Storytellers | Diana: Mom, Birdwatcher, Football Player. December 03 2018, 0 Comments

If you're new here, I'm all about the stories behind cycling. After all, WHY ARE WE HERE?  ON BIKES and WEARING SPANDEX?  The answer always surprises me when I ask a woman who rides.  

Last week I had a chat with Diana, a mother of two and an energetic athlete who recently discovered cycling after retiring from tackle football.  Yes, that's what I said.

There's something pretty amazing about talking on the phone with a stranger, and feeling a bond because she uses the same words you've uttered about how cycling makes you feel.  Not the same thoughts, but the same feelings.  Even though different journeys brought us to the sport, the emotions are the same, and that's pretty cool.  

xo Alexis

.................

Alexis:              

Tell me a little bit about yourself. So you live in Cleveland, how long have you been riding? How'd you get into it?

Diana:             

I’ve been in Cleveland for about two and half years now. Prior to that, I was playing women's tackle football and I was a wide receiver, a corner, safety, wherever they need me, I was like just throw me in because I really love the sport of football. But, about five years ago, I got my ankle broken really bad. Broke both my bones, tibia, fibula, dislocated my foot and at that point, I felt like my football career was over.

During my rehabilitation, my physical therapist kept putting me on the stationary bike and I'm like, why does he keep putting me on this?  I'm ready to run, I'm ready to catch a ball, but the whole entire time, he was just building that strength up. We relocated from Cincinnati to Pennsylvania and I started playing football. I even tried out for the Pittsburgh Passion team and made the team. But that fear of getting in another broken bone just kept messing with my head and eventually I was like, you know? I'm done with playing football.

So we moved here to Cleveland, and I kept telling my husband, I just need to cycle. I need to keep this flexibility, mobility in my ankle. I'm getting stiff. So on my 36th birthday, I was looking through Craigslist and I meet this guy with a men's Schwinn road bike and I'm like this is it. This is the bike.

We literally went at night time because I was so determined.  So my husband's like you're crazy. You can wait till the next day.  But I felt it was calling me.  And so, the next day, I rode 18 miles. And I didn't even know I was riding 18 miles. It just felt so free. And here I am today two years later. I didn't know anything about riding a bike.  I rode a bike recreationally every once in a while, but making it a part of my every day life, I felt so free and I was just clearing my headspace. It taught me how to learn the streets of Cleveland. I found shortcuts. I even gained friendships and I started traveling and meeting people and inspiring people to even lose weight.

And I that was just in my first six months. So I thought this has to be my calling.

Alexis:             

That's awesome. I have a similar story. I had to stop running and so, I was kinda reluctant at first and then I finally bought a bike and as soon as I did, I was like this is it. You know? I was gone. I think once you discover that freedom and if you've been on a treadmill or an elliptical machine or whatever just kind of checking the box, once you realize that there is a way to spend hours outside and see places and just be moving, it's awesome, right?

Diana:             

Yes. Totally awesome. And you know, I love bird watching.  Girlfriend let me tell you, I told my husband, I wanna go to Sandusky and I know when the eagles are nesting and I know when they're about to migrate up this way so I'm like babe let's take our bikes and let's ride. And girlfriend, when I tell you I was riding my bike, and this eagle just looked down at me, that did it for me. I'm riding for the rest of my life.

Alexis:             

Yeah.

Diana:             

That's my confirmation. There have been times when I've been riding on a trail, and there's a hawk that's soaring just right next to me just me in the wilderness. And I'm thinking to myself, is this really happening to me? And I wonder, do people even get an opportunity to witness nature like that, or to have nature speak to them?

And so I tell people I ride for fitness but nature is my biggest motivation.  Once I knew that I could ride anywhere and witness everything I love about the outdoors, I felt like this was supposed to be my job.

Alexis:             

That's awesome. I feel the same way.  Especially if you're climbing, you can only go so fast and it forces you to slow down and you are forced to notice things that you would never notice if you were in a car or maybe even walking. You know?

Diana:             

Yes.

Alexis:             

Yeah, it's just the best.

Diana:             

Everything's better by the speed of bike.

Alexis:             

Totally. So you are a Trek ambassador right?

Diana:             

Yes I am.  This is my very first year.  And before I even knew about the Trek ambassadorship or anything like that, I kept saying I wanna be a Trekkie, I wanna be a Trek girl. I love my Trek 1000. I mean, it's old, but it's a good bike and I actually, you know my first year on that bike I rode over 2000 miles. Other cyclists started to notice who I am and they asked questions like, so where do you want cycling to take you? And I was like, I'm gonna let it take me wherever it wants to lead me. And luckily for me, I found Black Girls Do Bike and became a member of Black Girls Do Bike Cleveland and I started riding with a group of ladies and I actually took it upon myself to start traveling to meet other ladies that were associated with Black Girls Do Bike, and we had a national meetup and I found out that Trek was our sponsor for Black Girls Do Bike.

