Monday, November 26, 2018

Women Involved: Amanda Batty

The ‘big news’ is that I’m leaving racing. I’m still passionate about going fast, I still adore the mechanics of racing, I love the forever chase and the challenge and the demands that racing puts on people, but what it came down to for me were a few points of contention that I’ve had over the last few years.

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It sounds like it was a decision not solely based on your latest injury. Can you tell us about it?
Overall, the ROI (return on investment) of professional DH racing is extremely low for a privateer and as someone who makes business decisions every day, I couldn’t justify spending massive amounts of money despite my love for it. I’m an excellent rider and racer, but have struggled to break through to the top level; I’ve been unable to create the conditions for myself that are required in order to perform consistently at that level, and it takes a massive amount of money and support in so many different arenas in order to create a single performance every weekend; for me it was a question of practicality and whether the investment was justified. As I’ve struggled to get and retain sponsors over the last five years because of the things I say and who I am at my core level, it was a very clearly unsustainable practice for me to continue, especially considering the injuries, the costs of keeping and maintaining equipment, care, etc etc etc. Racing is expensive. And that’s just the logistical side of things. Emotionally and mentally, I’ve been examining my ‘need’ to race for a few years and the potential benefits of racing versus doing other things with my time and money; when racing is held up under comparative analysis to determine risk/reward ratio, it doesn’t make much sense for me to spend my money and time chasing jerseys and results that don’t really matter beyond that race season; nobody remembers or cares about a title or a race win from five years ago let alone ten or twenty. And physically, you have to factor in age, cellular degeneration, healing times, costs of physical maintenance should something go terribly wrong (which it eventually does) and then add in the other arenas in which I can perform similarly and ask where my time and money are better spent. Ultimately, it came down to allocating resources — that’s what time, money, energy and effort all are. Where are my resources going? How effectively are those resources being used? What’s the gain ratio? What’s the loss ratio? Can I improve those numbers while making a bigger impact on the communities I care about in a more efficient manner that has a larger impact with a longer retention rate?

It sounds pretty cold and calculating, but at the end of the day, efficiency drives my brain processes and when emotional argument is taken out of the equation, there are a lot more reasons to leave racing than there were to stay. It was also a practical decision on the part of impact: as an athlete, how much more could I possibly do to make a difference? Are there other areas of cycling or sporting in general where I can be more useful achieving change within? At the end of the day, my skill set is only as valuable as how it’s being used; who I am and what I need as a person is always going to come second to any possible good I can do, and I think choosing to live by that has made a wealth of difference in my fulfillment, which is ironic. But doing good and creating change and building a sustainable industry has always been my priority, and racing was no longer a channel for that. I have nothing left to prove as far as ‘being fast’ or ‘going big’ is concerned — and I started to wonder if I ever needed to prove any of that in the first place (not ignoring the ongoing demands of ‘proven legitimacy’ within sport for women or the constant requirement that we ‘earn' our right to speak or our humanity or our personhood by performative provenance). As I wrote about in my medium essay (https://medium.com/@amandabatty/why-im-leaving-professional-mountainbike-racing-8a90279db726), there are bigger things for me to pour those resources into that actually create change and build something positive, like the kids’ bike giveaway I did last winter and am doing again this year, the cookie book I’m writing to benefit Little Bellas and NICA, building a new NICA chapter in New Mexico, and an entire host of other endeavors that will actually make the bike and sporting worlds better, forever. And the discussion of allocated resources doesn’t even begin to touch on the organizational issues within cycling, like USA Cycling, federation problems, the battle for equal pay, the increased costs and lower prizes, the lack of sponsorships and opportunity for female racers and on and on and on.

So. Injury doesn’t even begin to touch on why I’m leaving, but it was the straw on the camel’s back. Or maybe it was the perfect opportunity to just walk away — nobody with half a brain would fault an athlete for leaving after a crash like that and an injury like this and a year like I’ve had in 2018. I guess you could say that I just embraced the opportunity to refocus my attentions and energy and that I’m really looking forward to what comes next.

