Kathryn Bertine is an author, athlete, activist and filmmaker and you’ll meet her on Sparta Chicks Radio this week.
I first invited Kathryn to be a guest on the podcast way back in 2017.
For reasons neither of us can remember that didn’t happen.
But now we have the chance to discuss her extraordinary memoir called Stand: A memoir on activism. A manual for progress. What really happens when we stand on the front lines of change.
It’s open, honest & exceptionally vulnerable. And I think you’ll love it whether you’re interested in women in sport, women’s cycling, equality, activism or justice.
Back in 2006, Kathryn was a journalist who had been racing as a professional triathlete, when a journalism assignment with ESPN changed the trajectory of her life.
The task: to be a guinea pig and see if she could qualify for the Olympic Games in 18 months.
And she chose the sport of road cycling.
Now, a spoiler alert: she didn’t make the team - but as she writes in Stand, “something wild happened”. She “almost” did. And the “almost” changed her.
“[I]t is not the victories or losses that define our paths in life but the Wonder and What Ifs that lie between”
Not only did she come to fall in love with road cycling during the ESPN assignment, but she also became aware and started to question the inequities she could see in the sport.
So she set 3 goals:
- to become a professional cyclist,
- to get women into the Tour de France and
- to quieten the demons of worthlessness in her head.
Along the way she made an extraordinary documentary about professional women’s cycling called ‘Half The Road”, campaigned for over 5 years for women’s inclusion at the Tour de France and eventually stood on the start line of La Course by Tour de France - a women’s race at the Tour de France that debuted in 2014 (and I remember watching).
And yet that’s Kathryn’s highlight reel.
And I think one of the reasons Kathryn’s story is so compelling is that if you look at her list of achievements, you’d think she had everything going her way.
But she openly shares the darkness and the demons she was battling between the scenes: everything from being harassed, bullied, labelled a ‘no one’ and suffering depression, brokenness and on the cusp of suicide.
But as she says herself, “[t]he strongest thing we can do is share bits of our flailing humanness with others” because no one truly has their shit together 100% of the time.
In this conversation, we discuss:
* the power of vulnerability
* her childhood including her love of figure skating and rowing
* how she discovered cycling (as cross-training to support her rowing training)
* the journalism assignment for ESPN that changed the trajectory of her life
* the big 3 challenges and inequities faced with women in cycling and why she felt so compelled to address them,
* the fact she had her best year in professional cycling at the age of 41 after she took her power meter off her bike,
* why she decided to make a documentary on women’s professional cycling (called Half the Road),
* the campaign launched in 2013 to push for equality for women at the Tour de France,
* how she felt standing on the start line of La Course by the Tour de France in 2014 (for which she had campaigned for 5 years) and the public ‘facade’ she had to show the world to mask the pain in her personal life at the time
* the situational depression she experienced at / after the time of La Course and the importance of sharing how you’re feeling and getting help if you know you’re not ok (even if you can’t put it into words)
* the bike crash in her final season that left her with a traumatic brain injury.
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