I have written before how when I first began group riding and racing, I was one of the few junior girls in the midwest. Although it had some challenges, it never really bothered me all that much. I showed up, I rode, I got my ass kicked frequently by the junior boys or senior women, I learned, I got stronger, and once in awhile I got the pleasure of schooling some of the boys. It was what it was and by no means was I scarred by it.
When I started personal training, twenty-two years ago, I was one of the only female personal trainers (even though I got my start at the YWCA), and the only women who lifted free weights in the gym were cops, fire fighters and body builders. It took at least five years, maybe closer to ten, for men to start asking me for a spot even though I could bench my own weight. It's not that they didn't want our presence in the gym, I think they just didn't want us to get hurt and they didn't know how to act around us. I wasn't angry with them for questioning me, I knew in time things would change.
As the years rolled by, and more and more women started lifting free weights, most of the guys I knew began to realize what we were capable of. We weren't these frail things who only wanted to lift 3lb weights, and much to many of the guys surprise at the YWCA, many of the women who lifted heavy were straight (a stereotype I had to fight for about ten years). I got asked to spot power lifters, got more guys requesting me as a personal trainer, and some of them even began asking me to give them cycling advice.
Finally, I got the courage to start leading group rides myself, teaching cycling workshops and ultimately I got my coaching license. I helped both men and women, young and old(er), improve their skills and discover how strong they could really be. I say "help" because I'm just a catalyst--all the people I've worked with have always had the internal strength...I just taught them how to tap into it.
A few years ago, I began to contemplate a big adventure. I had been following Team Rwanda and dreamt about how cool it would be to work with the group. I applied for an internship, got down to the final two applicants, and then they broke it to me they were out of funding and they couldn't take me on.
Fast forward to the present. A few weeks ago I began the application process for a paid position as a coach with the team. I have to say I wanted this pretty badly regardless of some of the concerns I had. If I got the job, I would work in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea, coaching mostly men, but some women, for one year. I would get to travel around Africa and possibly Europe while the team raced in large stage races. I would learn more in one year there than what I could learn here in ten. It would be unbelievably difficult, yet rewarding beyond words.
I filled out my questionnaire carefully, e-mailed my resume and waited. Prior to this I had several conversations with the logistics manager, Kimberly Coats, who has been with the team for five years and is now married to the head coach, Jock Boyer (first American to race in the Tour de France). Today, I heard back from Kimberly stating they couldn't and wouldn't hire a woman to coach the men for cultural reasons. At first I thought it was due to some being Muslim. Then, upon doing research, I discovered most are Roman Catholic or Protestant--so that couldn't be it. I racked my brain over this and then just decided to let it go. Yes, I was/am frustrated that a door was shut in my face because of my gender. Yes, I'm still a bit confused and dumbfounded. And yes, for one brief moment I thought what it would be like if I were a guy. But hell, I could chase my tail for hours about this and still not change a thing. The fact is that Team Rwanda just isn't ready yet--I will give it time and it will change.