By Chanel Mitchell, PhD., LCSW Tsunami of the St. Louis Regulator Cycling Club Novice Cyclists
1,548.9 mi from Saint Louis, MO to Ketchum, Idaho. A change from urban living, semi-fast-paced city streets to a desert Ski town with mountains lining both sides of the road. It is a small town with an expensive taste. Friendly cyclists and drivers wandering down Main Street and exploring Sun Valley Road. I had indeed entered a different world.
Fresh air, pretty boho/country-styled shops lining downtown, with a preppy Oxford outdoor fashion vibe.
Here I was, being me, a Plus-sized African American woman with luscious locks, sporting “Ruby Woo “red lipsticks and a Wild Rye hat with wondrous eyes taking the views.
I traveled to Ketchum as a Be Good Foundation scholarship recipient for Rebecca’s Private Idaho (RPI) gravel race. "Reba," as the town and close friends called her (aka Rebecca Rusch), had a vision to help those like me from under-represented groups in the cycling community (primarily women and women-identifying, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, military members, and para cyclists gain access to her hometown cycling event. As a Be Good Recipient, I was provided financial support to experience one of the world's largest and most celebrated gravel cycling races.
Let's be honest: Ketchum, Idaho was never a travel location that had crossed my mind. Until Rebecca put out a call for people like me. I am not a skier, so I was clueless about the views of a Ski Town. Little did I know Wild Rye headquarters was housed smack dab in the heart of Ketchum.
Months before RPI, I had been gifted a pair of Wild Rye to review. As a larger-framed African American woman with some hips and thighs (queue: Legs, Hips, Body by Kandi Burruss), few fashionable options are available. Often leaving me to purchase from the men's section with unflattering cuts and patterns. Making me look frumpy... and if you'd ask me my style, that's NOT IT.
I am a curvy, smaller waist with voluptuous WIDE hips kind of woman! AND will show it off! As a novice cyclist, I am still learning about clothing and gearing. So, Wild Rye's request was on time. Sheila Mahadevan, director of Melanin Based Miles, vouched for the Wild Rye brand. Note: I rarely see women who look like me nor hear their narratives on cycling sizing. So, it was automatic “yes.”
Finding pants to cover my backside is a challenge. My first pair of Wild Rye shorts covered and gave me flexibility and comfort on the bike! No waist seams were digging into my belly. There was no tight thigh area, making it uncomfortable for me to move. I can shake my groove thang, squat, split, and twirl… No, seriously.
We all know that most cycling brands follow the European, thin/ slender, white woman physique, which is NOT me. My review turned into me loving the shorts and stalking their page for more items to purchase. After searching and finding items, I noticed the ones I'd love would have limited plus-size options. After speaking with several rock star gals (Kendall's accent, lol), the opportunity presented for me to be a fit model.
Lauren and Kelsey could see my trouble issues and started talking designer lingo: "Changes to this... we need these many inches ... a curve here… what's your waist measurements again… hips?"
I was twirling and saying, "Make sure my backside is covered higher, but keep the shorts short…. I like these… see, I can move and wear a chamois".
Once it was announced I would be in Ketchum, a photo shoot schedule commenced. If you follow the stars/astrology, that was a "Once in a Blue Moon" kind of lineup of schedules that happened.
Photoshoot time… Wait, did they say, "Model?" because... I better WERK.... Cover girl!
And a time we had!
The Gals showed me a great time, from the meet and greet to the photo shoot. Conversations led to the future of Wild Rye, team bonding, and workplace management of self-care.
The photoshoot with Ren, Kendall, and Hayden was a Barbie Girl moment!
Picture this: Hayden telling us to just act normal.
Me: Doing the most abnormal reactions.
It was hilarious. Ren knew how to work that bike angles like a pro!
With all the fun and laughter, a serious question was asked, which is my reason for being in Ketchum: "What can we do for the BIPOC community and be more inclusive"?
In that moment, I was reminded that I live in a different world. Wild Rye, like many other companies and organizations worldwide, since racism and social injustice to marginalized communities have been publicized, is doing its homework. Reevaluating their stance on the social injustice and oppression of marginalized and underserved communities,
Like similar places like Ketchum, Wild Rye has a few BIPOCs folx that they can sit down with to have these hard conversations in person.
So, I had to be honest...
Allyship, exposure, supporting and challenging systems and behaviors that abuse and continuously inflict pain on Black and Brown Bodies when we are absent. Partnerships that emotionally and financially support BIPOC initiatives to make a change. Continue to offer space for people like me to be my authentic self. Ensure that compensation is equitable and just when partnering.
Wild Rye is doing the work and so much more. The team is open to ideas on ensuring their brand is inclusive and has impactful meaning. I will continue to yell “Representation Matters” and feel that Wild Rye hears my cry as they are open to diversify and showcase all shades and body types.
Wild Rye has asked for my opinion and needs.
Well, I need more opportunities to showcase how fabulous I look while riding a bike. More seriously, there is a need for more opportunities for BIPOC folx to have access to more outdoor adventures. Safe places that allow them to take up space, speak and challenge systems without fear. Opportunities to build lasting and working partnerships to disrupt the social injustice BIPOCs and others experience.
So, what did I do at RPI? I wore Wild Rye! Decked out in lime green with pastel pinks; it was not hard to find me! The design was "givin," I felt comfortable and had a Wild Rye up and through Corral Creek, where I finished the Tater Tot Route of RPI in style and gracefully! I had the opportunity to brag to others that I was wearing a local brand.
Thanks, Wild Rye, for being a trailblazer in inclusivity. Thanks for being cautious of my feelings as a plus-size woman who is often an afterthought in clothing design!