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“You cannot know you exist, until you see yourself.”
As a child of the ’90s and early 2000s, I found very few female role models to look up to in action sports. The few pros who were visible were often hyper-sexualized for male pleasure posing in Maxim and other rags. The sport of women’s freeride simply didn’t exist. As a closeted trans girl, I had no one to look to, no one to inspire, no one to tell me there was a place for me, so I turned away from bikes. My electric-blue Haro Dave Mirra 540 Air BMX bike and schoolbus-yellow Mongoose mountain bike started collecting dust in the back of the barn.
As an adult, I rediscovered my love of bikes, but the persisting lack of representation turned into the driving force behind the fear that kept me in the closet for more than two decades. Without seeing women, let alone queer women thrive in the action sports space, I was convinced I would be rejected and ostracized. I would lose the sports and the community that had become such an important part of my life. I felt I had an impossible choice: my authenticity or my community.
That’s why when a custom cooler with my name printed right next to the Red Bull logo showed up at my house earlier this summer, it brought tears to my eyes. It was the welcome package for the Red Bull virtual immersion week with Hannah Bergemann. For me, it represented so much more than a cooler, but being invited by Bergemann—one of the most accomplished freeriders in the scene— and Red Bull represented the acceptance I never thought I would receive.
Throughout the week, Bergemann shared tips on how to dial in our bike set-ups and fine-tune our manuals, bunny hops and whips, with a diverse group of riders from all over the country. We met with specialists from Red Bull on everything from nutrition to mindset—one of the more powerful lessons of the week—with a sport psychologist. It was through this discussion, I learned that all the trauma of coming out had actually given me the mindset of an elite athlete. Through overcoming my fears and stepping into my authentic self, I shifted from a fixed mindset driven by fear to the growth mindset driven by progression needed to excel in the freeride space. The discussion helped me reframe one of my most defining traumas into one of my greatest strengths.
As a group, we pushed and supported each other, and I found my wings. No longer afraid of the large jump trails at the Killington and Highland bike parks, I was now riding them with confidence and joy. After all my hard work that week, Bergemann surprised me with another invitation, this time in person to her own event: Hangtime on the Blue Steel jump line in Bellingham, Washington. This was where the power of the invitation really shined—not just for me, but our whole community of women riders.
Women from all walks of life were at Hangtime. There were 13-year-olds to 30-something-year-olds from all over North, Central and South America. There were trans women, queer women—it was all the people who are rarely shown in action sports marketing, or as Jess Kimura’s radical women-led snowboard film calls us, “The Uninvited.”
When we all arrived on-site, the atmosphere was tense. It was the first time many of us had seen Blue Steel in person and the question lingered: What did we get ourselves into? But we had the support of Bergemann and her newly minted Red Bull teammate, Harriet “Haz” Burbidge-Smith, as well as Formation veterans, Sam Soriano and Cami Nogueira to lead us in. As soon as we all started doing what we do best, riding our bikes, the smiles and support spread quickly. The belief that we all had in ourselves and each other as riders was infectious.
Unfortunately, just as I was starting to gain confidence, I crashed near the end of the first day and broke my wrist. Being sidelined gave me the chance to spend the second day cheering on the crew as every single remaining rider made it through the behemoth jump line. As I watched from the crowd, I saw young girls look up in amazement and see that invitation into the freeride world extended to them. I chatted with women in the crowd, who expressed being inspired to go try that feature that had been intimidating them all season, and I watched guys’ preconceived ideas around female mountain bikers get blown to smithereens. It was a magical moment to be a part of. You could feel the inspiration swelling up from the spectators, and I saw my fellow athletes respond by throwing down huge whips, suicide no-handers and even back flips with energy and confidence that wasn’t there just a few short hours earlier.
I reflected on my own past. What would this representation have done for me back when I was bombing around on BMX bikes in elementary school? I know it would have changed my life. I likely would have come out then, avoided decades of trauma, and stuck with bikes knowing there was a space for me. That thought quickly turned to the future of the sport and to one of the more powerful images from the event, a young girl in elementary school pushing Bergemann’s dual-crown DH bike dressed like a future pro. For her, she lives in a world where this is what women’s mountain biking is, and her progression knows no limits. That is the magic of events like Hangtime and Formation—they allow all of us, women, athletes and spectators alike, to see what we are capable of when we finally receive the invitation too.