This is a question I get asked often when I talk about Fuerza. The answer is always, “No. We did not.” We were a group of strangers, and something unexpected and incredible happened. But looking back it makes total sense why we became what we did. What else would you expect to happen when you combine bikes, rad people, and basically NASCAR? So here is our origin story as I remember it……..
I had just completed the Koochella application and my palms were sweaty (disclaimer: I’m always sweaty). I knew almost absolutely nothing about track racing, but I had seen the All City “Koochella Rising” video, and damn did riding bikes in a big wooden circle look cool.
My first exposure to Koochella was at Powderhorn 24. Flashes of pink would ride past me on the Greenway followed by loud cheers from fellow folks in bright colors. I needed to be apart of this. Even if that meant being decked out in neon.
I checked my email obsessively. Visions of the track were already zooming around in my brain. Finally, the email came. Denied. Not on the team. But there was a glimmer of hope. Turns out, Koochella had received enough applications to possibly start another women’s track team, and Anna Schwinn wanted to gather those individuals to see if they could make it happen.
I was hesitant at first. It kind of felt like getting picked last on the playground...except there were 10 other people beside me twirling their thumbs and wondering why they suck at kickball. Nah. I’ll pass. School is crazy. I don’t have the time. I had almost closed the chapter, when something, I don’t know what, told me to just do it. So, I emailed Anna back, and was ready to do this. Whatever this was. As long as it involved bikes.
A week or so later, I was sitting at a table in East Lake Brewery surrounded by a hodge podge of women. But all there for the same reason. To race bikes. Anna did a little introduction about why we were there, what her and Koochella’s role was going to be, and what our next steps were. “This is yours,” is (maybe) the last thing I remember her saying before she walked away and left an awkward silence hanging over the group. All of my doubts about this team flew out the window when we started going around the table talking about ourselves and our love for cycling. This was where I needed to be and who I needed to be with. The rejects.
We met at least once a month, every month, until our track clinic started. In that time, we had decided on the team name Fuerza, made a website, found sponsors, designed kits, assigned some team roles, and rode a handful of times (among other things I can’t remember because starting a team is A LOT of work). Even though we had been spending a lot of time together, I still felt emotionally distant from my teammates.
The track is what, I think, really brought all of us together in a way none of us anticipated. Riding on a 43 degree turn at 20mph without brakes kind of forces you to trust people. Our first rides, like I’m assuming most first rides on the velodrome, were rough. Feet separated front and rear wheels when it was supposed to be inches. I can still hear Linsey yelling, “Closer Brenda!” I was frustrated. But at some point, you just have to let go and make yourself vulnerable. And when that happened, so did the magic.
It has taken me days to try to think of a way to describe what it is like to ride on the velodrome surrounded by strong women. The truth is, I can’t. It's just a feeling. It’s like, the whole world goes quiet, and you feel singled out because you can hear and feel every single part of your body working. But if you listen closely, your breath and body are synced up with the community around you. You’re simultaneously alone and together. Exposed at your weakest and strongest, but surrounded by individuals who are also doing just that. Yeah, we are all terrified to fall down and get splinters, but at the same time, we are all unafraid because we are safe with each other. You see, riding the velodrome is a mess of contradictions.
And this kind of intimacy while riding doesn’t happen overnight. It takes races where you give it your all, fall behind, are on the brink of tears, but then your teammates come and give you bear hugs telling you, “HEY! YOU DID IT. You tried real hard and it was amazing.” It takes race days where you just aren’t feeling it because the world is shitting on you, but your team supports you and believes in you in a way no one else ever has. It takes bright, sunshine days filled with so much happiness you feel like you’re going to burst into glitter when you gaze upon the infield and see your teammates huddled on a grandma quilt eating snacks.
And when the season is over, you realize you added members to your family and they are all clad in spandex looking like warriors. The track, and the community there, became an extension of myself. It’s a place that transformed me and introduced me to some of the best people. So, if you decide to start racing track, be prepared to expose yourself in a way that may make you uncomfortable at first (and I’m not talking about the skin suits, but also they are very tight). But let me tell you, it is all fucking worth it.
Love you all. Can’t wait for next season.