Sunday, April 20, 2014

Little Bellas Salinas Sessions

Photo: Dave McElwaine

It's been a really exciting past month for the Little Bellas with the launch of our first official Little Bellas national chapter in Salinas, California.  We designed our new chapters to carry the momentum created by our national camps in these areas and give the girls more opportunity for consistency outside of just one fun packed weekend.  In order to drum up some attention and participation numbers for our Salinas sessions, I went into a middle school in Salinas to present about life as a professional athlete, my London Olympic experience, and the new local Little Bellas chapter.  I showed a slide show along with my presentation so the students could experience more of what I was talking about.  One of the most popular slides and stories that I told was about my 'wizard' in the photo below.  This was taken on the main jump at the Catamount Classic, my Vermont hometown race and the finals of the national series last year (no pressure, right?).  My mom made triangle hats out of newspaper to hand out to the crowd to cheer me on.  The kid in the right of the frame is holding up one of those hats and claims to be my wizard.  He gave me twelve percent more power for the race, and it worked.  I won the race.  Thank goodness my wizard was there, and I really hope he shows up for my comeback races this season. Out of all of the questions I got after this presentation, the multiple questions about my wizard topped them all.  'What kind of wizard is your wizard?' 'Have you met your wizard before' 'Will your wizard come back?'  All very good questions that I didn't really have answers to.  I realized that I need to find out more about my wizard.



Thank you wizard for working your powers.  Please come back soon (photo: Dave McElwaine)
 Salinas School Visit


 School visit selflies
One more of the many school visit selfless
All in all, it was a really fun school visit and I presented throughout the entire school day to ten separate classes. I gave out a lot of flyers, took a lot of selfless (I now know more than I ever thought I would about selfless), and signed some autographs.  I even got asked to sign a kid's forehead which is definitely a first and possibly a highlight.  Another first was signing the bottom of a girl's shoe.



Following the school visit was one of our biggest Little Bellas camps of the season, the Sea Otter Classic.  Unfortunately, I couldn't race Sea Otter or ride much with the Little Bellas this year because of my hip injury.  But, it was an amazing event nonetheless. Always, one of the highlights of the season is the lemonade social with the pros at this event.  As usual, the pro women came out in full force to support our program and inspire the girls.  The Little Bellas met a star-studded cast of pros, including four Olympic cyclists and ten professional cyclists. Four time Olympian, Katerina Nash, Chloe Woodruff, Joanna Petterson, Erin Huck, Katie Holden, Maghalie Rochette, Mary McConnelog, Kate Courtney, and Rebecca Rusch stopped by just to name a few.  The pros were peppered with questions like when did you start riding, how many bikes do you have, and what is your favorite food. Katie Holden talked about how she jumps over trucks in South America, seriously.  Katerina told us that her new favorite pre-race meal is mango with sticky rice.  Chloe started riding by competing with her twin sister on the commute to school.   Mary McConnelog revealed her former identity of an opera singer and even treated the girls to a couple of beautiful notes. Maghalie totally put me on the spot and challenged me to rap which, of course, I had to do, but only after Mary dropped a beat.  The things these girls get to learn at the Lemonade Social.  Thank you to all of the pro women who dragged themselves, dusty and tired, to inspire the Little Bellas.  It never ceases to amaze me how generous the pro women’s field is especially when it comes down the the Little Bellas.



 Sea Otter Lemonade Social


 Sea Otter Fist Pump? (photo: Nic Coury)
I found another Lea in our Salinas Sessions.  I am excited. 
Then, today, we officially launched our Salinas sessions.  We trained the mentors during the afternoon in the midst of one of the most festive Easter parties in Toro Park I've ever experienced.  Literally, five thousand people were grilling and enjoying this park while we were riding and practicing skills.  The Salinas Little Bellas, some new faces and some Sea Otter campers, donned their new primal jerseys and tackled the on bike easter egg hunt with vigor.  The new crew of mentors are fantastic and this program is off to a great start.  I can't wait for Little Bellas color day next weekend. 



Hoppy Easter!

