Photo via Ayesha McGowan Facebook Page
Meet Ayesha McGowan
As Women’s History Month pedals on, we would like to share a story of a woman who is currently making history. Ayesha McGowan is on an an epic journey to become the first African-American professional road cyclist. She’s also on a mission to add color and numbers to women’s cycling.
During Black History Month, BikePGH’s Education Program Coordinator, DeVaughn Rodgers, spoke to BikePGH’s Positive Spin kids on stories of black and people of color cyclists who broke down barriers to do what they loved.
“Of all the stories I came across, the story of Ayesha Mcgowan really fit the bill as a modern day pro-cycling pioneer. It’s present day stories like these that help build the confidence in our youth so that they may also break down barriers to be the best person they can be.” said DeVaughn.
Positive Spin is BikePGH’s youth focused bike education program designed to teach youth how to operate bikes safely and navigate through city streets, trails, and parks.
Learn more about Ayesha’s journey, and her thoughts on representation for people of color in the industry, and who inspires her in our Q&A.
Have you seen this? Check out Ayesha McGowan’s #CantStop Chasing History Oakley Commercial.
What do you think about representation for women and people of color in the bicycling industry?
When you think of a cyclist in general, not everyone is going to think of a person of color. I do now….but that is not what is being represented at large. When you look at advertising and pretty much anything that comes out of the cycling industry, it’s white dudes on bikes.
Now people are into talking about diversity, but when you talk to [people in the industry] a little bit longer you realize by diversity they mean is, “oh we are including women too.” So now you have white men and white women.
There’s progress being made but there is still an entire community of people who are being completely excluded from the picture of what a cyclist looks like and I am really hoping to change that. Because representation is really important to me.
I think it’s important for the next generation to see what they can possibly become. When you think of tennis now, it’s not unfathomable to see a black women playing tennis because Serena and Venus have completely dominated and changed that perspective. And someone opened the door for them. Where as, years ago that wasn’t the case.
Really basic examples like Mae Jemison being an astronaut that is so impactful and it might not seem like a big deal to some people. For me as a little girl that was awesome. Like, “oh wow, I can be an astronaut, if I want to be an astronaut.” It’s really cool to keep creating these examples where that can be possible.
Who inspires you? Other women cyclists? Advocates or activists?
I’m more inspired by the younger generation honestly. I feel like the next generation is kind of like, I don’t know what is in the water that they’re drinking. We’ve got Yara Shahidi, who’s this super light for her peers.
Not even just famous people inspire me, your everyday person that just decided to go for something that they weren’t sure they could do or just try and be something bigger than themselves. It’s not just the Serenas of the world that are super inspiring, normal people are super inspiring too.
What do you think are some things that cycling groups and the cycling community as a whole can do to be more welcoming towards women and people of color?
I feel like there’s this aura of people wanting to be super helpful, but in a way, I just want to be treated like everybody else right? Like if it’s not a thing then don’t make it a thing. When I show up to ride a bike, I’m just there to ride a bike. You can talk to me, I’ll talk to anybody.
There’s a way that people try to support me and there’s a way that people try to support others that is almost different. It’s almost as if they look at me as though I have a disability. It’s a matter of people wanting to help in the way they think you need help. I can speak for myself. I can tell you when I need help. I think that’s something that gets stripped from me a lot and I don’t appreciate that as a 30 year old woman. I’m an adult.
How have you experienced racism and sexism while biking?
It’s a pretty male dominated sport so you’ve got a lot of people who don’t feel like you belong. There’s more emphasis for me I guess cause when I show up for a group ride that’s filled with a bunch of people that don’t look like me, like literally people think I’m lost. And that…it doesn’t hurt, it’s just annoying.
I’m just here to ride my bike like you are. And I know you’re not used to seeing someone that looks like me come and ride bikes with you but maybe that’s because you’re not being so welcoming. Because I know there are other women out there who look like me who can ride bikes really well, they just don’t feel like putting up with that. So they just don’t.
Photo via Ayesha McGowan Facebook page.
How does it feel to work towards your goal of being the first African-American female pro cyclist?
It’s really neat but it’s also disappointing that it hasn’t been done yet. I come from the class of thinking if you want something done just do it yourself, don’t expect anybody else to do it.
There’s still so many firsts in 2018 the first Nigerian bobsled team, the first all black flight crew–there’s just so many firsts that are still happening.
What I think people fail to realize is that people of color were held back for so long that there are so many frontiers that have not been crossed. There were so many roadblocks that were put in the way to prevent this type of thing from happening. So there’s going to be lots of firsts, for a very long time.
I think what’s really important is the journey itself. I feel like you always hear about people when they’ve already gotten where they’ve already tried to go. And you don’t really get to see the struggles that got them there till after the fact.
I think there’s something very relatable about sharing as it is happening. It’s like, “Hey guys, I’m not there yet. But you can go and try and do stuff. Go do the thing, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got everything you need just yet. Just work at it and it should come.”
Do Better Together virtual ride on Zwift. Photo via aquickbrownfox.com
How do you inspire others, tell us more about your virtual ride series, “Do Better Together”?
Do Better Together is a part of my mission to create a more diverse bike community. Creating the community that I would like to see in the world. It’s not just, hey, one girl showed up to this ride and she’s black and everybody else is not.
So I’ve created this virtual diverse group ride where people from all types of cycling and all types of fitness and types of careers all types of humans can ride bikes, somewhat together. And support each other and sort of break down that wall.
I’m trying to create this space where people are thrown in all together and interacting on a generally equal level. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, or what you are doing, everybody is equal, because we’re all just trying to reach our goals whatever that may be. The point isn’t to beat everyone around you it’s to better yourself and encourage others to better themselves by just supporting each other.
Photo via aquickbrownfox.com
Do you have any advice on goal setting?
For me the “why” is the most important part of goal setting. “Why do I want to do this?” I think the reason it’s not hard for me to keep going is because this isn’t just about me. It’s bigger than me, which I think is really awesome and it’s super helpful. Just to know that I can inspire somebody else to do something great.
Maybe this might seem really big, but usually the way that inspiration works is that somebody does something and then that encourages somebody to do something even more awesome and that is what’s keeping me going. Something even more awesome is going to come out of this that I will have nothing to do with. Just the seed will have been planted and that’s really neat.
Photo via Ayesha McGowan Facebook page.
Follow Ayesha’s journey!
Get involved with wmnbikepgh
BikePGH’s Women and Biking Program is inclusive towards Femme / Womyn / Gender Non-Conforming / Non-binary people of all ages and backgrounds.
The Women & Biking Program works to encourage this identified group of people to incorporate bicycling into their lives and increase their representation. By opening the discussion about our lived experiences and challenges, we can assess how to better provide support and resources to ride bikes in Pittsburgh.Visit the program home page!