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Female cyclists addressing gender imbalance

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None of the bike riders expected Alyssa Rowse would leave them in the dust. She was a teenager racing against 20 adults, most of whom were men.

None of that mattered to the 16-year-old. She blew through the course and was the second across the finish line.

“I just didn't want to get [left behind],” she said.

The Warwick Academy student had only signed up to become a stronger cyclist. With only two other female riders in her age group, she figured a race against 20 adult males and one female was a good place to start.

“We're great friends but it doesn't make for good competition,” said Alyssa, who won her first national championship in the junior women's race on Sunday.

Females island-wide might soon take that same approach.

Top sports competitors April Joyce and Lisa Blackburn are hoping to shift Bermuda's sport gender balance.

Their organisation, the Ace Girls Foundation, funds female sporting opportunities and makes female athletes more visible to girls as role models.

“When we started looking into the issue we found that there were pockets of opportunity for girls in sport, but there could be more,” said Ms Joyce, a top cyclist.

The 38-year-old believes the point of sport for young people isn't so much about having fun, but learning perseverance.

“It teaches you to embrace the suck,” she said. “You learn that the end of the race will come and you'll get through it. That is an important lesson for life.”

She's concerned that few females here compete in sports; their absence is especially evident in cycling.

“When I take part in a race, if a quarter of competitors are female, that's a very good day,” she said.

Cyclist Gabriella Arnold, 19, was the first woman across the finish line in the Sinclair Packwood Memorial Race last month.

She believes a lot of girls are too afraid of losing to compete.

“They are terrified of being dropped,” said the Bicycle Works team member. “But that's part of life.

“As I am abroad I am developing as a rider, and part of that is getting my butt whooped sometimes.

“There are a lot of opportunities in cycling but I think a lot of women don't understand that. They don't understand the places the sport can take you.”

Cycling won her a $29,000 scholarship at Marian University. She's studying physical and social education at the Indiana school.

“When I started cycling at 14, I never imagined I would win a scholarship because of it,” she said.

Ms Joyce coaches children between the ages of 5 and 13 for the Bermuda Cycling Academy.

“If the girls feel outnumbered, often attendance isn't as good,” she said. “We have some great talent, so how do we keep them interested, or at least not lose them because they don't see any other women?”

The scheme wants to send female sporting figures into schools to talk to children. They also want to see more female coaches working with young people.

Ms Joyce, who works in the reinsurance industry, said she loved sports while growing up in Ohio, adding: “I never had time to get in trouble: I was too involved in sports.

“I did a lot of running and played basketball and volleyball. I was never going to be a pro athlete but I gained so much from it.

“It improved my physical fitness, but also gave me the confidence to put myself out there.

“It gave me the ability to graciously lose and the ability to win and know that it is OK to win.”

She and Ms Blackburn did an informal survey on the value of sport.

They found that some teenagers did not compete because they were afraid of looking unattractive in front of boys. This was especially true if there were not many other girls to provide moral support.

Ms Joyce thought more single-sex sports might help young girls to not feel so self-conscious.

The couple are looking for females willing to help out with their fledgling organisation. Contact them on www.acegirlsfoundation.org or Ace Girls Foundation on Facebook.

Leader of the pack: Allysa Rowse, 16, front, during a race (Photograph supplied)
Race ace: Gabriella Arnold, 19, cycling at Marian University in Indiana. The sport won her a $29,000 scholarship to the school, where she is studying physical and social education (Photograph supplied)
Up for the challenge: Gabriella Arnold, second left, cometing in the Sinclair Packwood Memorial Cycle Race last month (Photograph supplied)
First to finish: Gabriella Arnold, front, in Sunday's Road Race National Championship (Photograph supplied)

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Published June 29, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 29, 2016 at 8:47 am)

Female cyclists addressing gender imbalance

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