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A Peloton of Change

Thanks to the pandemic, all Big 10 sports were stockpiled into the spring with the exception of football. In April, and as an IU grad, I wondered what was happening with Little 5 (Little 500), the most famous track cycling race in the world (according to us Hoosiers). Both the men’s and women’s races are being held on Wednesday, April 26th. School ended early May, so the enthusiasm and awareness of the races is nil.

I happen to know Kathryn Bertine, author of STAND: A memoir on activism. What really happens when we stand on the front lines of change. It’s also a how-to manual for progress.

Documentarian, professional cyclist, author, founder of Homestretch Foundation: Kathryn Bertine is the Switzer* of cycling. Her story is incredibly inspiring. Kathryn has experienced ordinary and extraordinary miracles throughout her life — especially along her journey to exposing the ugly misogyny and sexism within professional women’s cycling. HALF THE ROAD is her documentary on the inequalities of women’s professional cycling. It has been a literal uphill battle but Kathryn found solace within the peloton and helped create (revive in 2013) a women’s Tour de France event, “La Course by Tour de France” (you must say the entire thing…as branding with Tour de France was initially an issue and only applied to the men’s race). And with the recent announcement of an actual Women’s Tour de France in 2022, I thought Kathryn would be ideal to provide a pep talk to the women racing in this year’s Little 500. At least they’d have a race this year, as it was canceled in 2020.

Kathryn helped me close out Season 1 of my podcast, Finding Joy with Kara, a couple months ago and I could not have selected a more ideal conversation. We had conducted our podcast recording (coincidentally) on #EQUALPAYDAY and the same day that the NCAA announced an investigative review of how it treats its female athletes (“March Madness” is a brand only affiliated with the men’s tournament, not the women’s) and also coincided with Megan Rapinoe testifying on Capital Hill. We have a long way to go towards equity for women across all sports.

But I digress…so back to IU…I reached out to the organizers (IU Student Foundation) and offered up Kathryn as a speaker. They agreed that she would be a welcomed addition. The “final briefing” was last night and Kathryn and I Zoom-bombed the meeting towards the end before Kathryn addressed the riders. Both men and women were on the call. I noticed that the numbers reduced from 80 to 59 when the briefing ended and Kathryn was introduced. Apparently some frat boys had other things to do, but, surprisingly, most respectfully remained on the call. She gave a high level overview of her dive into professional cycling and barely grazed her Herculean efforts to achieve massive steps towards equity for women in professional cycling and during the Q&A, one female cyclist asked how she should address someone indicating that, while this cyclist raced in Little 500, she was told that she didn’t participate in the “real” race (the men’s).

Kathryn’s time to shine didn’t disappoint. She dialed into the inequities when it comes to women’s sports versus the men and how women’s races aren’t typically the same length, which takes away the legitimacy of the women’s efforts. Kathryn asked if the men and women raced the same distance at Little 5, and hit the nerve I was waiting for.

The women do not race the same length and this has been an issue. Kathryn offered valid, thoughtful, and quite frankly, indisputable facts about why the races should be of equal length. No one could argue the other side without looking like a totally ignorant misogynistic ass. At the same time, efforts need to be undertaken to bolster the women’s participation in the race and leveling the playing field is half the battle. Then there’s media coverage…

If someone doesn’t think women’s professional cycling isn’t as exciting as the men’s, then view the highlights of the women’s road race from the London 2012 Olympics when Marianne Vos won gold in expert fashion. No one remembers the men’s race. Vos is as bad ass as they come and so is Kathryn Bertine.

*Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston marathon, at a time (1967) when men thought women couldn’t run that distance without their uterus falling out — no joke. You couldn’t make up this level of ignorance. (see kathrineswitzer.com)

It’s upon her shoulders that we stand.

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