Words by Sarah Pineo
If you were to go to a party and see these three women, chances are you would never guess they’re all professional mountain bikers. Once you get talking to them however, you find out that they’re the real deal – not only when it comes to mountain biking, but in their impressive off-the-bike pursuits as well. Anita is a humanitarian, astronaut candidate, and recently named one of the world’s most adventurous women. Kaylee is a back-flipping mother of three, and Anne is a PhD-holding researcher.
With everything demanding attention in our lives, it can be easy to ignore your goals and to-do lists in favour of binge watching a show on the couch. At least, it can if you’re like me. Making time to get out and ride my bike can seem like extra work when I already have a full plate. So how is it that these women can juggle being pulled in so many directions and achieve so much in all of their varied pursuits? How do they keep on top of it all and stay there? Most importantly, how can we all learn to become more unconventional ourselves?
Spark of Passion
Unsurprisingly, Anita, Anne, and Kaylee all got into riding in different ways. Anne joined her university’s mountain bike team in New Zealand. Anita started in skiing, snowboarding, and skateboarding and naturally evolved into the bike scene. Kaylee was introduced to the sport by her friend (now husband) and says, “I had complete devotion to this little technical section and must have panicked and I rode it wrong, crashed, tore my knee open and immediately wanted to go and redo it! I wanted to do it right! I was HOOKED.”
Even if their paths were different, the result was the same: three women fell in love with mountain biking.
Women in Dirt
“I was eager to find role models that looked like me and of course there were none,” Anita says, commenting on what it was like being both a woman and a person of colour starting out in the mountain bike world.
Anne says, “One of the biggest issues I see in both STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] and mountain biking fields is the lack of representation available to serve as role models for young [women]… [Think] about the folks you watch in MTB videos and see in MTB media. Did that person look like you? Chances are if you’re white and male – yes, that person looked like you. Coverage of women in MTB is all-too-often about someone who has ‘broken barriers’ or is an athlete that is treated as a novelty.”
Freerider and former competitor Anita Naidu is an Award Winning Humanitarian, Engineer, 2016 Astronaut Candidate and one of Canada’s top mountain biking coaches. Recently named as one of the World’s Most Adventurous Women by Men’s Journal for her global humanitarian pursuits, Anita has spearheaded numerous international efforts from human slavery to the refugee crisis. She is featured in the upcoming Red Bull Media/IC film “Project Wild Women” for her pioneering role in gravity sports. Head coach and organizer of Canada’s largest women bike festival she has coached thousands of people all over the world. Anita is founder of the very popular Bike Fest Series, a traveling global clinic series combining free /subsidized high-performance mountain bike skills training along with social impact education
Sponsors: Rocky Mountain Bikes, Troy Lee Designs, SRAM, Rockshox, Clifbar
“People often comment on my petite-ness and femininity as though they couldn’t imagine me doing anything that requires aggression,” Anita says.
Anne has even experienced these attitudes outside of the sport. “I’ve had more than one colleague in my science career express disappointment that I was engaged in an ‘extreme sport’ and that it was too dangerous. None of my guy friends seem to be told this by their co-workers.”
Suddenly, these three have become the role models they wish they had when starting out in the sport. Someone for the next generation of riders to look up to.
A Positive Outlook
Even with what seems like an uphill battle, Anita, Anne, and Kaylee all see positive changes happening. Anita has noticed that “riders no longer feel like they need to adopt those ‘bro’ attitudes to be part of the sport which is one of the best things I’ve seen happen in the past decide in biking.” Kaylee notes, “The social norm is changing and people are slowly starting to get on board with women being in the working/athlete position.”
Even with mountain biking – and society in general – making leaps and bounds in terms of equality, there’s still more work to be done and lots of great ideas on how to progress even further. It’s important for people new to the sport to be able to see others who are like them. People to look up to. Representation and visibility are extremely important. In my experience, I have noticed that riding with other women is different than with men. We support each other differently and generally can be more comfortable making mistakes around one another. I have also noticed something great when it comes to women out on the trail. There seems to be this kind of “sisterhood” that develops, knowing that we’re the odd ones out. If you’re struggling with something, another woman would be more likely to take on a supportive, encouraging role. When you’re already feeling out of place, having that extra backup can make the difference between falling in love with a sport and quitting after the first few tries.
