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Oliviah Franke (she/her) is a chicana, queer cylist living on the unceded lands of the Dena’ina peoples, also known as Anchorage Alaska. This past year she was a part of the 2022 Ride For Racial Justice cohort. Ride for Racial Justice is a non-profit out of Colorado that prepares and supports BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to race in the Steamboat Gravel Race (SBT GRVL). Learn more about RFRJ here: https://www.rideforracialjustice.org/. More about SBT GRVL here: https://www.sbtgrvl.com/ Oliviah works at a local non-profit, leading conversations with Alaskans, on topics that are important to communities including racial equity, culture, climate, land, and the intersections of all of those. SBT was her first race event and she can’t wait to see what next.
A woman who is intelligent, fearless, and can get things done. See also: boss or badass
When I got accepted as an athlete for the 2022 Ride for Racial Justice team, I had the sudden and somewhat humorous realization of what I had just decided to do. When I applied, I was convinced that I would not be accepted. I had looked at the previous year’s cohort profiles. I saw what they looked like, read about their incredible community involvement, and assumed their confidence in their belonging on a bike.
Much to my (FLEETING) horror, I did get accepted and in that moment there were two paths: commit and dive into an 8 month journey that would scare the shit out of me and push my boundaries beyond anything else I have ever done…. Or give up. Within a few hours of reading that acceptance email I had already joked about quitting. And then, when someone ELSE told me “you don’t have to do this, you could always say no”… the words that came out of my mouth were shaped with conviction. “This is the last time you tell me that I have an out. Okay?”
Before I knew it I was at the start line with four of my teammates in Steamboat Colorado, about to embark on my longest bike ride. I had gone from barely surviving 3 mile bike rides on greenways to biking 17 miles in Denali National Park, climbing over two mountains on gravel that would have seemed LITERALLY impossible just six months prior. Throughout this journey, I had become comfortable with the fact that climbing is my Achilles heel. However, the amount of strength I had gained and progress I had made as an athlete gave me an immense amount of pride and comfort in what I was about to ask my body to do with me. The physical advances were not quite aligned with my mental and emotional state though.
Years of not feeling ‘enough’ has created a harsh landscape in my mind and heart. Never skinny enough, smart enough, Mexican enough, white enough, queer or straight enough has positioned me to be my own worst enemy. As many of us know, the mental and emotional landscapes that accompany us are usually the factors that will make or break our endeavor; whether it is a race, a bikepacking trip, or a commute to work. Our belief of if we can or cannot will always be the ultimate decider.
On top of my struggle to be kind to myself, training for SBT GRVL while living in Alaska was really difficult. I was riding on snow and ice well into April, while many of my teammates trained on gravel roads from day 1. I had never ridden a gravel bike on a gravel road, so when I saw photos and updates from my friends training rides; it felt that their cycling may as well have been on Mars. There were days where I was filled with envy for the experiences of others and what felt like extreme disadvantages I was working with.
But over time I built up a healthier relationship with myself and with the sport. I frequently cried on trail in January and even into March and April but without me noticing the transition, my resistance to rides diminished. I looked forward to riding, I laughed on the bike more and I even started to be able to talk while riding. Occasionally there were still moments of self-loathing but I was building trust with my body and myself. Even though I was riding a bike meant for a different discipline, my bike was a vehicle that I trusted, it was extremely reliable and was exactly what I needed every time I got on it. Navigating the world as a person that frequently notices the additional privileges that others have over me; it is with great humility that I have to consistently recognize the immense and profound privilege of having a bike that I trust. Both my mountain bike and now my gravel bike.
While my inner landscape blossomed into one with a deep trust; there was an external demonstration of trust also developing. I was extremely privileged to be the recipient of a sponsored bike because several folks in the industry had placed that trust in me. A belief that I could accomplish what I set out to do, that I was worthy, that I could inspire others and be a ripple of positivity in the world. This was hard to accept at times; I was just me. I wasn’t doing anything profound.
But this journey wasn’t and isn’t about doing profound, big things. This journey is about doing things with great love. A quote by Mother Theresa lives on my left forearm, where my eyes wander in moments of need. “You can do no great things, only small things with great love”.
This bike, lovingly named Chingona, is the product of many months of collaboration, love, patience, and humility. All of the traits that have become embodied in me through my journey to a better self. For so long I worked hard to cross the finish line in Steamboat, and now on the on the other side, I am realizing my journey has only just begun.
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