Lea


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Progress

Can't race?  I helped MC for the Bonelli U.S Cup live broadcast.  Photo: Dave McElwaine

I spent last weekend attending round two of the U.S National mountain bike series in Bonelli, California.  This wasn't just business as usual at the spring races as the season opens.  Nope, Scott Tedro, Sho-Air Cycling Group, and USA Cycling have formed an alliance to make this the biggest thing to happen to mountain biking on north american soil in a long time.  Tedro wanted to make a statement with the U.S Cup four race series, and he came out of the gate charging.  He has put up eighty thousand dollars in prize money for the series, and, most importantly, this prize money is equal for men and women across the board.  There is equal overall prize money as many places deep for the men as for the women.  There's equal prize money for each individual stop on the tour.  A lot of promoters have been taking leadership on the circuit and putting up equal prize money at their races.  The majority of promoters paid equal prize money for the top three of five women and men in the 2013 series.  Sho-Air Cycling group really took this to the next level by putting up a large overall prize purse as well as paying equally at each of the races.  To really make this the premiere North American race series, Tedro and Sho-Air Cycling Group created a live stream for each of these races with playback options.  So, just like the World Cups, I was able to watch from the comfort of my own saddle back in Vermont.  This is revolutionary for national racing, and it's having an impact.  With the increase in prize money, the accessible media coverage, and the equality, there was the biggest women's field that I can remember in a really long time.  There were forty-five women toeing the line from several different countries as compared to the eighteen racing last year.  This is progress.  It's just proof that if you build it, they will come.  

Proof in the Pudding: The difference in Fontana Start Lists from 2013 to 2014

It takes effort from all of the stakeholders; racers, race promoters, governing bodies, teams, sponsors, and media to build women's cycling.  This year's U.S Cup series is a success story, but this isn't the only location that we are seeing progress.  Because of pressure from the group, Le Tour Entier, an organization dedicated to the change, growth, and progress of women's cycling around the world, the famous last stage of the Tour de France will also include a women's race.  Ideally, there would be an entire three week women's Tour de France with equal media coverage, but this is most definitely a great and hard fought step in the right direction. Moving right along with progress for women's road cycling, all of the women's road racing world cups will now be live broadcast on the internet with certain stations buying coverage for post race airings.  This is another revolutionary step.  It's an opportunity to see how exciting women's road racing can be other than every four years at the Olympics.  Awesome.  

Change is in the air.  There is a new president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), Brian Cookson, who is interested in growing women's cycling.  His actions already back his statements.  He appointed Tracey Guardry as his Vice President of the UCI, and the UCI also has a newly minted Women's Commission.    The UCI also started paying equal prize money to the podium at the Mountain Bike World Cups last year, and, because of this leadership, one of the most famous stage races in South Africa, the Cape Epic, is now paying equal prize money for the first time in their long history.  

On a smaller scale, Jojo Petterson and Lisa Nye Sallidin, both on the USA Cycling mountain bike committee, created the USA Cycling women's committee.  These are women that sit on all of the USA Cycling committees (mountain bike, road, cyclocross, and track), and our goal is to grow USA Cycling's female membership which has been stuck at thirteen percent for years.  The women's committee meets over phone once and month, and I always get off the phone really excited about the future.  There is momentum behind the movement to grow women's cycling.  The Little Bellas are primed to feed more women into the sport, and I'm excited to be in the midst of the change.  We need to keep working and keep progressing, and, most importantly, give positive feedback to the stakeholders when they stand up for equality and push the boundaries of the sport.  

So, thank you to all of those sponsors who put up extra money to equal out the prize money.  Thank you so the race promoters who asked for the extra dollars with a tight budget in the name of equality.  Thank you to the factory teams who realize the marketing potential of female racers and made the investment.  Thank you to all the women and men volunteering time to these groups and committees solving the puzzle.  Thank you to the media for providing equal coverage.  Thank you to the female racers who support these equality efforts by showing up and racing.  You know who you are. We really appreciate all of your initiatives.  All of these efforts combined are moving the needle.  Let's keep going and create so much change that we break the needle.  

Thank you for giving the Little Bellas something to aspire to; hope and a future with equal footing. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rehab, range of motion, and a drum set


My life recently has been a full time focus on rehabbing my hip to get better as soon as possible and as strong as possible.  Things have been progressing quite nicely and really everything has been focused around my hip joint.  I drive to physical therapy three times a week, and I go to the pool three times a week to work on my range of motion and strength.  I drive down to Rutland once a week to check in with my strength coach, get my technique dialed in, and learn new moves.  I'm riding on the trainer everyday (a bit brutal) and very gradually clicking down to smaller gears. I work on mobility every day.  I focus on 'gait training' (aka…walking well) every other day.  I strength train every day.  My hip is iced, moved, massaged, strengthened, mobilized, bounced, and strengthened some more.  There is so much work going into this joint, and I really have the best support team available. Not to mention that it feels like I have many Little Bellas cheering me on and fueling the healing with chocolate.  I feel really lucky.    
 A Little Bella gave me the last two pieces from her favorite euro chocolate stash to help my hip heal.  Now that is love. 
Jojo tries out the new drum set

