To celebrate International Women's Day, I've compiled a short list of women who have inspired me to not only ride my bike, but explore new disciplines, challenge myself and even educate myself to be a better person.
Today is all about celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and closing the gap between gender inequality. There's an army of men and women who have worked tirelessly that we have to thank for the decades of progress to see women gain an equal footing in life. If it wasn't for the efforts of these brave believers, I sure as shit wouldn't be allowed to spew my thoughts online, let alone RIDE A BIKE. This day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity, and the ways in which you can do your bit for the cause. Upload your photos and stories to social media with the tags: #IWD2017 and #BeBoldForChange to share your women power vibes.
Cycling has changed my life for the better, and I don't mean that in a "woo, for the lolz" kinda way, I mean it in a "hey, I used to be too afraid to leave my house" kinda way. My anxiety and self-doubt held me back so much in life. Wasted years slipped by me, and a malnourished self-esteem dozed off into a permanent comatose state - I'll save that story for another time, perhaps.
I cycle, but I still consider myself pretty unfit. I ride a bike, but I'm no huck-throwing pro. I don't love cycling for those reasons alone, although I would love to be a total trail weapon, I ride for more simple pleasures: fresh air, a sense of freedom, inner child playtime and the community. I now have more people in my life that I consider real friends, than I ever have before, and for the first time, I've found a feeling of acceptance that I didn't know I needed. Cycling has indeed changed my life, it's made me a better person, a happier person and I'm so very stoked to be a part of a massive loud rabble of women seeking equality for the sport that I love so much.
So to celebrate this fab day of women, I thought I would share the women who have inspired and influenced me to pursue my passion for writing, cycling and being a badass.
Samantha "Saskia" Dugon
I first met Sam after she won a Velo Me competition 18 months ago. I remember meeting her in a Costa, giving her the goodies she'd won, and then passing the time by talking about all things bikes and her passion for photography. After that, we remained Facebook friends, met up for rides and so the story goes...
What I love about Sam is not only her hilarious contributions to group chats, but how she looks for the beauty and awesomeness in everything bike related. I've watched Sam go from assisting photographers on weddings, to becoming a professional solo camera-snapper herself. She travels to major mountain bike events, sits in the bone chilling cold and rain, just to capture some of the most gnarly energy-fuelled photos I've ever seen. She's also a total demon on the bike, even with a camera bag the size of a small elephant on her back.
Like most people I know, I met Lauren online. I believe our first exchange was an out-of-the-blue message from Lauren to myself about how she had nominated me for a Cycle Media Award, in 2015. At that point Velo Me had only been live for a few months, and I remember being so blown away and humbled that this woman not only read my stuff, but thought it was good enough for an award. I actually think I had a little cry in disbelief.
Since then, Lauren and I have ridden together, written together, cried (mostly me) togehter, and I consider her to be one of my closest friends. Lauren is so genuine in her quest to promote women's cycling that it's reflected in her beautiful writing, and sincere actions to help the sport.
Lauren, Sam and I will be riding the night this year, have you donated yet?
She's a Scottish beauty who rides bikes. I first met Zara for a brief moment during the Foxhunt 2015, and I remember thinking, "omg, I want her to talk to me forever" - just because she has an awesome thick Scottish accent, and some of the colloquialisms were totally new to me.
Zara isn't just a nippy fitty on the bike, but a wonderful advocate for body positivity. She isn't afraid to bare all, promote body confidence and use her own experiences to help others. I would (and still do) follow her social media accounts, and only dream of being as bold and confident as her one day.
I first met Hannah 18 months ago when I interviewed her for Velo Me at Afan Forest after a trail ride. She was my first face-to-face interview, and I'm forever grateful she took the time to talk to a budding writer like myself.
What I love about Hannah is how cycling has long been an important part of her life, and even when she tried other careers paths - like being a copper - the bike life swallowed her back in. She's a tech savvy brand manager for crankbrothers and Fi'zi:k, rider, racer and great source of wisdom for any women's cycling related moan I want to have.