Anne started racing downhill during her senior year of college and spent the next 6 years racing lift-assisted big bikes. She won the 2013 ProGRT series and ended up turning down a spot on the World Champs DH team because of grad school. She started pedaling while earning her PhD in nanoanalytical chemistry at UNC Chapel Hill and was soon racing pro Enduro aboard the Yeti/Fox National Factory Enduro Team. She spent 2017 winning the Big Mountain Enduro series and Scott Enduro Cup series overall pro women titles as well as completing a postdoctoral research project designing nanobiosensors for monitoring oxygen gradients in bacterial biofilms at the Colorado School of Mines. In 2018, Anne took a step back from racing to focus on her science career and she is now a pro ambassador for several brands, focusing on coaching, and encouraging more women to race bikes. Anne now works full-time as an environmental toxicology consultant in Seattle, WA and is a PMBIA certified mountain bike instructor. She plans to race the 2019 Trans BC, spend more time coaching, and finding ways to increase the participation of women in gravity/enduro racing.
Sponsors: Yeti Cycles, SRAM, Ergon, Troy Lee Designs, Industry Nine, Dynaplug, Enduro Bites, Handup Gloves, From High Above
Anne believes that the mountain bike industry could be doing a lot more. “Do more to highlight women out there crushing it and you’ll see both the ability levels and participation rates rise across the board.”
Diversity in terms of female representation isn’t the only issue that we see in mountain biking culture. People of colour, as well as those from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, are often not represented. It’s no secret to anyone who’s been riding for a while that this sport isn’t cheap. Anita’s work – on the bike and off – directly addresses some of these issues in the world, “We have to do everything in our power to make the world a less divisive place. From learning languages to welcoming refugees to stopping modern-day slavery to lowering barriers of entry to recreation… We must be relentless about it.”
Anita’s humanitarian work brings her in and out of literal war zones. She sees a side of humanity that not many people have to experience. But with the bad always comes the good. Her involvement with the oppressed and underprivileged has inspired her work in the mountain bike field.
“Context is everything and one moment I’m in a conflict zone and the next day I can be back home filming or doing a photoshoot. Going from the United Nations Peacekeeping summit directly to coaching at the dirt jumps is a really interesting contrast. These different worlds inspire my [free] clinics and helped me create the 2019 Bike Fest series which combines high-performance bike skills for all levels along with equipping people with avenues to make a social impact.”
Rather than keeping her life divided, she is working to combine her worlds to get the best out of all of them.
Always on the Go
2019 in particular will be jam-packed for Anita. She’ll continue working as an engineer and humanitarian while keeping on top of her astronaut goals and traveling all over Canada and abroad with the Bike Fest Series. She will also be touring for all of the releases of Project Wild Women and has some cool bike edits coming out with the support of her sponsors. As if this doesn’t fill her calendar enough, she will also be continuing her free coaching and providing diversity strategies for a number of large outdoor brands.
Of course, Anita is not alone in her exceptional and unconventional life. Kaylee is also keeping a ton of plates in the air on a daily basis. Her life is a delicate balance of taking care of three children, getting time in to train, working hard on the business side of the production company she runs with her husband, keeping space for her religion practice, as well as getting out for photo-shoots, filming, and trying to work in some alone time. Kaylee is also a foodie and enjoys creating healthy and nutritious recipes of her own. She has recently started @emeraldpancakes to share some of this journey (and keep herself accountable) on Instagram. She also enjoys learning new skills whenever possible. She taught herself to tinker weld just to be able to create steam punk lamp art! She also loves the challenge of learning how things work and how to fix them. “It’s so rewarding to figure out why something has stopped working and fix it myself.”
