Behind the Clipboard: A Call for More Diverse Race Directors
When I started bike racing a mere 10 (!) years ago at Columbia University, volunteering for the sport was treated as a core part of participating in the sport. In addition to participating in the eight weekends of the collegiate race calendar, collegiate racers at Columbia were also responsible for hosting a race at Grant’s Tomb National Memorial in Manhattan. As a result I’ve been involved in putting on Grant's Tomb Criterium in some capacity since 2009,1 when I was a lowly marshal on the corner of 120th and Claremont. In 2013, I helped CRCA take over the event from Columbia University Cycling, and then, several years later, took over running the race from top to bottom. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on races from Central Park to Bear Mountain while serving as CRCA VP of Racing in 2014 and CRCA President in 2015.
The transition from marshal to race director felt inevitable. I gravitate toward leadership roles and thrive in hectic, stressful environments. Through it all, I never thought it odd or unique that I am a woman running a bike race. I didn’t even realize it was unusual until Matt Vandivort pointed out that there aren’t any women who run USAC races in the New York City region. We even struggled to think of other women who run races in New York State. I know there are a couple of others in the Northeast (hi, Laura! hi, Lydia!), but our small number is not representative of the population of bike racing. Or at least, the population of people who could be bike racing.
Noticing this dearth of non-cisgendered men behind the clipboard, I set out to write a blog post convincing other women/trans/femme/nonbinary folx to take on the role. But the first list that I was able to make was reasons why WTFs should not become race directors.
Being a race director sucks.
As the TBD Journal has documented before, navigating a complex web of government agencies for permitting is dizzying and aligning all volunteers, staff, and vendors is overwhelming. Knowing that 400+ people will converge on one space to participate in YOUR event is terrifying. And it never gets easier—especially on race day when you’ve got people stalking you for their $20 payout or just straight up being rude and child-like toward race staff.
I’m inclined to say that being a female race director sucks even more. While I have no way to confirm that I wouldn’t have experienced the challenges I’ve encountered if I were male, I’m willing to bet that being a woman makes me a more vulnerable leader precisely because cycling, in its current sport, is so dominated by men.
Here’s the low-down on some of the BS I’ve experienced as a race director over the years:
I’ve been undermined by male staff. For example, before an open race in Central Park several years ago, my directions on how to handle a field passing situation were ignored in favor of a non-involved male view.
I’ve been sexually harassed. While working as an RD, I’ve been told that I’m sexy when I’m stressed out. One year, a staff member invited me to a threesome with him and his girlfriend (I declined…).
I’ve had a male staff member hurl a spray paint can at my head out of anger.
Despite all the bad stuff that’s happened, I keep doing it. To explain why, I made a second list: Why I keep serving as a race director and why I think more WTFs should too:
We need you! Bike racing is a sport that unfortunately (in its current form) runs on volunteer or underpaid labor. That means that it’s incumbent of all of us — yes, that means you — to step up and keep it going! If you get something from the sport, you should think about ways that you can give back to it. CRCA is a volunteer-run organization, and there’s always room for more people to help keep the club running and races happening. And, with CRCA’s new model of taking on a unique RD for each open race, there are many opportunities!
Skillz: At the risk of being hokey, directing a bike race will hone your organizational and management skills. As I’ve said, there are a lot of moving parts on race day. Once you perfect directing a bike race and get those organizational and management skills down pat, so many other things in life become easier. It also builds confidence and quick decision-making skills. So many things come up on race day and there’s never any time to hesitate in making decisions.
REPRESENTATION MATTERS! Having WTFs in leadership roles paves the way for more equality in the sport. When WTFs are in leadership positions, it shows other WTFs that cycling is welcoming and safe for them. This adds up to more WTFs in the sport, more people racing, and MORE FUN!
When I first considered joining CRCA, I looked to the Board of Directors and saw the names of women like Lisa Vandivort, Gina Rocco, and Lucia Deng. This sent me a signal that the club was a safe and welcoming space for me. I feel the same now when I show up at a race and know that a WTF had a hand in organizing it. I know that when WTFs are in charge of a race, I am 100% guaranteed:
Fairer field structures As race promoter and director, you have a hand in deciding who races, who they race with, and how long they race. Women often get stuck racing in one giant group, throwing cat 4 women in the same field as cat 1/2 women. This isn’t ideal for anyone! If you’re in charge, you have the power to make separate fields or separate scoring for women of different categories. And, you get to say that women deserve equal race durations as the men (despite what the UCI thinks).
Equal payout Race promoters like to pretend it’s okay to pay women less because our fields are smaller. Well, it’s not our fault that more women don’t race, so why should we be awarded any less for a podium finish? When you’re in charge, you get a say in paying women equally.
It’s so, so gratifying to run a bike race: Finally, as I mentioned on the Journal before, one of my favorite parts about running a bike race is that one rare minute of downtime in the afternoon, sitting down on the curb with races underway, watching staff and volunteers do their jobs perfectly, and knowing that I made it all happen. Everyone is there that day, playing bikes in the middle of NYC streets, because of me. That’s such an awesome feeling. I call it the “race director high,” and there are few feelings that compare.
I don’t expect all WTFs to be okay with putting up with the bullsh*t that I’ve put up with. We all have to pick our battles, and this is one I’ve chosen. But I think there are other women/trans/femme/nonbinary folx out there who care about the sport like I do and who are fully capable of joining me behind the clipboard.
1Except for 2011, when I ran away to ride my bike in Spain to get over a breakup (it rained the whole time womp womp) and in 2018, when I thought I could give it up.
If you’re interested in becoming a race director for CRCA for the 2020 racing season, send an email to openracing[at]CRCA.net. Those who undermine, sexually harass, or assault WTF RDs need not apply.