Female mountain bikers are a small population and role models are few and far between. Sure, there are many professional cyclists who have outstanding achievements in the sport, but how many do you consider to be role models? Not many. I would like to share the “roots” of my cycling journey and how female role models inspired me.
I remember my 10-year-old self watching Emily Batty (Canadian Olympian) at a race. I was fascinated by the sport and excited to watch a young female do something so adventurous. When the race was over, Emily came over to me, we talked, and she gave me a big hug. Ever since then, I have been one of her biggest fans. Just from this simple acknowledgement, I was inspired. When I saw Emily for a second time, she gave me a pair of gloves. I cannot even tell you how much I worshipped those gloves! It is amazing how something that simple can make someone feel so special.
The next year, I attended a women’s-only skills clinic with Georgia Gould (American Olympic Bronze Medallist) and I gravitated towards her humorous and approachable personality. I love how Georgia, a world-class racer, encourages her fans to “heckle” her during races. People adore her no matter what place she gets and that is a true testament to what a role model should be like.
Not all inspiration comes from famous professionals, though. In my third year of racing, I moved out of the junior category and started racing with the Cat 3 women. Many of the local women were supportive of my bold decision to race with the “big dogs” and not the little kids. Just a few words of encouragement from these women boosted my confidence and I became a more mature racer. But when I became a real contender, I encountered some bullying from other adults. As a 12-year-old, I was distraught and unable to comprehend why I was receiving disapproving looks and unkind words from what I thought was my community. Looking back, I realize that some of the women were not fond of the healthy competition that I, as a young racer, established. I was discouraged and never felt like I could celebrate my improvement as a racer. In all honesty, I considered hanging my bikes up and finding something else to do. My passion for bike racing was still there, but my inspiration was not. I decided to change my race schedule to be around different people and, fortunately, my new competitors were welcoming and positive. If you ever encounter a young racer looking to improve themselves, please take one minute to encourage them and make them feel supported and accepted. I personally know how much of an impact that can have.
I have been racing ever since and things are beginning to come full circle. I saw two little girls at one of my races and they were uneasy about riding over the rocks. Since the kids’ race was before mine, I decided to “ghost” them so they would feel safe. They kept exclaiming, “Veda! Look how far I rode through the rocks!” and “This is so fun!” Following the race, their mom pulled me aside and told me that the girls really looked up to me. It felt amazing to be the source of inspiration for those little girls just like Emily and Georgia were for me. I want to continue their legacy and be an ambassador for mountain biking. I aspire to become a professional, but above all things, I want people to think of me as a thoughtful and good-natured person. In life, that will always grant you mor e opportunities than results alone. I will never forget why I started mountain biking and I am passionate about establishing the same “roots” for other little girls.
Veda Gerasimek, most commonly known as Darth Veda, is a 15-year-old competitive mountain biker currently racing for the Whole Athlete / Specialized Team. She loves to write about her adventures in the sport and hopes to inspire more young girls to get involved. Visit theycallmedarthveda.weebly.com to follow her “off-road” to success!