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Monday, November 4, 2013

How the Women's Division of the Iowa City Cycling Club Got it's Start

Cara H. & Cassandra K. & the start of the Iowa City Women’s Cycling Club


Let me just start by saying these two ladies played a very key role in my start in cycling. It was through the beginner friendly Gal Rides they organized, that I really got into cycling. As soon as I had a road bike, my husband encouraged me to give the ladies group ride a try. This was a lot less intimidating than trying to keep up with my husband and his guy friends!

Cara, Sandy, and the other ladies would wait up for me when I was struggling and motivate me to keep pushing myself. While the rides where difficult for me in the beginning, they became so much more than a hard workout; they brought about a sense of camaraderie with the girls, and gave me a sense of accomplishment at being able to finish the ride. It kept me coming back every week!

Enough about me though, let’s hear how Cara & Sandy came together, how Sandy started the Women’s division of the Iowa City Cycling Club, how they implemented the ladies only group rides, and have been making efforts ever since to get more women involved in cycling.


How did the two of you meet? What where your roles in cycling community before you met?

Cara Hamann: I actually knew Sandy’s sister Paula first—we became friends during undergrad. After undergrad I moved away from Iowa for 5 years and when I came back Paula and my mutual friend, Beth, put me in touch with Sandy. The first time I met her, I think, was at cross practice which was basically a bunch of Team Skin (Jean, Darcy, Todd…) people getting together to ride around in the grass and practice mounting and dismounting.

I had only been back in IC for a few weeks when we met, so my role in the community was just a newbie biker who wanted to get to know more people, especially other ladies to ride with.

Sandy Kessler: I first heard Cara yell my name at the 2008 Scramble when I thought I was probably going to collapse, but instead managed to live through the 3rd hour of the race.

Sandy @ the 2008 Sugar Bottom Scramble
Our first date was cross practice at the UI Field Hockey field a few weeks later. I fell in love with her when she raced the Old Cap crit the next spring 2009… I had yet to work up the guts to do it. She was my hero and got out there and rocked it in the rain while I sat on my towny on a street corner and watched in amazement. I vowed to be out there with her the following year and I did it. We continually found ourselves on the start line and working together throughout road races, each with different kits on throughout 2009. I knew early on that I wanted to wear the same outfit as her, no matter what color or team. It took until the fall of 2009 for the plan/idea to materialize. Prior to this I don’t believe I had much of a role in the community.

2009 Snake Alley Crit - L-R -Cara, Lisa, Darcy, & Sandy

Of all the cycling clubs in Iowa City, what made you decide to approach the Iowa City Cycling Club when you looking for a club to join?

CH: I joined ICCC primarily because I had started dating Brian and he was already a member, so he encouraged me to join.

SK: We were wooed! The boys at the bike shop had heard that Cara & I were shopping for a team to join together, a place where we could also invite other women too. Rick Hopson heard the rumor and got excited, passed us a note in the hallway (via Brian, at the bike shop), inviting us over for wine at his palace in University Heights to discuss. The first thing I did was break a glass. The stem broke and the bulb of the wineglass tumbled right to the floor and shattered all over his living room. There was no going back. I was going to have to pay for the wine glass and join the team. Lucky for me Cara was already there and we were given the freedom to encourage other women to also wear blue.


Sandy - How did you go from joining the club, to becoming the head of the women’s division?

SK: NaivetĂ©! I asked so many questions about kits that first year- why isn’t there any women specific stuff, I don’t like bibs, can’t I have a pair of short cut shorts- that the guy who was previously in charge of ordering packed up and left town. Rick again invited me over for wine, opened bottle after bottle and it was settled: I would take over the team’s kit ordering. I think becoming the women’s team captain (directeur sportif/DS) went hand in hand. I had the time and organizational skills and was willing to ask the right questions to try to make things happen. Cara & I were getting more and more interest from women and it was clear that we were going to have no problem meeting the minimums on women’s specific clothing. Meanwhile, I upgraded to a 3 on the road and started racing with Anne in some of the bigger races and Robin at the more local races. I was the local girl (Anne’s from WI) without the super demanding jobs in healthcare (Robin was in Med School at the time). But most importantly I have Cara! She’s the true brains and organization that brings the women’s team together. Case in point is the Race Calendar that she sends out to all of the women every year advertising most of the races in the tri-state area while also giving everyone a chance to see what everyone else is racing/doing.


Why was it so important for you both to reach out to other women and try to grow the number of women interested in cycling & racing?

