So Long, You Are All Diamonds

Anna Schwinn

All smiles moments after putting on a Koochella skinsuit for the first time. May, 2014

People of Earth,

My goal in starting Koochella with my friends was to facilitate growth of competition in our local track racing community. We would foster new racers and recruit our competition and make racing fun in the process. We would talk about the beginner amateur racing experience and how it can be positively transformative to the individual and community.

Our track racing community has grown substantially in the three years Koochella has been in business. And while there is always room to grow, Minnesota track racing is on the up and up.

And what’s probably most exciting to me is that Koochella can’t take all the credit. Growth is a community imperative. That’s why we’re successful.

14045297870_0d17d4d88a

As a result, my personal focus has been elsewhere. With a great group of women in action on the Koochella team, I sought to broaden the team’s impact by extending space within the Koochella club umbrella to women’s teams starting up in other cities. In the 2016 racing season, Club Koochella consisted of five women’s teams in four states. Four of those women’s teams were track-focused to help grow programs in other velodromes.

I started to realize months ago that with the unique demands of my professional life and my broader personal focus that I was not the best Koochella team captain to have at home. My mission had diverged from that of the team I had helped to build. I looked around and it was obvious that I was taking valuable space and resources from an up-and-coming racer that would benefit from it far more than I.

I shared this with my teammates and they stepped up immediately and with enthusiasm, because that’s the kind of strong, capable, and motivated people they are. And, to be honest, they were running most of the team operations as it was.

Anna Schwinn

Photo by Kyle Kelley

It isn’t a sad departure. I’m happy for where the team will go, as I always am. I am happy to have gotten to know and race alongside these incredible people. I am better for knowing every single one of the women who has worn a Koochella kit. But I know in my heart that the success of the program is more proven by what it can do without me than by what I can do for it.

As far as what’s next for me, I’m going to keep doing what meshes with my mission statement: facilitating opportunities for women/trans/femme people within cycling, the sport and the pastime. I will continue to be active and work for good things. I will push for elevating the sport. And yes, there will be a new crazy-kitted vehicle for my personal racing- which I am able to have because I know that Koochella is in better hands than mine.

27550663795_73ea6a375c_b

Thank you, Koochella, for everything you’ve given me. I’m a much better person because of you and I’m so excited to see what you become. I know you’ll knock it out of the park.

You are all diamonds. Stay dry.

img_20160616_152618

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn
Co-Founder and Proud Former Captain of Koochella

IG: schwinnatallcosts
Other: You Are All Diamonds

Last Dance, Last Chance for Love: Track Season Closer, 2016

img_20160908_194533

2016 NSC Velodrome Season Finale, Women’s Field (max field 2016: 36 women)

(Sorry in advance, this is going to get sappy)

I started writing this post after the final night race last season… in my head… during the warm up.

I was wearing a wrap dress for the final night (we dress up every year at the NSC Velodrome for the season closer), which was pinned like crazy to the bib shorts underneath so it wouldn’t flap around in the draft. I was warming up with Beth Franklin and Sarah Bonneville, dressed as a roller girl and Wonder Woman, respectively. As we were doing exchanges and laughing and talking, I remember thinking that as younger person I would have killed to know that women like this even existed, strong women with drive and amazing attitudes. They were just so cool in all the best ways.

There we were, having grown faster and stronger with one another over months and years, looking ridiculous. We moved fast as a single entity in the way you really only can on a steep-banked track. Matching speed and lines, flying over other riders, sitting super tight on each other’s wheels, listening to the tires’ low rumble on the boards. The track surface was pink and everything was beautiful.

I teared up in that paceline. I felt so fortunate to be these women’s friend, teammate, and competition. I was so grateful for what the sport and community had given to me and I was so happy to see it thriving, especially after almost having lost our velodrome the previous winter.

I realized as I jumped out of the paceline and came off the track to get myself together, that I was descending into an infield full of women who I also totally respected and adored (an amazing problem to have). I did some slow laps on the inner track with my head down so I wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone. It was a race night, after all, and people were pulling their focus together. I was pretty certain that tears in my eyes would have set off a hilarious chain reaction.

Last night was the final race night for the NSC Velodrome 2016 season. If 2015 was about understanding the value of what a racing community could mean for me, 2016 was all about seeing how it could transform other people.