I met Emily and Alex from the Trek Arlington location and I applied to be a Trek Ambassador and I though oh, I'm just this young lady who's living a hope and a dream and there are other women who cycle way more than I do, and then I got the email.  Girl, you don't even believe, I thought it was a dream. I thought it was a lie. I kept looking at the email like, is this real? I would wake up in the middle of the night just to make sure. And it felt so good to be recognized for something that I've been kind of doing organically, no pressure, I'm not doing it to please any, except for myself.

Alexis:             

Right.

Diana:             

Something that makes my heart feel really good and to be honored, have a position like this, words cannot even describe how I really feel.  I feel like every day is a dream. And it's something that I actually, genuinely love doing. The day that I went to the Trek headquarters for the women’s ambassador conference, I cried.  I felt like Charlie from the Chocolate Factory. I felt like a kid in a candy store. It was like a dream come true. And I'm 38 years old. Do you see what I'm saying?

Alexis:             

I do.

Diana:             

Like I'm 38 years old and to have something like this come my way, even today, it still brings tears to my eyes because like I can't believe it. You know? And I'm so honored and I'm so grateful for this opportunity. More women, more bikes, more often.

Alexis:             

Definitely. That's awesome. So back to your football career, how did you get into that? I mean cycling is not a female dominated sport but, football, I mean wow. You know?

Diana:             

Well, I was a girl who thought I would never get into football. I'm like that's too barbaric, right? Well, in the early 2000s, I had a friend who was playing women's flag football and I'm like what the heck is that? So we went to this practice and I was just hanging out. My daughter was young. There were other kids there and I was with my girlfriends. And one day, they were like, we need an extra person on the field. I was like, I’ll just get on the field and see what's up.

Diana:             

After that practice, they were like, you're on the team. And I kept saying, I'm not trying to get hurt and they were like you're not gonna get hurt, you'll be okay. I was the smallest one. I was the running back. I was pretty much everywhere and it was just so much fun. So one day, Icky Woods was in Cincinnati, he's a former football coach or former football player for the Cincinnati Bengals, he started up a team called the Cincinnati Sizzle.

And so, he came to our game, and asked if we wanted to be a part of women's tackle football and I'm like women's tackle football? Are you talking about wear a helmet and get hit? I was like no, I'm good. I'm okay. So he was like no just come, see it, and I'm not gonna lie to you, what really drew me in was the workouts. The conditioning sessions because I love that type of workout. I was getting a full body workout.  I started seeing the muscle tone and I started getting faster and stronger and I'm like okay, I'm addicted to this. The only thing was, I didn't know how to catch. So my husband and I started practicing. And I made the team. My first year, I sat on the bench. I was only special teams. My second year I was on defense and special team. And by the middle of my second year, I was playing both sides of the field. My third year, I played the whole entire game.

 

I was an honorary member of the Derby City Dynamite. People were asking me to just come and practice. I coached youth flag football after I stopped playing football. It just opened up a lot of doors. My goal was to play until I was 50.  But after so many injuries... I had two broken hands, broken fingers, broken ribs, had to get my ACL and meniscus repaired. I have screws in my knees, a hook in my knees, a donor tendon. I have plates, screws…My doctor was like, look if you keep playing football, you’re gonna have to get double knee replacement, and you probably have to get a new hip. And I was like, I ain't got time for that.

So I had to start looking at other options and, to be honest with you, all I knew was football or running. But after all my broken bones, running was even hard.  And cycling just kept coming up.

Alexis:             

That’s awesome. I mean, everybody's got a story to tell and I never would have known that you were a tackle football player. Back to cycling, do you have any ambitions to ever race or do you want to travel with your bike?

Diana:             

Yes, I'm going, my goal is to eventually quit my job and become a traveling cyclist. And my goal is to cycle across the U.S. in 2020.  I'll be 40 years old so that's one of my 40th birthday things to do. And then going into 2019, I'll be riding with an all women's team called Stellari, a women’s development and cycling team here in Cleveland. And I also will be participating in the Cleveland Velodrome.  They were interested in me my first year but I wasn't confident and I felt like I had to learn.

Alexis:             

That's great.

Diana:             

Cycling is my new football.

Alexis:             

So when you first thought about getting into cycling, making that transition from a stationary bike in physical therapy to getting on a road bike, were there any hesitations or were you just like I'm just gonna go for it?

Diana:             

I was just like I'm gonna go for it.  I didn't know anybody, I didn't know anybody who was doing the same thing but I had to venture outside of my little box to see and you to come to realize in Cleveland, it's a huge cycling community from commuters to recreational riders to racers.  I mean there's so many facets of cycling here.

Alexis:             

That's really great. What you are doing and what Trek's doing to get more women on the road is really necessary.

Diana:             

Well, let me tell you, my first road bike, I didn't use the gears at all. I didn't know about shifting gears. I was going hard the whole entire time when I could have been easily going up a hill with no problems, I was struggling. But then I couldn't believe it. And then once somebody told me, like are you even shifting your gears? I was like what? I got gears?

Alexis:             

Right.

Diana:             

That changed the game.

