Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Women Involved Series: Aimee Ross

I am IMBA's Advocacy Manager. My position is house'd in the Government Affairs department. My job is to work specifically with our Region Directors to develop training materials and public relation materials to coach locals on how to ask for what they want and look for a larger success rate.

I also work with the rest of the Government Affairs team on federal and state policy initiatives to support our mission to protect, preserve and enhance great mountain biking experiences.

I work to engage locals with their land managers in order for all to effectively work together in policy creation for their local lands as it pertains to the land's users. I also participate in a number of coalition partnerships that IMBA fosters to build a larger basis of human powered recreational voice throughout the US. 

Katherine and I work closely on the Women's Blog to ensure we never get to one sided and look to tell a variety of unique stories. I also am the "go to" in house staff member that works closely with NICA on a National Level to leverage a partnership to bring more youth into our advocacy efforts.

Tell us about how you got involved with IMBA and what inspired you to take on your job as Advocacy Manager?
I've been working in the cycling industry for about 9 years and I loved every previous career move I have had within the industry. However I always had some part of me that wanted to give back more. I really never saw myself taking on a position like an Advocacy Manager until I read the job description and thought; "Hey I can get paid and do something that I've wanted to for quite some time." Deep down inside I'm an educator not in the traditional sense; but in the sense that I want to help people be better and be able to share IMBA's knowledge with the mountain bike community on how we act together to legitimize better experiences for all of us. Whether that's the industry or our local constituents.

Tell us why IMBA is such a great organization to work for-
I've never worked for a Non-Profit until I took this position with IMBA. I've always been able to show my value by returned dollars to a company. But this is different. IMBA is an organization in which I feel I can have a bit more creativity. The more I learn about where IMBA has been and where it wants to go the more knowledge I can bring from a for-profit company in and hope that it will help to further our mission. IMBA, to me, represents opportunity for experience; that's why it's so great!

In your words, why should people get involved with IMBA?
As long as there are Public Lands; IMBA's work will never been complete. We work every day to protect access for our community; gain access to new experiences and look for opportunities to craft legislation to further the human powered recreation community. Whether you have the time to volunteer and don't have the dollars; or you have the dollars and not the time to volunteer or you can contribute equally between volunteering and contributing financially. If you are a mountain biker whether that's one day a month or an elite racer we all ride on the same trails and share those experiences and we should all find whatever way works best for each of us to get involved. 

You also help out with the Dig In blog, why do you feel a blog sharing the stories/experiences of women who mountain bike is so important?
Great question. I have experienced so much because of my bike. Many of my stories and experiences are quite comical at this point. I can remember that many where not so funny at that time; but those experiences where what made me the cyclist I am today. They also shaped my own personal determination in my professional and personal life choices. 
My leading blog on Dig In was one of the precursors to IMBA starting the blog. It was dramatic and funny and my husband and I learned a lot about my mountain biking practice that day. I also know that I am an analytical person and I try to pair those analytics with personal experience whether those are my experiences or someone else’s. These days we've lost touch with storytelling and many brands are starting to see that storytelling is what their consumers care about; that emotional connection. IMBA is an educational association so what better place to share experiences that has forced many of us to learn from the hard way. 
If I can spare another female mountain biker from some of the hard lessons that I or my co-workers have experienced than why the heck not? Plus I love learning and hearing other women's stories (even if they are people that I work with in the same office) are informational, entertaining and open my eyes to a different outlook on my own mountain biking practice. 

You also work with the NICA-tell us what that's all about-
NICA stands for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. It is the governing body of high school mountain bike racing. My husband and I started a team here in Colorado two years ago. NICA has been around for about 11 years starting in Berkley, CA. Colorado started their league 5 years ago. Back then they were the third league; which consisted of NorCal, SoCal and Colorado. Now there are 15 leagues in 14 states. It is so empowering to be able to give back to the youth of our community. I started out being a coach and a team director and now I'm a Board Member for the Colorado League (as a volunteer) and working on initiatives with IMBA that teach high school students through the means of NICA what advocacy means to their future of mountain biking. Working with these students is probably about one of the coolest things I've done to date. 

Why do you feel it's valuable to have youth be aware and become involved with advocacy efforts?
In general I think everyone should participate in some sort of advocacy; whether that is mountain bike advocacy or advocacy efforts related to the American Red Cross, American Lung Cancer Association whatever your interest is make a choice and give back in whatever way you can to something that means something to you. Regarding our youth today; as a Millennial myself I can relate to the traits and values they predicted our generation to pose. Being of civic-mind with a strong sense of community it is important to participate in something bigger than ourselves and it is important to give back to that something. Right now IMBA has a gap in our general membership. We have high membership rates in the 35-55 category and very low member rates from 15-34. If we don't do something to fix this now and seek out those youth whom care about mountain biking we'll have to start over instead of being able to clearly pass along that tribal knowledge from one generation to the next. 

Now I don't mean start over by going back to the beginning of IMBA and having to learn our mistakes all over again; but it would be a step backward for us. Youth these days are hungry to learn more, take on more, participate more and activate where they can. What I would love to see is our gap in membership between the ages 15-34 decrease over the next few years. Being a member gives us the sense that you care whether you are just doing what you can or you are joining to learn and involve yourself more with our mission and for their future.


Without being involved in an organization, how can the general public inspire youth to be involved with their local trails?
Take a kid under your wing. Get them out on trail days. What kid doesn't like playing in the dirt every once and awhile? It's the most basic, simplest and direct way to educate them on the importance of trails and what it means for our environment and their future. Teach them the Rules of the Trails; by abiding by these rules and respecting other users that makes you an advocate. While dollars help pay for the work that we do at a local, regional and national level; volunteering and donating your time is equally as valuable to our organization. I've seen a wealth of opportunity from students who have had mentors from within our community. 

It's amazing how involved they become; they are polite, eager, attentive and teachable. That's an opportunity at its best to help educate them about where we've been and give them the motivation to keep us on the right singletrack for all of our future. They are the thought leaders of tomorrow and their ideas are far superior in many cases. They are so innovative if you give them the chance. 

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Hmmm. Another great question. I don't know that I know the best way to answer this question. Recently I was having a conversation with a female member of the cycling industry and we were talking about barrier to entry of the sport and I loved her response. She noted that she felt the answer to barrier to entry of mountain biking is in the conversation. That hit me like a ton of bricks. Wow; was I thinking about things all wrong. For me when I got into the sport barrier to entry came down to dollars, but that's not true for many. Barrier to entry can be a different dynamic for so many; consider intimidation, dollars, skill or availability as some of these challenges. I was brought up being told that I can do anything I put my mind to and can always figure out a way to make the best of every situation and participate whenever I wanted. It would be so cool if our industry had something like a mentor program; that if a women was interested or a student in getting into mountain biking that there was a way to connect them with someone who had experienced the same barrier and overcame. 

That's why I believe Dig In is so important and we'll talk about this more on the Dig In blog. I also think that for many women style plays a role and it wasn't until recently that more stylish products have been placed on the outdoor recreation market that are also functional to women; in which is super important. We want to feel comfortable and confident in everything we do and if we can create that environment or have the venue to introduce those improvements made in our industry and educate a wider network of women cyclists I think we'll get there. 

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