Tulsa Cycling Divas

About a year ago, a group of friends embarked on a 10-hour road trip for a cycling expo. The long car ride gave them ample time for brainstorming, and when they returned to Tulsa, they had a plan. Little did they know that their meager expectations would capture the attention of a 15-year-old victim of bullying and over 100 other women.

Shawn Brett, Malcom McCollum and Jim Beach had noticed the decline in female cyclists since the early 1990s as biking became more of a serious sport than a leisure activity. At the same time, bike shops began to cater to the hard-core cyclist. Women stopped riding, and they stopped shopping for bikes. In fact, “78 per cent of women who bike do not go to bike shops,” said Brett, who has unbridled enthusiasm for the sport.

As soon as last year’s Tulsa Tough (the major cycling event hosted in Tulsa) ended, the guys, who call themselves Manbassadors, hatched a plan to create a social cycling club for women. Tulsa Divas was launched in March with the hope of attracting 25 to 50 participants. There are currently 125. “It’s about camaraderie and participation,” Brett said, not about competing, although many of the participants are competitive cyclists, triathletes and marathoners.

The Divas are women from ages 15 to 67, of varying walks of life and varying levels of fitness and cycling experience. Brett said that was the beauty of the group. “They can talk with each other about their cycling questions” without being coached by a man. They have formed private groups online, too, so they can visit throughout the week, and plan their own rides apart from regularly scheduled Diva training rides.

Divas invest $100 and get a t-shirt, a custom-made jersey and two training rides a week. This year they will also have access to an exclusive event at Tulsa Tough: the women will attend a clinic by the Primal Pro Women’s Cycling. When they return from their rides, Brett and McCollum have piled a table with wine, cheese and chocolate. There are other benefits as well, including race fees.

While there are obvious tangible benefits, the intangible benefits to the cycling group are equally important. No one knows that better than Tori Kanizer, a 15-year-old from Owasso. She had made the Owasso cheer team and had been chosen to compete with a select group. As Tori improved in cheer and made a name for herself, she began to experience extreme bullying from other girls. She was called names and taunted during meetings. Other teens spread rumors, Tori said, about her on Twitter and Facebook. Her parents met with school officials with little result. Tori quit cheer and decided to start cycling with her dad, a triathlete.

Tori fell in love with cycling. “It’s like candy,” she said. “Once I get on the bike, I just want to ride more.” She is fourth in the country in her racing class, and travels most weekends to tournaments. She joined the Divas as soon as it started, and quickly brought her mother on board. Sarah Kanizer said she likes that no one gets left behind. Serious and novice cyclists share information and fun. Both women said that, often, they don’t realize how many miles they’ve ridden since they’re laughing and chatting with other Divas. Tori, 15, said that there is room for anyone in the group, and she fits right in.

When she’s had a hard day or she’s upset, Tori said she can climb on the bike in tears and come home happy and light, having cycled off her stress.

Categories: Sports