When I started out with Velo Me and my crusade to write about bikes, and promote the sport to women, I was getting likened to Juliet Elliott for sharing some commonalities: Female - tattoos - cool name - bikes. At the time, I was like "who is this chick?", but little did I know that she would have one of the biggest impacts on my riding.
There's such a silly social stigma about road cyclists and mountain bikers. Lycra is lame, MTB isn't a real sport etc... and crossing over into another discipline is often considered a taboo with comments circling: "you've gone to the dark side" and "traitor".
It was after following Juliet's social media, and reading her articles that her give-no-fucks attitude began to rub off. Why should I pigeon hole myself to mountain biking? From then, I've bike packed, completed agonising 100 mile rides, raced cyclocross, track and even snow biking. I probably wouldn't have done all these things, and continue to challenge myself now if rad women like Juliet wasn't making it look so cool.
Aoife and I met fairly early in the days of Velo Me, firstly at the Red Bull Hardline event where I was absolutely blown away to learn that she had heard of me... then we became more acquainted during a disastrous practice run at the Red Bull Foxhunt - I crashed, and we both got flats which resulted in a lovely discussion about women's riding as we made our 2km walk down the mountain.
Aoife was deputy editor of Total Women's Cycling (before my time), and has since moved on to become Section Editor at Bike Radar where she paves the way for female specific content. Her writing is not only fun and relate-able, but it reads so elegantly that nothing can take your attention away from her work. Each time I catch up with Aoife, I get a boost of motivation to focus my attention on my own writing, and seek ways to improve it.
While there are many female riders who inspire me and leave my jaw dropped to the floor, there's always been one to stand out and really get through to me for being more than just a champion.
A true mountain bike legend is Tracy Moseley, and despite meeting her a number of times, I still get the nervous fan-girl butterflies in my stomach. Tracy has built a legacy upon her incredible skill and talent, but also her efforts to coach and train future generations of riders. She doesn't pander to the social media "look at me" games to secure her loyal band of followers, she has earned her well deserved respect for riding hard, and being a lovely person off the bike.
I was pretty nervous knowing she would be racing in the Snow Bike Festival as well, but throughout the weekend we chatted, caught up on things and I think that's what makes her so incredible to me, is how totally warm, welcoming and normal she is... aside from being a total hero badass.
Rachael Walker has become the face of Hope Tech Women, the founder and driver of all things awesome. Even though her humble self would rather share the achievement amongst the Hope Tech family, it's a well known fact that Rachael got the HTW to where it is today.
Having met Rachael at the Hope Tech HQ, we passed hours away discussing the industry, our views and ideas on its direction and potential success. From speaking to her, it's evident that riding means a great deal more to Rachael than just a job or a hobby, as she continues to challenge herself with some pretty epic cycle adventures.
What Rachael is doing for women's mountain biking is so incredible, she's opened the doors for women to give MTB a go, to meet other women and further strengthen this blossoming community. What I love about HTW is that is really isn't about Hope at all. They aren't selling you anything, pushing their products or sugar-coating the rides with marketing faff. They just want to help grow and nurture women's riding. That's all.
My sister, Natasha
Now to go from the women who inspire me, to the one woman who basically moulded me from birth. My sister was a little shit when we were growing up. Three years my senior, Natasha made it clear that I was her bitch, and because I looked up to her so much, I bloody took it!
She had me PAY MONEY to read my own books because she appointed herself house librarian - She hid under my bed until I fell asleep, just so she could jump out and scare me - She would trick, tease and make fun of me all the damn time. Needless to say, we were not friends growing up.
It wasn't until we moved far apart from each one another (too far if you ask me), that we began to form a sisterly-bond that was long overdue. I now consider this evil genius to be my best friend, probably because I'm no longer the victim of her devious plans. She's certainly had a big role to play in helping me find out who I am, and why I still check the bed before I go to sleep.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty more inspirational women (and men!) out there doing amazing things for women's cycling. If I were to write a comprehensive list of those people who inspire, promote and nurture women's cycling, then I'm pretty sure I'd be here all week.
Let's not forget though, that International Women's Day isn't just to celebrate women, it's about everyone who is involved in helping to raise awareness and fight for gender equality. Men have just as much to celebrate today as us women.