A few years ago, I wrote a piece wondering when we’d see a woman ride in the Tour de France. On the ridicule and nastiness I received in return. Ridiculous, people told me. Women can’t compete with the men. Women can’t keep up with the men. Women can’t complete a race that long and that grueling.
Perhaps they are right.
Perhaps they are wrong.
The point is, unless given the opportunity, we’ll never know.
And women have not been given the opportunities in cycling to grow — individually or collectively.
Cyclist and author Kathryn Bertine has created a documentary on women’s professional cycling, titled “Half the Road,” a take on the popular documentary, book and movement “Half the Sky.” If women hold up half the sky, Bertine asks, where is their half of the road? Where are the races, the prize money, the sponsorship for women? Where are the opportunities?
The more opportunity there is to learn and play and develop, the better the sport becomes. Not just individuals. The entire sport. Want an example? How about the dominance of the U.S. women’s soccer team? And you know that saying that success begets success? We’re moving into our third generation of women’s soccer superstars (Mia to Abby to Alex). If you’re a casual soccer fan, you’ve heard their names. That didn’t happen because people just rolled out some soccer balls on a field and said to the girls, “have at it.” It was a cultural movement and I’d argue the growth and success of elite women’s soccer has helped create opportunities for girls who aren’t aspiring national team members. It has created opportunities to play, to be part of a team, to learn the sport, to be active. It’s stimulated dreams and goals, some of which begin as sport-related but when given some breathing room transform into all areas of life, love and happiness.
We can argue the “I am not a role model” philosophy when it comes to sports figures. But that’s really just semantics. Because sports figures offer inspiration. They can motivate. They can spark dreams and kick start imaginations that lead to amazing discoveries and contributions that happen mostly away from the athletic fields. Some people find their muse in poetry, music or literature. Some find it while stargazing. Some find it watching the beauty of a winding descent in the Pyrenees or a perfectly headed ball into the back of the soccer net. Or in the thrill of a lyrical dunk. Or in the quite build of anticipation in a no-hitter.
When you deny someone an opportunity, you can kill of dreams that never had the chance to be formed in the first place. Who knows what might be inspired in some little girl or little boy who gets to watch the stories of women’s professional cyclists unfold? Because when we support everyone equitably in the pursuit of their passions, we lift up ourselves as well. We increase what is possible for us by creating opportunities for others.
Bertine is raising money to complete her documentary (really, you have to check out the trailer because it’s fantastic). It’s about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with a twist of equal opportunity thrown in for good measure. Doesn’t get more American on our country’s birthday week than that.