Where last season saw the introduction of a regular second women’s field, 2016 is the first complete season where a separate women’s 1/2/3 field was assumed throughout the season schedule. Despite being the third season in a row with 20+ women coming through the introductory clinic, we enjoyed the highest retention of new women racers yet thanks to new teams such as Fuerza.

img_20160909_095931

Because I wasn’t racing them, I had the pleasure of watching as the W4 group not only picked up speed, but rode in tighter and tighter formations and lines as the season progressed. It was straight up magical to watch this group grow stronger physically and mentally in the way I had enjoyed my first few seasons. Plus, the confidence these women exuded by the end of the season both for the form of racing as well as the venue itself was straight up inspiring. They owned their sport and they owned their place on the infield.

img_20160901_210736

I’ve been notified by several of this year’s fresh class of racers that they are coming for me. Which makes me smile like an idiot. I know you are. I see you sizing me up over there. I can’t wait. I’m already working on my training calendar for next year in anticipation of you.

Thank you, women of the NSC Velodrome community. You’ve made me a better person over the years that I’ve been fortunate to spend with you, and you continue to make me better. I love how we build one another up and how we get stronger together. I wish we could bottle what we have and send it to every velodrome in the world.

I’m totally humbled and inspired by you, and I can’t wait until next season.

See you in May.

Xoxo

img_20160616_152618

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn

2016 Fixed Gear Classic at the NSC Velodrome

27621719296_b7ccf46c14_z

This past weekend was the Fixed Gear Classic at the National Sports Center Velodrome.

27556190272_97991b9762_z

We had no idea what to expect from the event. This is the first time the women of Koochella have had the opportunity to participate. The FGC has been canceled the past two seasons as our velodrome’s future has been uncertain due to needed repairs and associated funding.

27378224280_6f2c6b1e23_z

This year, with repairs completed and our track freshly repainted, our track had the opportunity to host top notch racers from around the country. And we hosted our hearts out.

27620571826_a6b3245144_z

Koochella itself had the pleasure of hosting two of our biggest heroes: Jo Celso of Cinelli Chrome and Veronika Volok of Shespoke- both monsters of the track and fixed gear crit… and generally inspiring and lovely people.

27377997200_8f3932d7ec_z

The wonderful thing about events like this is that you gain new heroes from it. There were so many fast and fresh new faces.

27582298131_33f4eb3359_z

The women of Koochella soon found themselves surrounded by loads of new racers to admire.

27555858562_c33efc7813_z

27656533175_a97363b6ed_z

It was completely humbling to be racing in a field alongside some of the fastest women in the nation… and completely amazing to be able to hang out with them on the infield between races.

27555889572_8c5f56eac2_z

The competition was fierce. The racing was easily the hardest anyone on Koochella had done. It was the kind of humbling experience that makes you stronger. I will happily speak for myself when I say I didn’t feel like the competition that our guests deserved. I’m going to do my best to be that competition next year.

27046179263_1a8633df55_z

At any rate, Koochella didn’t go home completely empty-handed. Sara Bee handily took home the win on the track stand competition.

Untitled-1

A big thanks to Linsey Hamilton for taking the lead on race coordination. You killed it. And a massive thanks to the NSC Velodrome community for making it so easy for women racers to thrive. Above is the prize list for the event. You’ll notice that prizes are equal, so gender isn’t noted in the spreadsheet. Because that’s just how it is at the NSC Velodrome.

And you’ll notice that there were only a few less women than men participating in the event. Because that’s just how it is at the NSC Velodrome

We’re very proud to be a part of the community and we can’t wait to see you all next year.

27621755196_a5b4c5c38a_z

xox

Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn

(For more images from this weekend, please visit this flickr album)

Baby Ducks Take the Track by Storm!

If there’s one thing that makes our track racer hearts pitter-patter, it’s seeing new female-presenting riders take to the track for the first time, watching that sparkle in their eyes as they ride their first laps, and then seeing that sparkle turn into fierce determination as they become glorious track monsters. Racing is nearly here and a whole slew of women (over 20!) are gearing up for their first season of racing. This spring, Anna “Mama Duck” Schwinn, Linsey “Linzilla” Hamilton, and Renee “Dark Horse” Hoppe teamed up to co-teach the Women, Trans, Femme Intro Track Class. For many of these riders, riding and racing on the track marked their first time riding a fixed gear bike and trying out sanctioned racing. Their enthusiasm and excitement is contagious, reminding returning riders both old and new of their first few times riding our beloved boards…

26446255724_0c13281a0d_z 26446331074_73c158cac5_z 26448145483_209b672455_z 26448198993_4ca19dd609_z 26957029132_b614824822_z 26983358471_05571da698_z 26983513991_0210123033_z 27018709296_a315e415a7_z 27018780326_c2b8578654_z 27051401265_6a282f794e_z 27051440125_19aa2c55ea_z 27051695645_0dfd747dd1_z 27051770915_86d19b20a2_z 26445817154_c4ae77377b_z 26446110414_064338db71_z 26446184974_81fa5be1aa_z

See the full album here. 

