Eileen Gray – A Tribute

Earlier this year, a fairly unknown cycling legend sadly passed away. Eileen Gray committed her life to raising the profile of women’s cycling. Ride Republic instructor Caitlin, shares her own experiences and how Eileen’s story motivated her to become more active in the sport and take on some pretty tough challenges!

“It’s amazing to hear about individuals such as Eileen Gray, who exhibit sheer grit and determination to a cause. She pushed in the 1940’s for women to be included in the sport and founded the Women’s Track Racing Association in 1949.

At the age of 26, she was part of the first ever British international women’s cycling team. The team came up against great hurdles finding themselves the victims of prejudice and even sabotage as they competed in their first competitions, but the they pushed on. Eileen was instrumental in the move to include the women’s road race in the Olympics which still didn’t happen until 1984.

Eileen’s passing away definitely raised my awareness of the women in this sport. Around the same time this happened I decided to undertake the Newcastle to Edinburgh route on my road bike supported only by myself (and my legs). I managed to convince a friend to join me (to whom I am forever indebted!) The route was 350km over 3 days of continuous hills and across every terrain; mentally it was the biggest challenge I’ve had since my marathon last year.

This bout of inspiration carried on and I completed the Prudential Ride London 100 mile race last month, this time completely on my own. The glaringly obvious thing about the event was the ratio of 10:1 men to women, and the women who were doing it were all hot specimens of fierceness. Meaning they were all over it, pushing hard at their level. It felt good to be alongside these women, steaming up hills past the heavier blokes (power to weight ratio in our favour on those bits, right boys?!) or on the home stretch churning their legs away. They each found their own race and it was – dare I say it – empowering.

From the Cycle studio to the Olympics, times have definitely changed. The inspirational 2012 Olympic track team and role models such as Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott and Sarah Story took the limelight. While we also saw more women’s races introduced in those Olympic Games such as Team Sprint, Team Pursuit, Keirin and the Omnium. I sat and watched Sarah Story take her medal in the Paralympics and it was truly inspirational. Shortly after I upgraded my road bike and began a long slog getting used to training on the road outdoors. It was a hair raising experience, to be in what is still a male dominated sport. From amateur upwards I was often one of the only women hitting the road (or often Richmond Park)…

But in the last 3 years something has changed, perhaps a post Olympics buzz for summer as the number of women out on their bike increased significantly. All abilities, ages and bikes training for Ride London, London to Brighton, Castle to Coast, Coast to Coast…or just to get round Richmond park without stopping. It is fantastic to see such a dramatic change.

That change has reflected in my classes – the number of women is up and they own it. The ‘I don’t want to get bulky’ attitude is out, because fit is the new look. Achieving and exceeding goals beyond just ‘to look good’ is something to strive for now. During our Tour De France 2km challenge one of our members kept a note of the speed and split times she needed to beat, written on her hand for a week! #kudos.

We still have a way to go now, what Eileen started needs to be carried on at every level of the industry. The ethos in my classes at Ride Republic is about the women and the men who attend to find their own goals. Whether it’s feeling fitter, being confident in swimwear, getting high up on the Burnboard, getting faster outside, or just plain feeling good – the effort and determination is what matters!”

Caitlin

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