What's your day job?
I am a full-time professional triathlete and I also work casually at Options for Sexual Health, basically in education and counselling. Before this, I did my first Master’s in Developmental Genetics and I was working as a Research Assistant at UBC in the Department of Zoology and then worked for a drug development company on campus doing project management and genetics research and then went back to school and did a second Master’s in Genetic Counselling, which is a specialized health care profession. [why did you decide to get out of the sciences?] As I mentioned, I was racing bikes during my second Master’s and my coach at the time convinced me to try a half Ironman. So I had graduated, did my first half-Iron, and won it and had an amazing race and did much better than anticipated and decided, you know, “I’m not getting any younger.” Triathlon kind of took over my life after I did my first race in 2006 and I thought “maybe I should just give this a try full-time and see how far I can get, how well I can do and whether I actually survive doing it.”
How long have you been racing?
I think I did my first UBC criterium in 2007 or 2008 and started just doing the crits like that. Then I raced Superweek on my own one year. In 2008 I did Tour de White Rock and ended up winning the hill climb, which was a total fluke, and I didn’t really realize how big of a deal it was at the time, so I thought “oh, well this is fun. I won this” […] I then got the bug for racing and the next year and then joined up with Westpoint Cycles, who have sponsored me for the last 7 years. Then in 2009 I was racing for both Westpoint and Glotmann-Simpson (unofficially). So yeah, the question was how long? Seven years.
How do you find balance between training, racing, and the rest of your life?
When I was bike racing, I was either a full-time student or working full-time and I was married at the time. I mean, it was incredibly challenging. You really have to have a very balanced work-life situation and I was graced with a job that allowed me to have a flex day once a month; I could choose my hours so I usually worked 7-3 so then I had a big block in the evening to go and train. And I think it’s important, if you are in a relationship, that either your partner has to be really understanding of you and believe in what you’re doing or be an athlete themselves so you can actually see them once in a while, you know, ride bikes together or something.
So had you been running, swimming, and biking before jumping into the competitive side?
Not really. I had, as a kid, until I was about 15: I was on the cross-country team, I swam for a while as a kid, and I grew up running with my parents, both of whom were runners. That was always a part of our lives. But there was a period in my twenties where I didn’t do anything. I was smoking and would have considered myself athletic at all and then when I was doing my Master’s in Ottawa, I was going crazy in the winter and needed to be doing something active so I set myself a goal of running a marathon. So I guess that’s really when I became an athlete again. I ran 2004 and 2005 and did two marathons and a bunch of halfs. The second marathon I ran was Boston and a bunch of my training partners were getting into triathlon and got me into that.
Are there the same barriers for women to get in running compared to cycling?
I would say the barriers would be greater for getting into cycling, for sure. Running is so simple: you put on a pair of shoes and you go out there and you do it. There are already people of all different levels, all different body sizes. You don’t have to invest a lot of money into it; you just put on a pair of shoes and go. There are lots of free and very welcoming opportunities to do it since there are running groups in any city that you go into and it’s just a lot more accessible, even just in the physical sense. With cycling, there are definitely significant barriers for women, even just in getting fit for a bicycle and getting comfortable for it. Then there’s always the issue of finding a group to ride with and you’ll find that many of the groups, at least here in Vancouver, are going to be predominantly men and it can be super intimidating, especially if people are all kitted-out and matching. I think there’s also a lot of history in the sport of cycling and a lot of tradition and rules, and it’s hard to describe, really. There’s also the risk factor too. It’s a bit more risky to riding a bike than just running, especially in groups, and I think that can be intimidating too, for some people.
Were you nervous or hesitant about the thought of pinning on a number?
You mean the first crit I did? Oh yeah, sure. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I think the scariest moment was the couple of minutes before they started us on the road. And still, to this day, that’s still the scariest thing of any race, those few minutes before the gun goes off. I didn’t know what to expect at all. I had been riding my bike and I knew I had a little bit of fitness, but just not knowing how everything worked and not knowing how to really ride in a pack, and not wanting to do anything wrong, it was definitely a really intimidating experience. But after I finished it and I was done, I was like “oh man, this is so cool! Now I’m ready to go.” Now I knew what to expect and I had become a little more familiar with it and it got easier from there. That nervous feeling is always the same and I think I’ve just learned to expect it and now I know how to channel it into more positive feelings, like not taking it as seriously. In that first race I thought “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. Maybe I should just turn around and go home,” but now I know this feeling. I know it’s my autonomic nervous system and I’ve scienced it out and it’s my nervous system just telling me to turn the other way and run, but I know to just stick with it and as soon as the gun goes off, I know I’m okay.
What are your thoughts on the current state of women's racing in the Lower Mainland?
As I mentioned before, I feel like I’ve noticed quite a significant decline in the level of participation in women’s cycling in BC. So just sheer numbers have dropped. It’s hard to know what to do about it and I wish there were some initiatives, and I know there are some clubs that are doing some things to build cycling a bit more. I know that there are some local teams that are pretty serious and there’s a new team around this year [that’s all women]. Yeah. I just don’t know what else to say.
What can we do at the local scene to help grow?
I think that one thing is targeting youth and I know the DEVO program is great at collectingyoung kids who are interested in that. Having an initiativewhere members of our national team go into schools and talking to girls about bike racing and perhaps taking everybody out on a ride or something basic like that. There’s also a huge discrepancy in funding between teams as well, between men and women, and even within the same club or team, there’s going to be a lot more money being put into the men’s racing. Also, on the race side of things, there’s been a big movement to get equal prize money, for example, the Whistler Fondo. If you look at triathlon, there’s an increasing number of women who are participating in the sport and from the beginning, there’s been equal prize money there. But historically, that has not been the case for cycling. Continuing that imbalance in how men and women are treated in the sport, for example, even the distances raced are different, will continue to creating that perception that women are “less than” in the sport and if women feel that way, they’re not going to be motivated to participated.
What advice or wisdom do you want to pass on to women who are thinking about lining up for their first race?
Take a deep breath and just jump in. I think that just getting yourself to the start line is a really big accomplishment. Just get out there, continue riding your bike, and the more you ride on your own and the more you ride in groups, the more comfortable you’re going to get on the bike. There’s room for everybody in the cycling community in Vancouver and it’s just a matter of finding your niche and finding the group that works for your needs. For somebody who wants to do their first race, they just need to go for it. Everybody is scared shitless on the first race and I’m still scared shitless every time I’m about to start, so you really just need to embrace it and go for it. There are some fantastic women in the community who will support you. Ask questions! That’s one of the biggest things I did. You have to swallow your pride. So what if you don’t have all the sponsors on your kit or the fanciest bike, or wheels? Most of the time, and particularly in the women’s racing community, they don’t care. I don’t think it’s as judgmental as you might find in the larger community; there’s more acceptance just because it’s a smaller community of women bike racers.