Try Really Hard

So we have this common saying on the team. It goes something like this…

Person 1: Statement about how hard certain part of the course, race, etc was and how silly they looked trying to overcome it. 

Person 2: But at least we tried really hard!

Person 1 & 2: *highfive in agreement*

This whole conversation seems pretty inconsequential, right?

And in some ways, it might be, however the idea of celebrating coming in dead last during a scratch race, crashing a million times on a cross course, or having the least graceful dismount/mount ever because, in the end, you tried really hard is important and valuable – especially to a growing women’s field. Let’s take a moment to break that idea down:

koochella anna cross photo by matthew pastick

The face of someone who wasn’t having the best race ever, but still tried really hard. And looked fly as hell.

There’s no shame in trying hard.

Maybe you keep getting dropped in every single criterium you do. Perhaps you feel like everyone else is way faster at technical cross courses than you, or that your standing sprint is awful. Maybe you felt like you turned yourself inside out during a race, only to still miss that coveted podium spot. That’s okay. It’s important to recognize weaknesses as long as you don’t dwell on them, rely on them for excuses, or allow them to control your life. Regardless of how any race or training ride goes, trying really hard not only makes you a better rider, but also increases the excitement and overall skill level in the entire field. Imagine watching a race on the velodrome where everyone is only giving 60% effort because they know that there’s one fast rider who is going to crush everyone. Sounds pretty boring and uninspiring, right? Imagine that same race, except now everyone is giving 100% and trying to reel in that fast rider. That’s the race that’s going to motivate racers to keep coming back, continue to train hard, and progress as athletes. Even if no one is able to catch up to that super fast rider, at least everyone gave it their all, and that’s something to always be proud of. In short, trying really hard, even if you “fail,” is an achievement worthy of both praise and celebration.

koochella finish line

These women got second, third, and fourth place respectively. They were all trying really hard.

Dedication is the only thing you can control.

In a sport rife with crashes, inclement weather, malfunctioning equipment, illness, and injury, training and racing goals can easily become derailed. That’s why, in many ways, your dedication is the only thing you can control. It’s important and empowering to set goals for yourself and work to achieve those goals. Do those intervals you hate, go out of your way to ride up that hill on your commute home, eat more vegetables than you normally do, or go on training rides with cyclists who are faster than you. Even if you can’t complete that workout or are totally exhausted by the end of that ride, (or hate vegetables for that matter), dedicating yourself to something you are passionate about is brave. Even if you go into that season or race feeling like you’re still not where you want to be, knowing that you’ve been trying really hard is something to be proud of.

koochella blood

This rider tried so hard that her legs got bloody.

That being said, we all have those races or rides where nothing is going your way and you feel that internal flame of effort die out. You might give up and switch into “survival” mode, in which your main goal becomes to just finish or find the nearest point where you can quit. As long as it doesn’t become a habit, that’s perfectly okay. We all sometimes get “beat down” by exhaustion, tough courses, or hard races. Acknowledge it in that moment and make a pact with yourself that, despite feeling negative about your performance right now, you’ll keep trying really hard next time.

koochella crash

Trying really hard isn’t always pretty.

You think about you more than anyone else thinks about you.

This isn’t to say that we’re all self-absorbed assholes, it’s just that most of us are too busy working, volunteering, spending time with family and friends, and riding our bikes to worry too much about what’s going on in everyone else’s life. Think about it – when’s the last time you finished a race and immediately thought, “I wonder how so-and-so did?” Unless it’s a friend who you know was trying really hard to podium or was particularly concerned about this race for any number of reasons, chances are they aren’t your first thought (if they are, however, kudos to you for being a loyal and concerned friend!). Next time you leave a race feeling less than stellar about your performance, just remember that everyone else is probably thinking about their own race too, not yours.

Support other women who try really hard.

So you’ve made a pact with yourself to dedicate yourself to your passion (which we sincerely hope is cycling related), and try really hard. Awesome! Remember that not every rider celebrates trying hard like you do and sometimes they might need reminders that trying really hard is about as rad as it gets. Support your fellow cyclists by congratulating them on their efforts, whether they’re on the podium, DFL, or DNF and strive to make our wonderful sport as welcoming and enthusiastic as it gets. From our perspective, more is more. The more women, races, and posi feelings there are, the better cycling becomes for everyone involved.

koochella pain face photo by blake

Pain faces = trying SO hard. Photo by: Blake Kelley