SK: Selfishness! I don’t get excited to go out and ride by myself. We also felt that new people coming to town needed a place to start. As we upgraded we also felt the need to replace ourselves. Emily, you are the perfect example of the most rewarding part. Seeing someone go from townying around town only to struggling to hang during a beginner ride to rocking mountain bike races to upgrading on the road! It’s so totally awesome and indescribable.

CH: It was important to me, honestly, kind of for selfish reasons. The only group rides in town were too intimidating to me and were primarily men. I didn’t feel ready to attend those, but wanted some ladies to ride with that would be friendly and maybe more my pace.

Even though it was kind of a selfish start, it has been super rewarding because I have gotten to see women go from not being able to hang on a Monday ride (the beginner-friendly ladies ride) to now being able to kick my butt (Emily, you are definitely in that category)! It’s really exciting to see people get ‘hooked’ on the sport and become great riders.


What have been your biggest challenges with all your efforts to get more women involved?

SK: Getting past that hurdle of women thinking they are not ready yet, don’t think they can keep up. Some days it doesn’t matter how nice or fun we are, those ICCC kits look intimidating. I can’t help but be proud when 6 or 9 girls in blue set foot on the start line, but I can see why it looks a little scary. Small things like wearing a different color on Mondays during the Beginner Ride probably helps, but we just need to keep doing what we are doing, having a presence and advertising it. The rest will fall into place.

CH: Convincing women to show up. When we have new women come to a Monday or Wed ride I always like to ask about how they heard about the ride and a little about their background in cycling—a survey, of sorts. In doing that, I have heard a lot of women say they have been wanting to come for a long time, but it took them a while to get the courage to show up or they didn’t think they could keep up, etc. We really try to make the rides friendly and encouraging, which I think comes across once a new rider gives it a try, but convincing them to come in the first place is a hard one.


Where did the idea for the Chamois Time race series come from? How difficult was that for you to start?

CH: Hmm…

I think the idea of having a series came from Hopson. The name came from Kim/Brian Eppen. The concept came from a bunch of us. I think several of us got together and just talked about what we wanted from the series—beginner friendly, a taste of all the disciplines (road, gravel, mountain bike), local, etc.

It definitely has had its challenges. In the beginning it was just all the little things you have to figure out because it is the first time. We definitely leaned on more experienced people, like Mark Guthart and Rick Hopson. Just figuring out the ins and out of how to get it permitted via USAC, getting permission from land owners, choosing venues/courses, naming the series, etc. I remember the first year especially, I thought ‘what did I get myself into?’ But somehow it came together and people had fun and it was all worth it. Each year it seems to get a little easier.

SK: Oh man! I don’t know why I look back on that as such a stressful time, but I do. We started out as Women on Wheels and then almost got sued by some motorcyclists. We wanted to have a race series that would attract both women and men so the name couldn’t be too girly. Lots of emails flew around. Kim Eppen ultimately threw out the name Chamois Time and a lightbulb went on. Kimber Damhorst hooked us up with a graphic designer named Jake that came up with the fabulous logo we still have. Going into debt paying for USAC permits for FIVE races, buying those first baby blue Ts, and business cards. It’s such a blur and it wasn’t simple. But it also wasn’t that hard and has paid off tenfold.
May 2010 - First Chamois Time Race Ever!

You both have done so much – what are some small things that others can do help grow the sport for women?

SK: Tell your friends! Everybody knows a female that has a bike and wants to ride it more or wants to buy a bike and start riding. Small things that meant a lot to us was encouragement along the way. And even money sometimes is the easiest thing for people. I remember being in debt and Jean Gilpin and Jim Yoon both wanted to donate to the cause. Their generosity combined with the popularity of those first Ts and the explosion of racers we had at our first races put us into unfamiliar territory: profit and what to do with it. We probably should create a manual at some point. None of this stuff is rocket science, but it does require some research and planning to figure out how to put on a race series. Managing other people’s opinions is another thing entirely, but I won’t get into that J

CH: Oh, lots of things. Ride your bikes. Help out when you can—volunteer to lead a Monday ride or help out with Chamois Time or other races. If you already ride and race, encourage other women to come on a ride with you. If you don’t ride or are intimidated riding in a group, come to a Monday ride. We promise we will be nice and won’t leave you stranded somewhere! I guess overall, just be a good ambassador. Lead by example.


Thanks Sandy & Cara for all you have done and continue to do!

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