Saturday, March 23, 2013

No Boys Allowed - Ray's Women's Weekends

Two years ago my love of mountain biking was ignited by a spur of the moment decision to take advantage of the free women's clinic at Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park here in Milwaukee. This year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend both of Ray's women's events, the February clinic at the original Ray's in Cleveland, and the March event in Milwaukee. Hosted by 1995 UCI Women's Downhill World Champion, Leigh Donovan,these events are a resounding success in bringing women interested in mountain biking together, an amazing 218 women in CLE and 203 in MKE.
Ray's and Leigh put together a list of coaches that read like a who's who of women in mountain biking, too many to mention but included: Tammy Donohue, Cory Coffey, Angi Weston, Hillary Eglert, Lindsey Voreis, Carley Young, Sarah Rawlings, Suzanne Summer, Nadi Stenbrecher, Wendy Palmer, Rae Gandalf, Jeni Roosen, Tania Juillerat. The women who attended the clinics were a diverse group in all respects  A wide range of ages from 8 years old to late 50s and beyond; skill levels from never mountain biked to regular racers; interests covering cross country, jumping and freeride, along with BMX racing. Both Ray's locations offer areas for learning technical skills like log overs, drops, rocks and skinnys, areas to work on jumping and bmx freestyle skills, along with pump tracks and a cross country loop around the perimeter  All sections are defined by skill levels from novice to expert allowing visitors to Rays to progress through the park as their skills develop. Following introductions of the coaches, everyone split into groups around the Rays park, complete newbies to learn body/bike position in the Novice room, beginners and intermediates to the sport and beginner skills areas, many to beginning and advanced jump lines, others to the pump track.
The reasons behind the success of these clinics are twofold. First by the enthusiasm, passion and expertise the coaches bring. They break down skills. First explaining in words and gestures and then demonstrating themselves with their bikes. Angi Weston using her hands to explain cornering, Lindsey Voreis using her entire body, and Jeni Roosen demonstrating rolling over a drop with perfect form.
But probably the biggest factor is the women only format. It's not just the lack of testosterone driven egos and bravado. There's a sense of safety in the encouragement. Encouragement and urging to not doubt yourself and just try. Cheering as you attempt, even louder cheering when you succeed. A group that picks you up if you fall, and nudges you to succeed. Even more there's the witnessing other women learn and do. A sense of if she can do it, perhaps so can I. 
Both clinics ended with shared stories over beers while the coaches conduct a swag raffle. All participants were winners - not just of t-shirts, water bottles, forks, tires, even season passes, but of a sense of accomplishment. I will always fondly remember a young woman XC racer animatedly talking  over lunch about crying in joy when she finally mastered the pump track. Or of plans being made for summer rides, contact info shared with other local women. Huge thanks to Rays for sponsoring these clinics, and to Leigh for hosting...and to all the coaches and women riders who traveled far and near to come together for these great days of riding!

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