Monday, October 10, 2016

Women Involved Series: Jessica Kuepfer

Hi, I am Jessica from lacesandlattes.com. I live for lattes, travel and adventures. I have a hard time choosing which sport is my jam, so I compete regularly in everything from running, ultra marathons, multi day adventure races and most recently, triathlons.

I love the variety and cross training that competing in so many sports provides and it helps me to meet such a wide range of amazing athletes. Next year, I am tackling my first ironman, a 72 hour adventure race and the duathlon world championships.

For me, athletics is so much more than training and winning. It is about self esteem and empowerment for women.

I have watched my youngest sister struggle with an eating disorder for many years so it is important to me to show young women that they are capable, brave and stronger than they think.
I believe that athletics is a perfect avenue to prove this.
So I encourage everyone to get out there - whether it is a hike on a new trail or completing your first marathon - you CAN. :)

You can find me on all social channels and my blog @lacesandlattes

Tell us how you got in touch with your #bikelife, was it primarily for cross-training purposes or more?
My first foray into #bikelife was in university when I lived in England and my boyfriend at the time traveled to visit me and we decided to rent road bikes for the day. We rode 50 KM along the coast and after that I was hooked on the amazing way that you can experience new places on a bike. I came home and immediately bought my first road bike and the rest is history.

Being involved with athletics is hugely important to you- why is biking a great way for those involved with one sport to cross-train?
Biking is perfect cross training because it is such a low impact activity. Right now I am in my off season so running is at an easy pace and all of my intensity is on the bike. It works a different muscle set and gives your body a new challenge.

What inspired you to participate in your first athletic event? Tell us about it and what you learned-
My first athletic event was an ultra-marathon. I had been training for the 5 KM distance and someone said that if I thought I could run 5 KM, I should try 50KM. Not sure if it was the most sound advice but I am competitive to a fault sometimes and took on the challenge.

The ultra was freezing, rainy and it took my 6 hours to run 50 KM because I ended up sitting down to go down the hills at some points because the inclines were so muddy. I finished though and I was filled with such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that from there on out, I was hooked.

Those new to events may worry about participating because they may not podium. Any suggestions for those curious about participating for the first time?
It was years before I saw a podium. I was so excited about the new world of athletics and the welcoming group of people that I was just soaking up experiences. I did it for the sheer love of the sport, which I encourage everyone to do, no matter what their level of athletic ability. I regularly take on and compete in new sports and I certainly do not podium right away. It is good to stay humble and realize we do this for the joy of it.

You are involved with a few different styles of cycling- tell us about them and why they are fun for you-
I primarily do road cycling and mountain biking at the moment but I have immediate plans to branch into triathlon/TT and cross bikes. Road cycling is amazing for the huge distances you can cover and the mini trips you can do. I love being able to set aside a weekend and bike for hours. Mountain biking is fun in a completely different way – I get such a rush when I tackle a new line or conquer something that was a little scary for me before. I am always learning and it is such a social type of riding for me.

Can you go back to your first mountain bike ride and tell us how that experience was?
I was asked by a sponsor if I would do a race in Michigan. I am a yes person so I was in. It was only when I was picked up that I saw there was a shiny new mountain bike on the back. Turns out it was a mountain bike race I was competing in and I had never ridden in my life. I’m not going to say it was easy, but I put on a brave face and went out there.
If you could change anything about your experience/introduction, would you?
No. Because I don’t think I would have started mountain biking without such an aggressive push into it. I realized that I was able to compete with other riders in the sport and that with a little bit of technical work, I could even be good at it. I don’t think I would have come to that realization on my own because I had the mentality that it was a scary sport.

When you started out riding, what were the handling skills that gave you the most challenge? What has helped you grasp them?
On the road bike, it was just getting confident with going fast and being clipped in. I was certain that I was going to fall and hurt myself. The best way to grasp that was to keep getting out there.

On the mountain bike, it was a bit trickier. I struggled with getting all the way to the top of the climbs with rocks and roots but learning body positioning and proper gearing worked wonders. I think roots were my greatest enemy in general, riding downhill on them was a challenge as well, but learning to allow my bike to take the brunt of it was huge.

