Racing can sometimes be intimidating, even for the most experienced riders among us. To help guide new female riders through, Ride Like A Girl is a B.C.-based program matching promising young riders with experienced mentors in their communities.
In the five years since Ride Like a Girl was launched, the program has grown steadily. New mentors and new riders have been added each year, and the young women passing through the program have gone on to much success racing in disciplines from cross country to downhill.
Canadian national team rider Sandra Walter (Liv International) signed on to be a Ride Like a Girl mentor early on. Every year she returns to take on new mentee riders.
“It’s really important for me to make time for Ride Like a Girl, because I feel I have a duty to give back to the mountain biking community and to help young racers,” says Walter. “Life as an elite athlete can seem pretty selfish, but I want to share all of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained throughout my long career and help up-and-coming riders reach their goals. Being a mentee in the program is something I know I would have found valuable when I was developing in the sport.”
Amber Zirnhelt, the founder of Ride Like A Girl shared Walter’s view that the mentorship model could be useful. When Zirnhelt finished racing downhill, she started putting together the mentorship program what would become Ride Like A Girl.
“I saw a real opportunity for up and coming riders to learn from other females in the sport,” Zirnhelt says, It’s something that when I was an athlete I always wished I had – the opportunity to ride with someone that’s older and professional.” While the demographics of the mountain bike community are changing, she still thinks there’s a strong need for the program. “There’s so many more women now, but there are still more men. Having female mentors to help you build your confidence and skill, and to make a community within the larger mountain bike community is so important.”
Mentorship as a continual learning process
While the focus of Ride Like A Girl is on aspiring female riders, the program’s mentors say they come back every year because it’s rewarding, and fun, for them as well.
“There’s nothing like being surrounded by young shredders and their energy and lack of fear!” says Andréane Lanthier Nadeau. Nadeau travells around the globe racing the Enduro World Series with her Rocky Mountain / Race Face team. When she’s back in Squamish, B.C., she enjoys what time she gets with her mentee. “It reminds me of when I began riding and who I was looking up to and motivates me to keep on getting better because these young riders rip!”
Walter shares a similar sentiment as Nadeau, and enthusiasm for the program.
“The focus of Ride Like a Girl is obviously primarily on the recipients of the bursaries and mentorships, but I’ve gained so many awesome friendships and learned a ton from my mentees,” says Walter. “Connecting with these young athletes keeps me grounded and reminds me of how and why I originally got into the sport. Riding with these shredders inspires me to continue to improve, because they are constantly raising the bar, and in order to keep up, we all have to work hard and push our limits. My experiences with Ride Like a Girl are also great examples of how important it is for young women to have a safe and supportive community within the sport that allows them to grow, gain confidence and work together towards common goals.”
Zirnhelt also sees Ride Like A Girl as an opportunity for more experienced rider to create a cycle of continuing involvement in the community. Seeing that community grow over the five years the program has been running is one of the rewards for Zirnhelt. “It’s great seeing people motivated to get involved,” she says.” We’ve had a few of our young riders become mentors themselves as they get older.”
Ride Like A Girl 2020
Ride Like A Girl is accepting applications for its 2020 program. Female riders in British Columbia between the age of 12 and 20 have until February 14 to apply to be part of this year’s group of athletes.