Women Involved: Tonya Bray

I met or shall we say "met" Tonya while doing random searches for potential women to talk to for my Women on Bikes Series. 

Tonya has an impressive career but also an overall mission to empower women in cycling. You can read her profile-Tonya Bray on her website. 

What inspired you to make bike riding part of your overall lifestyle?
Riding has always filled the addictive need in my life. If I don't ride, I don't feel good. The feelings, during and after a ride are things to which I am addicted. I love being sweaty, exhausted, caked in salt, hungry, and dirty after a ride. I am addicted to the feelings of riding: the feeling of freedom, the glee of going downhill and pushing through the pain of climbing. Riding allows me to eat, meet people, travel and live in a more sustainable way. I have been car free on 2 occasions living in SoCal, so this is a big feather in my cap in my mind for sustainability. I own a car now, but I only drive 1-3 days per week, and still carpool on occasion. I am not addicted to a car; I am addicted to the bike. 

When did you make the decision to compete?
It was in 1995 I believe. Or 1996. I was riding with my partner, and we had a videographer along with us. We were riding one of our favorite areas in Montana where we were living at the time. The videographer told me I was riding faster downhill than most of the pros. My climbing would need work, but I was fast. From that moment I decided I wanted to race. I had zero idea what I had gotten myself into.

What prompted you to become a trainer?
 I have always been one. I taught horseback riding when I was a teenager. I taught my girlfriends how to climb and paddle and ride. It is a part of my psyche to teach, coach and help others improve or have new experiences. I value that over my own training and my own experiences. I have had so much opportunity in my life, and I love sharing what I know, and helping others get a leg up in the world.

When did you realize you could inspire other women to get on the bike?
It was pretty early in my career. I rode with a team called MTB Cincy, and I worked with the female riders. We started Dirty Divas, and when I moved to Mammoth, I started mtbchick.com. I had a difficult time learning how to mountain bike. I rode with my partner who was an incredibly talented rider. I had to teach myself how to ride logs because the guys didn't know how. They would say, "Just ride over it! Lift your front wheel!" Um ok! So once I figured it out, I wanted to tell every woman I knew or didn't know. 

What is one of your greatest success stories?
There are many. For me personally, being able to maintain a healthy weight and continue to get carded at the market when I buy alcohol are pretty big for me. Riding keeps you young. Winning the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo back in 2002 (I think that year) was my biggest win. And there are so many more along the way.

But when talking about what I remember and what drives me, it's the simple action of teaching a woman how to ride a wheelie. I guarantee every woman she will get her front wheel off of the ground in my clinics. I get laughs, but I know how to teach it, and every woman who comes to my clinic leaves being able to lift her front wheel in a wheelie. I LOVE that! 

I’ve seen you mention weight loss topics on your website and such-is it because you have many people who are trying to become healthier riding bikes? Or have you yourself had weight issues? (I have) and I’d love to know a bit more about this and what it means to you.
I grew up eating a ton of junk and just too much. As a kid I wanted instant gratification-- I had no concept of willpower. I've always struggled with my weight. I really like to eat, and I still have a difficult time controlling my willpower and my actions when it comes to food. Riding helps mitigate the dark side of my eating habits. The more I ride, the less I eat. It seems counter intuitive, but I think there is a trigger when I am working my body hard that my body gets it. Don't overeat. I've devised ways to handle my addiction, if you will. But riding is the best way to keep me honest. I don't come from a family of endurance athletes. My family has the genetics (obviously!) but I am kind of a black sheep in that way. So I didn't grow up thinking about eating for performance.

My family's eating habits were truly ingrained in the Depression Era thinking, and it rubbed off on me in a big way. It's the "clean your plate" generation. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with being hungry, and I've finally come to learn that. It's OK to be hungry. It's healthy. When you're nearing a race and you're training hard, it's not recommended to be hungry, but the rest of the time, it's perfectly fine. The thing is, I want to help people learn healthy habits that can lead to weight loss, control and management. When everyone is looking for the silver bullet that doesn't exist, there is a solution, but people need help.

Want to connect with Tonya or check out what she's up to?