Have you had any biffs that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Yes absolutely. I was struck and went through a windshield of a car while riding my road bike while I was turning left. I was ok but my bike certainly wasn’t and I still have a moment where I need to check myself when I turn left. I also will repeat “please see me, please see me” when I riding a fast downhill when I know cars are turning. I truthfully don’t know if these quirks will ever go away, but the way I overcome that is to follow the rules of the road and keep riding.

I actually haven’t had any huge tumbles on my mountain bike because I would say that I am still a cautious rider. If I don’t think I can safely do a hard line, especially during a multi-day race, I will not jeopardize my health for it. I certainly have taken my share of tumbles, but nothing serious.

This is a hard one to describe actually because each bike brings me a different type of joy. My road bike is amazing because of the super hard interval workouts I can do on the trainer and the experience of movement outside which can be relaxing. Mountain biking is absolutely the opposite. Far from relaxing, I find it always pushes my limits and helps me build confidence in myself as an athlete. It is absolutely thrilling.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
My mountain bike is a Niner. I bought it with studded tires so I can ride all year long, even in the Ontario winters. I chose it because it was the perfect entry level model and is built to climb serious hills which is great for when I adventure race in the mountains. I am actually shopping for my next bike to get a bit of a lighter, more race ready model because I am hoping to try my hand at mountain biking racing specifically, outside of adventure racing to increase my skills.

My road bike is a carbon LOOK and weighs all of 15 pds with ultegra and durace components. It is by far the most responsive ride I have ever found in any of the road bikes I have owned/ridden (I have ridden OPUS/Coppi/Argon).

Some people feel that participating in events is focusing on solely being competitive- why do you feel event participation goes beyond "competing"?
Participating in events is so much more than being competitive. It is about finding your limits and sometimes can just be used as a benchmark to see where your fitness levels land. It is also a community thing. Being able to be a part of an event with so many like-minded people is awesome.

You had a blog post up recently that hit home for many women from all around- Coming to Terms With The Gender Divide, what was it like for you after you were able to put those feelings down to words and share them?
For me, it just had to happen. It is something I have struggled hard with and I became tired of selling my performances short because they didn’t compare to my male team mates. Being a female in sport is amazing and the comparison trap is just so unhealthy. I received an overwhelming response from the athletic community and found so many women who felt the same way and so many gentlemen who echoed the STOP APOLOGIZING line.

When it comes to being involved with a sport that one loves, what would you like to tell women to remember as they pursue their passion?

Never lose sight of why you do the sport. At the end of the day, it needs to bring you joy and it is a part of you, but it is not who you are. So when you are struggling with injury, taking an off season or simply needing to shift focus to something else because of life demands, you cannot lose the sense of who you are as a person, independent from what you do.

What inspires you to take on events/races that take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to the 'nth' degree?
Because the more I tackle them, the more I believe I can do anything.

Why are you passionate about about helping women find a sport they love and help to encourage healthy views of themselves?

My youngest sister has battled with anorexia for over a decade and I have watched her and too many other of my friends spend mental space on negative and unhealthy views of themselves. I think sport is one of the best arenas to break down that mentality that we are lacking or less than whole somehow. It shows that we are strong and able to do things we never thought were possible and translate that into their lives outside of sport. It empowers women to think they are strong and able and I think that is important.

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
I know there are so many amazing things on the market that I haven’t tried yet, but for bike accessories, I am using Polar. I train with the Polar V800 and use their speed sensors, Keo Power Pedals, and cadence sensors to get accurate data and to track my progress.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?

Well, let’s face it. Mountain biking is scary to get into. It defies a lot of things that our culture reinforces for women – you get muddy, you scrape up your legs and you are being bold, brave and daring. It is a male dominated sport, although I am excited to see more and more women giving it a try.

I think lack of support – having people teach you the ropes of a new sport is vital and especially other women who are there leading the way.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I think the industry is doing everything they can but the rise of influencer marketing is playing an important part in showing that there are tons of ladies out there crushing it. I think that female specific rides/clinics are key, especially where they take you on a route and then practice one specific skill on each area of the trail.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Because it’s awesome, freeing and empowering. I spend at least one evening every night playing with my friends on bikes on the local trails and honestly, it is the best form of stress relief. I think adults need to remember to play and biking gives that sense of fun and accomplishment.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I am the female world record holder of the pancake mile. It’s a long story…

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