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Independence is empowering.

by Sarah True, Little Bellas Pro Ambassador, US Olympian, and Pro Triathlete

Independence is empowering.  I was reminded of this fact during my first visit to the Hanover chapter of Little Bellas.  Before riding, I watched the girls systematically check their gear, using the ABCs (A for air or tire pressure, B for brakes and C for chain). The riders went over their bikes and ensured that their helmets were snug and secure before taking their first pedal stroke. While the mentors guided them in the process, the girls were the ones taking responsibility.  As proud as I felt to see these brave little warriors tearing up the trails, I was equally proud to watch them take ownership of their equipment.

Over the years, I’ve been surprised how many of my fellow professional triathletes rely on others to take care of their gear. I even know of one athlete who didn’t know how to change a flat tire until her mid-20s because a coach always did it for her! Sometimes it’s a lack of knowledge and sometimes it’s the expectation that they need the help; regardless of the reason, the end result is that the athlete becomes more dependent upon the help of others and less able to cope when something goes wrong. 

I understand the temptation to help young athletes. We assume that doing things for people makes it easy for them; in truth, we deny them of the autonomy and confidence that comes from knowledge.

For many people, bikes can be intimidating because of the possibility that something might go wrong. By teaching the girls to check their own equipment, it sets a powerful expectation: this is your gear and therefore it is your responsibility. Knowing your bike well makes cycling more enjoyable at any level.

When you ride, it’s inevitable that something will go wrong with your machine. Even the most mechanically-minded person might be stranded in the middle of a trail with a broken bike, unable to fix it. How we perceive a potential mishap, however, can fundamentally shape how we feel about the sport and our own ability. A bike isn’t scary and a mechanical problem isn’t scary; feeling helpless and without control of our own gear can be terrifying, however.

With each skill we acquire, we become stronger. A girl who starts off learning how to secure her helmet properly will start to see her bike not as an intimidating machine, but as a tool to lead her to potential adventures. We all start small and gradually gain skills that help us climb mountains.

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