There have been a couple of things that have broken up the rehab routine.  Last week was a particularly exciting one because I fulfilled a dream since I've had since I was a little kid.  I've always always wanted a drum set for as along as I can remember.  My parents got me a drum pad and a set of drum sticks when I was little, but that really didn't quench my thirst.  So, last week, jojo and I sauntered into the guitar center and there was a full and complete drum set on sale.  My jaw dropped, and a seed was planted.  I went back mid week for open office drumming hours and I had a short lesson and pulled the trigger.  I finally got the drum set I've always wanted, much to the chagrin of our neighbors (sorry!).  I'm fired up.  I've been playing, and I plan to take some more lessons when I return from a week in California.  

Last week, the Little Bellas also got a proverbial drum set we've always wanted.  We had our first board of directors meeting, and it went incredibly well.  We are blessed with a board filled with talent, energy, and lots of experience.  Everyone has complimentary skill sets and brings different perspectives to the table.  It was completely exhilarating, and my head is still spinning from the meeting.  My Little Bellas motivation has hit an all time high and I really feel confident that we are moving in the right directions.  

Jojo and I have had to really get creative with ways to get outside.  It turns out hip surgery six weeks ago can be limiting.  But, jojo is creative, and she rigged up a sled to a waist belt.  We went to our local park, and she pulled me around for an hour.  It was awesome.  She got a great resistance workout, and I felt like I was riding single track.  I was constantly telling her to go faster.  We also walked out on Lake Champlain today for a quick stroll.  Tomorrow, I am on a plane to California to attend the USA Cycling Women's Mountain Bike Skills Camp.  I won't be riding my mountain bike, but I'll be able to spin on my road bike outside a bit.  It's going to be amazing to pedal and be able to go somewhere.  There's also some great presentations lined up ,and it will be awesome to hang out with all of the best female mountain bikers in the country.  I'm also looking forward to some sunshine.  Until next time…

May everyone get their drum set they've always wanted.  Do it.  Life is too short not to.  

I see a heart on our ice walk adventure
 Jojo sled intervals






Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Olympic Impact

"You can't be what you can't see" -Marian Wright Edelmen









These wise words from Edelmen really describes the power of the Olympic games.  I've realized one of my favorite things about the Olympics is the fact that one can watch a variety of sports twenty-four hours a day.  The even better thing is that, for the most part, men's and women's sports are treated equally by the media and are covered with the same air time, enthusiasm, and energy.  A gold medal is a gold medal no matter if it's won by a male or a female.  It's so exciting to be able to watch women play sports at the highest level in the world, and they play it well.  The women's final hockey game between the United States and Canada was phenomenal.  It was one of the best and most stressful games I've ever watched.  The important thing is the impact that the Olympics and this coverage has.  People, and especially girls, around the world can watch and learn that this is a possibility.  They could be speed skating, skiing, and bobsledding for a gold medal.  Before this, most didn't even know this was an option.  It's watching Michaela Shiffrin knife down the slalom course to win a gold medal, and it's seeing Vermonter Sophie Caldwell step it up in the last twenty five meters of the women's nordic sprint semi finals to qualify for the finals.  These moments are where the seed is planted, motivation is fired, and dreams are born.

It's not only the coverage of the actual games, but even the commercials are inspiring.  I've teared up more than a couple of times during the ads (excluding the McDonalds ad where a gold medals is compared to chicken nuggets, but that's a completely different post).  I've been impressed with the media's portrayal of women during these games, and there have really been a lot of positives as the games come to a close.  The Olympic coverage is positive for just the fact that we can see powerful female athletes play sports, but the usually the commercials fit right neatly back into the society's hegemonic structure.  But, really, this is not the case for the Sochi games.  P&G have absolutely nailed it with the 'thank you mom' commercials, and nothing broke me up more than this one.  Proctor and Gamble are recognizing moms and the big role they play in everything. The Citi Bank commercials have highlighted women and men and not to mention have been incredibly inspiring.  These commercials could single handedly keep my motivation at an all time high during my comeback from this hip injury.  Citi Bank is not only making great ads, but they are backing this with actual initiative and funding to get more kids into the sport.  We need more commercials where Julie Chu is talking about playing hockey with the boys.  The United commercials were really clever (the luge athlete in the lay flat seat was brilliant), and they showed male and female athletes.  My biggest cheer goes to GE for making a commercial entitled 'what my mom does at GE'.  A girl describes her mom being an engineer at GE who makes high technology that would so typical be seen as a male job.  Thank you so much GE for doing this.  The commercial that wins the gold medal is P&G's #GirlsCan.  This is absolutely empowering.  Join the conversation and let's keep this initiative rolling.

