The Power of She
AFM coach and columnist Carrie Barrett testifies for fitness with the Athleta Esprit de She Cycle Austin.
Last weekend, I participated in the 2nd Annual Athleta Esprit de She Women's Cycle Tour at Lifetime Fitness South. The rain may have dampened the roads, but it certainly didn't dampen the spirits of the few hundred women who had registered to ride the 14-, 18-, or 30-mile routes — and many were participating in their first-ever organized group ride.
Twelve years ago, I had no idea how to ride a bike aside from my childhood memories of either popping wheelies with my brothers or cruising the neighborhood on my pink Huffy. I moved to Austin in 1998 as a young adult who was on the verge of letting herself go. I was overweight, unfit, and entrapped in a downward spiral of self-destruction. That is, until, I met my first group of athletic friends who trained me to run a marathon and, in the process, train me to truly believe that anything is possible. Not long after the first marathon finish in 2002, I found myself signing up for a triathlon and learning how to add swimming and cycling to my burgeoning athletic repertoire. It was humbling and often humorous. There were plenty of thrills and spills and I was a slow beginner, but I loved it.
There was something so inspiring and child-like about meeting friends on the weekends to go ride around the streets of Austin and top it off with breakfast tacos and coffee.
It took several years, but my new-found hobby eventually transformed into a lifestyle and career. I continued doing both marathons and triathlons. I dropped 60 pounds and learned that fitness is a much more rewarding lifestyle than stand-up comedy or the bar scene (both of which I was also into at the time). Short distance racing evolved into ultras and Ironmans. As a result, I have become a coach, an author, a mentor, and an ambassador.
Two years ago, Specialized Women Bikes selected me as one of five product ambassadors in the country. My mission? Encourage women to ride bikes. It still seems so surreal that this young girl who was afraid and intimidated is now charged with encouraging so many others. Needless to say, it's been a humbling and inspiring project, as I now feel like it's my mission to give back to the sport that has given me so much.
That's why I was honored to be a spokesperson and ambassador of this year's Esprit de She Austin Cycle Tour. I attended a couple of training rides and hosted two cycling clinics leading up to the event. At each one, I learned that there are so many women out there just like me who want to learn, jump out of their comfort zones, and experience the thrill of being on two wheels with others in a safe and affirming atmosphere. I taught some women how to change a flat tire. We discussed apparel, nutrition, and some of the common tips for riding on public roads. We bonded and had a great time throughout training and on the day of the event.
Needless to say, we were all a little nervous the morning of the tour since the weather was less than ideal. It was raining lightly and event organizers sprung into action to expand the indoor cycle classes and even offer a Zumba class to those who were trepidatious about riding outside. The show did go on, so to speak, and the outdoor ride option was also still a-go. In spite of the weather, we had a blast. I hung out with the 30-mile group and brought up the rear of the pack with other volunteers who were out there to offer encouragement and assistance. We literally found ourselves singing and hi-fiving each other in the rain as we pulled into the parking lot and under the finish banner.
Life has presented me with a lot of unique personal experiences, but nothing beats the feeling of helping another person achieve a goal or overcome a challenge they didn't think possible. It's those moments when you realize, “This is what it's all about.” Even though I was wet and cold after the ride, I walked into the post-ride party, grabbed a glass of bubbly and raised it to my new cycling buddies.
This is truly what it's all about…Cheers.
More information on Esprit de She events
More information on learning bike skills and techniques
Also, most (if not all) of the local bike shops in town offer free weekly beginner and intermediate rides. Inquire at your favorite shop for details!