Alexis:             

And then what about clipping in? I bought my first bike from a woman and she's like you're gonna have an “oh sh*t” moment where you're gonna just clip in and try to stop and you can't clip out in time and you're gonna fall over. You’re gonna do it one time. You just gotta get it out of your system. And she was right. And it was so embarrassing. Did you have like a moment like that?

Diana:             

Yes, well, I just started clipping in this year. I never knew about clipping in. Well, I knew about it but nobody really said anything until I did a woman's weekend at the Velodrome and then that was the first day I ever clipped in. Now you're talking about something so scary and intimidating? I was so comfortable in what I already knew and, I was terrified of falling.  But, with that fear of falling, I started falling with my regular pedals and I changed my pedals on my trainer to practice.    

And then I rode with a girlfriend clipped in and I totally forgot I was clipped in, thought I could put my foot down and it was too late. The second time, I was on the road and then we had a sudden stop. I couldn't clip out in enough time and I fell. And then the last time, I was just not paying attention. But I'm telling you, after those three times, on that one day, I haven't fallen at all. And I've been in the Velodrome, I've been on the road, I've been on the trail. I'm like okay, I can do this. That's a lot of power. Full 360 power.

Alexis:             

Yep.

Diana:             

Girlfriend look-It's a game changer.  I didn't even know I had that much in me. You know what I'm saying?

Alexis:             

I do.

Diana:             

And then being around people who help me build that confidence. Like, girl you can do this. You played football. Like I keep saying, if I would have known about cycling way before football, I would be a cyclist right now. I mean, I would probably be trying out for the Olympics and trying out to do crazy stuff. I'd probably be BMXing right now.

Alexis:             

That's so great. Well, I really appreciate your time, sharing your story, and I appreciate for what you're doing for other women as a Trek ambassador and just an ambassador for cycling so if there's any way that like we can help support you and your mission, just let me know 'cause I'd be happy to.

Diana:             

Oh thank you so much. Thank you because y'all kept popping up on my Instagram. I'm like, I'm gonna try this. Girl, let me tell you about y'alls jersey. Whew. Oh my goodness. It's cute.  Look, I wear a lot of jerseys. And in yours, I felt beautiful. I felt like it didn't budge. It didn't move. It sat where it needed to be. I didn't feel like I had to pull it down or anything. It was just a great fit.

Diana:             

I mean, the arms were a great fit. The way it hugged my body great. I love the way that it zipped up and then if I was off my bike and I had to go somewhere and I still had my jersey stuff on, girl I just zip it down. It had that little splash of color.

Alexis:             

That little pop of color, yep.

Diana:             

Come on now. Yes! Come. On. Now.

Alexis:             

I'm glad that you love it and all those things that you say are what I want other women to feel.  It’s also how I wanted to feel. I started road biking 10 years ago and I hated the apparel but I loved the sport too much so I just said there's gotta be something better. There’s all these cute athletic apparel brands popping up like Lululemon and Nike and Athleta and I was just like, why is nobody doing something better for cycling? And I had a bunch of $50 or $60 jerseys that I would find at like the local sporting goods store and everything had multiple pain points. I would buy another jersey thinking maybe this is the one and then, at the end of the day, I was like I've got like hundreds of dollars worth of jerseys that I don't even like.  So I just starting sketching and sourcing fabric and, was fortunate to find a factory right here in the Bay area so and all the textiles are from a mill in Italy so I know where everything comes from. There's a lot of accountability and yeah, that translates into a higher price point but it's stuff that's gonna last.

Diana:             

It's worth it.

Alexis:             

Yeah, it's worth it and I'm still riding in my original samples that I sewed like five years ago so I just hope that when women see that there is a better option out there because for me, when I thought about buying a bike I was like ah do I have to wear that stuff like that horrible stuff, you know? I'm so glad that you found Lexi Miller and that it resonated with you and whatever we can do to kind of help you encourage other women to get out on the bike, you know, I'd be happy to do so.

Diana:             

Okay. My cousin is interested but the sizes are only to size 12.

Alexis:             

Okay. Yes, so up to size 12 for now. I've heard that a lot that women want larger sizes and we're definitely looking into expanding that.

Diana:             

She’s riding on a trainer and so we hold each other accountable and I sent her a plan to ride and I'm watching her shed the weight, just shed the pounds 'cause she was over 400 pounds and her doctor was like you either have to do something or you're gonna die, you know? And she just so happened to reach out to me and I made it a point to go to Cincinnati to encourage her to ride.

But she saw the post that I put out on Facebook and she was like, that would be amazing if you ran a plus size line.

Alexis:             

Yeah. It's something we're definitely looking into. We’re a small brand and we do small runs, so we can only produce so many sizes.

Diana:             

I know. But just the simple fact that you're looking into it and that you wanna expand eventually for all women that's good because you know most cycling brands don't go up to plus sizes.

Alexis:             

Yeah, thank you. I hope that you at least get some above freezing temperatures throughout the winter to be able to get out there.

Diana:             

Yeah. I got some ladies in beginner winter cycling so my goal is to eventually take them shopping so we can start looking for some winter weather apparel!