Kaylee was born and raised in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The ‘used to be’ cosmetologist is in the middle of 8 step/half/ and whole siblings! She enjoyed the ignorance of her youth about living in the midwest with no mountains… but eventually she moved to Utah. She met the love of her life, a Canadian boy (Ryan Gibb the future director Life Cycles Film) at the Redbull Rampage in 2004 who changed her path forever. She served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and played hard to get for 4 years… but Ryan’s persistence paid off with marriage… 10 years later they have 3 crazy kids, a crazy gypsy lifestyle, and they’re in the midst of filming yet another bike movie!
Sponsors: Pivot, Marzocchi, Shimano, Leatt, Pearl Izumi, Reynolds, Cush Core, Ride Wrap, Guayaki Mate
While Anita is traveling the world and Kaylee is fixing everything in sight, Anne is also accomplishing greatness every day as well. When most of us are cozy in our beds at 5am, Anne is already getting caught up on current events and keeping her social media in order. Again, while I’m deep in dreamland she’s on her commuter bike at 5:45am on the way to the gym. For the rest of the day, she balances nine hours of work, mountain bike industry obligations like phone meetings, more bike commuting, and working on projects, proposals, media write-ups, and more. Anne’s crowning achievement (at least, for now) is her PhD. In order to work on her thesis and defend it, she needed to take some time off the bike. If you ask her if this was a hard decision, she’ll say no, it was easy. “For me, academics and science have always come first. I love mountain biking, and I love being outside. However, I know that my purpose is to use science to help make the world better.” This resulted in her taking time off in 2015 in order to focus on her studies. What’s funny is that she didn’t actually end up defending her thesis until 2016, the same year she raced the Megavalanche one week before her thesis draft was due and attempted to race the Enduro World Series at Crested Butte one week before her defense.
Now, she’s back on the bike and still learning everything new that she can in the science field. She’s working hard at coaching certifications, and developing clinics. She’s still racing events like the Trans BC and trying to do more media projects with the brands she represents.
Obviously being this level of busy and successful must take careful scheduling and organization on a daily basis. It can be so hard to stay focused on our goals with everything else we need to do. So what can we learn from these women? How can we be more unconventional and extraordinary in our lives too? Anita feels it’s all about motivation. “ When you feel your work makes a significant impact, it is easy to be motivated. You really need to know what you are working towards and why.” Kaylee suggests involving others in your goals. “I always try and invite people to come and jump with me.”
Anne is also a fan of keeping in mind what is important to you and remembering the “why” behind everything you do. For example, when it comes to exercise, “mountain bike riding is a LOT more fun when I’m fit. Struggling up climbs sucks. I also have big, personal goals in my science career. They’re hard, borderline impossible, which makes me all the more stubborn in wanting to achieve them.”
The key is to find something you really care about doing, realize why it is important to you, and keep that at the forefront of your mind when you want to quit. The other key seems to be in time management. It’s easy to waste the days away. As my father would say, “Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?” But this is not the path to success. Kaylee says, “I know I have a long way to go with limited time. I need to be very aware of what I’m doing because time isn’t aware of me!”
Anne’s secret is prioritizing. “Every day I prioritize my to-do list. Some old things end up farther down to make room for more urgent, new things. Sometimes things lower on the list just don’t ever get done and that’s okay. You can’t do it all. I just try to tackle the most important stuff on a day-to-day basis and try to forgive myself for what goes on the back burner.”
Anita gives an inspiring way to look at life: “Time is your greatest currency. So do not waste any time on anyone or anything that isn’t helping you be the person you want to be in five, ten years down the road. Ask yourself if everything you are doing somehow contributes to who you want to be.”
With all these to-do lists, time crunches, and goals to achieve you would think that these women wouldn’t get any down time. On the contrary, making time for wellness is extremely important in their success. Anne is an avid sci-fi reader and enjoys RPG video games. Anita makes a point to spend her time off with the closest people in her life. She enjoys her many different passions like languages, sports, philosophy, and activism but those take a backseat to the “peace of mind that comes from being loved as you are.”