I wish mainstream tv was like this all of the time.  Can you imagine the impact it would have on average America?  How many more kids would be inspired to get outside and play like their favorite heroes?  Pretty much every commercial wants to make me get up and train hard.  How do we press major television networks to air women's sports all of the time?  I want to know how I can watch more USA women's hockey.  I need to figure out where I can follow my favorite american nordic skiers.  I know all of our World Cup mountain bike races, which are regular season Olympic equivalents, are aired on the internet by Redbull.tv.  There has to be similar networks out there doing the same for all of these fantastic fringe Olympic sports.  I'll get back to you with answers.

We need to push the networks to air more women's sports so there's not the two year Olympic lag time in between floods of inspiration.  Until then, organizations like In The Arena and Little Bellas are working on the ground to carry out the same Olympic impact.  Olympians are in the best position to inspire.  In the Arena supports current and potential Olympians to work with kids.  I guarantee there have been a lot of lives changed through watching ITA'er Brian Gregg race in his first Olympic ski race in Sochi.  The Little Bellas and In the Arena carry the impact a step further than just watching coverage on tv.  Olympians become mentors.  Olympians teach kids how to play a sport.  Olympians become friends.  I can describe to all of the Little Bellas that they are just like me when I was growing up.  I went to the same elementary school, I played a lot of the same sports, and I grew up on the same trails.   I just set goals and put an enormous amount of hard work towards them.  These kids can do anything they set their minds to with the same amount of hard work.  They, too, can go to the Olympics. Thank you Sochi Olympics, In the Arena, and Little Bellas for inspiring a generation to move and for showing that these sports are a possibility.  After all, you can't be what you can't see.






2012 Olympic Photos

The 2014 Sochi Olympics has gotten me thinking a lot about my Olympic experience, and I realized I've hadn't shared a lot of my photos from the Olympics.  So here it goes!
 The view of the Olympic village from our room

 Flags outside of the dining hall in the village
 This is what the dining hall looks like.  It is huge and has every type of food you could ever imagine.  It's really a foodie's dream come true
 Specialized Fate with the special electric Olympic paint job
 This is literally what the road to the Olympics looks like
 Georgia wins bronze!  What an amazing day!
 We are both happy about having a medal for US mountain biking!
 Team USA house.  Every athlete that wins a medal goes here to celebrate.  They are honored up on stage and give an honorary medal to their coach
 Thanks Mom and Dad for being a big part of why I made it to the Olympics
 Celebrating that bronze at the USA house
 At every Olympics, P&G creates a house where there's food and it's a great place to meet up with family.  They also have a salon there where you can get your hair done and a total makeover.  It's in the salon where Missy Franklin and I realized we were twinsies
 The P&G house has a board where friends and family can write words of encouragement.

 This is what my mom wrote on 'thank you mom' wall

 Jojo sampling all different cuisines in the athlete's village dining hall.  It's so hard to decide what to eat!
 Just a fraction of the choices in the dining hall
 Yes, it's true.  There is a McDonald's in the athletes village



 This is a delicious doughnut.  I don't know what country it's from and I haven't had anything like it since
 Team USA keeps track of the medals in the USA lodging office.  Just on normal printed out sheets of paper…I would expect it would be more official than that
 Jojo and I get mad ups to touch the Olympic rings
 Sculpture in the athlete's village

 Even the rings were in the London train station
 London airport built a separate departure terminal for the athletes.  This guy was there to send us off
 There was also a classic London phone booth
 This was the athlete's Olympic memory tree.  I wrote my best memory of the games was walking into the Olympic stadium for the closing ceremonies
 This is what hometown support looks like.  The Snowflake Chocolates ladies cheering me on
This is all of the Olympic clothing laid out.  Amazing.