I loved chatting with Victoria. You can tell she’s passionate about what she does, and it’s not just mountain biking, although that’s undoubtedly part of it. For her, it’s about how the sport has the potential to empower women and boost their confidence, something she’s experienced first-hand. But it wasn’t always like this. Before she even tried mountain biking, Victoria worked a high-stress job that left her at the edge of her mental and physical reserves. One day she tried mountain biking with her partner, Wessel: She fell, she cried and got frustrated. But through her unwavering determination, she went on to become an internationally certified instructor! Now she’s running her own business, Ride like a Girl, where she teaches other women the skills they need to feel confident on their bikes.
This is Victoria’s story.
‘Mountain biking changed my life,’ Victoria says. She used to work as a designer and manager in the graphic design industry and the fast pace and high stress levels were taking a toll on her health, both mentally and physically. ‘I also got frustrated at times since it felt like I was working myself to the bone to realise someone else’s dream. I’ve always wanted my own business, and I knew I wanted to do something that helped other people, but it felt like a dream, something that would never happen.’ Victoria realised this lifestyle was unsustainable when she started suffering from blackouts and was diagnosed with burnout. She knew she had to build a more balanced and fulfilling life where she could follow her heart and help others, but it was hard to simply walk away from the career and close relationships she invested so much time and energy in. But when her body started telling her that something had to change, she knew she faced a turning point; so, she resigned and started doing freelance design work.
‘I was a triathlete at the time, training for full Ironman, but my body couldn’t cope from the burnout; I needed a change and decided to try mountain biking with Wessel, who’s an avid mountain biker. I thought, how hard can it be?’ Victoria jokes that she received a massive wake-up call. Despite her athletic background, this was no walk in the park, and she felt extremely frustrated. It wasn’t so much the falling that bothered her, it was the not knowing why she was falling…
As it turns out, she wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Wessel owned a triathlon shop where he regularly interacted with other athletes and they noticed that women often asked for help with their mountain biking skills. ‘Mountain biking is predominantly a male-dominated sport. This culture is changing in other countries, but this is still very much the case in South Africa. Many women feel too intimated to ride with their more experienced partners. There was clearly a need for a safe space where women could learn the fundamental skills in a fun and encouraging way.’ Victoria had only been riding for six months, but she saw the opportunity to create a space where the pressure is off, and women can experience the joy of the sport and overcome their fears.
Victoria and Wessel set their plans in motion and went to the USA to become certified instructors through the BICP (Bike Instructor Certification Program), but unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. Victoria was told she could only do the level one training and had to return the following year to complete level two. This was a major disappointment as they had incurred all the travelling costs. It felt like a setback at the time, but there was a silver lining. When they returned the following year, they were offered the opportunity to bring the BICP to Africa to train new instructors! Victoria believes the additional time she spent with world-class instructors was invaluable. ‘I was determined to start Ride Like a Girl when I returned from the USA and it’s been such an incredible experience. Initially, I continued working as a designer and only offered mountain biking sessions in my spare time. But I knew if I wanted to make this work, I couldn’t only dedicate half my time. I had to give it everything, so I quit design altogether and started doing Ride Like a Girl full time.’
Victoria had to overcome some personal challenges too. She experienced negativity from some individuals who questioned her ability to teach others because she’s never been a pro rider. ‘Of course, comments like this caused moments of doubt to creep in, but I just kept believing in myself. I knew my own story and how I started, and I’m convinced it’s actually an advantage. I can relate to women who are just starting out. I was there not too long ago!’ Sharing her story is a great way to connect to and encourage new riders. Word about Ride like a Girl spread as the women who attended her skills clinics walked away with more confidence and a positive experience, and the negative remarks mattered less and less.
In the beginning, she also had to work through her fear of ‘not being good enough.’ ‘I had to let go of this idea that I’m not ready yet. This mental barrier has been part of my life for a long time and I think many people can relate to this feeling.’ She turned to book a called If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie to help her to work through this, and she recommends this book to every woman wrestling with similar challenges. ‘I held fast to the fact that I’m a certified instructor with all the skills I need to teach. I had to remind myself, especially in the beginning, that I’m here to share my knowledge and I can add value to women’s lives. I’ve learnt that everything just takes a bit of time.’ She can now see how much she’s grown alongside the women she’s taught, and this has helped her to see her own experience as an advantage.
Many women are encouraged by their partners to try mountain biking, but they often feel intimidated or pressurised to do things a certain way, for example, learning to ride with cleats (clip-in shoes). Victoria wants to get the word out that it’s okay to be a beginner and that there’s a supportive community for women where they can share knowledge and just have fun. ‘This is why a skills clinic is a good starting point. It allows you to build your confidence from the beginning. The reason I feel so strongly about sharing stories, is to help women realise there’s a place for them. Many women have reached out to me saying they’re too scared to come to the clinics; They don’t want to get hurt or make fools of themselves. I want them to know it’s okay to be a beginner, we’ve all been there once.’
Victoria explains what mountain biking means to her: ‘For me, the experience is one of liberation and freedom. It’s about letting go of the pressure and just enjoying the journey. Not only does it count as good exercise and it keeps stress and anxiety at bay, but a big part of it is to go outside and to be in touch with nature. I believe it’s a very human need to enjoy the fresh air and open space. It’s such an amazing feeling when I achieve something or overcome a new obstacle. It makes me realise that I’m capable of doing so much more than I think. The sense of community is another big factor. When we are out on a ride, we all come together. We might be from different backgrounds but, at that moment, we’re all enjoying this shared experience and we feel deeply connected. With nature and with each other.’
Victoria’s building a positive and supportive community of women through mountain biking and she believes sharing stories and listening to others’ experiences allow us to understand ourselves better as well. What ultimately drives her is to equip women with the confidence they need: on their bikes, but also in life. ‘The biggest thrill for me is to see my clients grow as people.’
I would like to encourage you to have a look at Ride like a Girl‘s Facebook and Instagram accounts, whether or not you’re into mountain biking. The content’s uplifting and inspirational and it might encourage you to try something a little outside your comfort zone! If you would like to know more about the skills clinics, head over to the Ride like a Girl website.
Victoria’s story is part of the Stories that Inspire series. For more inspiration, have a look at Josh’s story where he talks about the challenges and the opportunities of making a living as an artist.