Kaylee says that she’s getting better at taking time out for herself but still has a long way to go. “I need to learn and get stronger for that. I pretty much only take down time when I’m injured or it’s not safe to ride.” She’s been involved with a sports therapist to help her understand her own mindset on and off the trails. She is also unique in that she doesn’t ride at all on Sundays for religious reasons. Taking that personal and family time to reflect is extremely important in her life.
It may be hard to recognize when we really need it, but downtime is crucial to not burning out. Remember you’re a whole person, not just a mountain biker, a mom or dad, an accountant, a brand ambassador, or a bumbling blog writer. If you take the time to work on your whole self, every aspect of your life will benefit from it.
When it comes to bikes and life, these three women obviously have a lot to offer in terms of advice. Kaylee sees the importance of keeping ourselves present in the moment. Her advice is to “take care of the big things first, we will find time for the smaller ones. Family will love you [no matter what] but it’s important to save some of your good self for them too. Daily meditation is important even if it’s just 30 seconds. Lastly, find a therapist that you really like and check in once a year. If you can’t afford that, look into some good yoga classes. If you can’t afford that either, just open a window and get some sunshine or go for a walk.” She also has advice that’s near and dear to my heart: “It’s always COOL to wear protection . . . You will eventually crash and it’s nice to just get back up and be able to ride again!”
Anita’s advice has already impacted my life in a huge way after a coaching session we had together (she’s a phenomenal coach, by the way). “Don’t shrink! Take up space and don’t ever apologize for being slow. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for feeling fear or walking away from things. Most importantly, never compare yourself to others. It will rob the joy of a great sport. You don’t have to be an extraordinary rider to think of yourself as a biker. You just need to ride a bike and enjoy it!”
Anne advises to embrace feeling like you don’t fit in. “I’m a straight edge professional scientist, mountain bike rider, metal-head with an asymmetrical haircut, gauged ears, tattoos, and a PhD. I don’t fit in anywhere and I’m okay with that. I love breaking stereotypes.” She also has some great advice for those worried about keeping up with the group, “Nobody cares how fast you are! [Learning this] would have saved me lots of anxiety about ‘holding people up’. Something that really helped me was changing my own language from ‘sorry I’m slow’ to ‘thanks for waiting!’ It keeps things more positive and reduces the pressure I put on myself to keep up.”
That’s all Well and Good, but…
I know what you may be thinking. Why am I telling you all of this? Why are these women important and how does it affect my life? Sure it’s lovely to read about the exceptional people of this world but it hardly seems applicable to me. Especially when sometimes it feels like my greatest accomplishment is making really good pancakes. I’ll never do a back flip. Or go to space. Or do ground-breaking research. No offense to all of you out there, but you’re probably in the same boat as me. But you know what? I DO make amazing pancakes. I push myself to ride on days where I truly don’t feel like it. I nail drops off of tiny curbs at least two times out of ten.
I also know I can do better. We can all do better. From the mountain bike industry being more inclusive to women and people of colour to each of us prioritizing what is important to accomplish our goals. We all have the potential to be unconventional. So go ahead and practice that six-inch drop that scares you! Or work on that 360-no-handed-turn down-tail-whip-can-can-decade-barrel-roll-X-up-bar-spin-to-superman-seat-grab-720-heel-clicker-backflip you’ve been polishing for the past decade. But take a moment to pat yourself on the back for the things you did well, no matter how unimportant they may seem, and don’t beat yourself up over walking a feature or two. Always remember, don’t sweat the small stuff but make sure to celebrate the little victories.
About the author
Sarah Pineo started riding in 2015 and was immediately addicted to mountain biking. While balancing her work as a Sign Language Interpreter, she started the blog Berms and Bras to celebrate the (often hilarious) human interest side of mountain biking as she learned to ride. She has challenged herself to expand her skills with things like 45 days of riding in 2017 and competing in a series of enduro races in 2018. She continues to ride and write, looking to inspire newer riders to feel less intimidated by mountain biking when faced with a sea of pro videos.