching us—whether those people are coaches, school teachers, or peers—are perfect at what they do and have nothing left to learn. However, that’s not as true as we may think, and that’s the beauty of it: we are all constantly learning. Some girls would say, “You don’t understand
,” but the coaches do understand, and they get it. They’ve been there. We’ve all been there, and the great thing about women’s weekend is that no one is there to judge, only to encourage.
It was once this connection was made that some of the ladies were able to relax a little and instead of saying “I can’t do that
,” they’d be saying, “Did you see me do that?
” And it wasn’t only participants exclaiming such things. With coaches from every background, they were often found trying things outside of their comfort zone as well. Whether it was pro BMX racer and 2016 Olympic hopeful Felicia Stancil overcoming her fear of being upside down when she nailed a textbook perfect backflip into the foam pit, or XC and enduro riders Angela Houghton and Sarah Rawley who were confidently cruising through the expert jump line for the first time.
Each woman there, whether they realized it or not, was fueling progression within the sport of cycling. Some women were there to face demons from past riding experiences, and others to unlock new skills that would take their riding to the next level. Some of these women have been through it all, but when they are on their bikes, when they are making that connection, everything else that’s going on seems to disappear, even if only for a moment. It is in that moment that we are able to focus on moving forward and looking ahead.
|When you're going through hell, you aren't going to stop there, you've got to keep going to get out. It's the same with bikes, you have to keep pedaling to get through the rough stuff. - Jacke Blout - Van Woerkom|
It’s unbelievable how many principles in cycling carry over into everyday life. It’s a perfect metaphor, the ultimate connection.www.raysmtb.com
: Josh Talaktzko