What's next for Amanda Batty?
Speaking of next — what’s next is pretty hectic. I’m starting an accelerated law program at the UNM School of Law in January, building a foundation for the kids’ bike giveaways, giving free women’s bike clinics, finishing the cookie book, hopefully starting to build the NM NICA league in the next few months for the 2019 scholastic season, working a lot with a few exciting clients, doing speaking engagements and volunteering probably way too much. I’m also doing a few other things that have to stay under wraps for now, but when shit hits the fan, you’ll know who’s behind it! Hahahaha. I think that racing was a huge limiter and sort of an easy addiction for me to have because it was such an easy excuse to use to avoid doing certain things that needed to be done and now that it’s gone I’m jumping in with both feet. Embrace the chaos, I say!
You have been a mountain biking advocate for so many of us- why is it important for you to advocate equality and fair treatment?
Because we’re all human and, as I’ve written elsewhere many times, bikes and mountains have zero prejudices as to the person riding that bike or conquering that trail. It shouldn’t matter what gender, race, sexuality, nationality, age, etc. etc. someone is — gravity affects everyone the same, and we all start in the exact same place. Everyone was a newbie or a squid at one point, and it’s just very weird to me that there’s a single person in the bike world who thinks that they’re better than someone else or that it’s okay to exclude or dehumanize or objectify or mock anyone for something they have zero control over. And economically, we’re struggling! What possible sense does it make to alienate people who want to contribute to this amazing sport?! It just doesn’t make logical sense to pull the nonsense, and logic bears a lot of weight with me. There are so many people out there who think themselves superior to someone else, but when it all shakes down, they’re just human with all the frailties, flaws and inherent humanity as everyone else. We all bleed red and none of us are getting out alive, so I’ll be damned to watch anyone be bullied into thinking they’re not welcome here.

Humans are amazing and when you give them the support and stoke and love they need, they thrive. I want to see people thriving, and I want folks to know that they’re not alone in their humanity, in their frailty or in their need. None of us are alone and it’s way more productive to accept and help people than it is to degrade and objectify and dehumanize them into nothingness. Why would anyone possibly want to do that when they could help build something amazing, just by treating people like equals?

There have been some positive changes in the industry- what changes have you seen that you're excited about?
Honestly, I’m really excited about the proliferation of women-owned brands, teams, and the massive swing of support that women’s cycling has received. The last five years has been amazing and we’ve gone from sexy nurses and naked women in advertisements to seeing gals like Casey Brown and Rachel Atherton and Kate Courtney and Ellen Noble absolutely crushing it — we’re giving the next generation the visuals they need to say “yeah, I’ve got this!” And that’s pretty amazing. There has been so much focus on inclusion and growing sport and while the growth has been begrudging at times and a lot of people and brands still look sideways at women and girls and there’s still a massive disparity in support for women and cycling programs, a lot has changed. A lot still WILL change in the next year; just wait for it. I think on the horizon now is the final death knell of podium girls and a huge industry push to get equal pay on the books, legally and in writing and as official policy. There is so much changing and although I may have once been the most critical voice in cycling and the person standing up to say “fuck you and fuck your policies”, there are so many voices now saying the same thing, and also working to back it up. Words only do so much. Anyone can have an attitude, but working to create change is absolutely everything and you can see the results of not just words, but years of actions. I think we’re moving past the nonsense tokenism of ‘womens-specific bikes’ and into the reality of ‘bikes for everyone!’ Because as a sport, we’re finally recognizing that people ride bikes, not genitals, not age, not race, not sexuality. We’re supporting trans folk, we’re having the important discussions surrounding people of color and so many of the issues that have wider social ramifications, and there’s a LOT of work going on from companies and magazines and organizers and people who are educating themselves and working to make it better. I’m also really excited that folks are starting to speak up — everyday folks. Not just pro athletes and public figures, but normal folks on social media have started to realize that they’re able to shape the sport simply by how they raise their voice and spend their money and enter events and what they share and ride and do on a daily basis, and that is just so exciting to watch. I’m more positive than I have been in a long time about the direction we’re going, despite all of the indicators that I shouldn’t be… And there’s a new dawn coming for the bike industry and sporting at large, and it’s being shaped by people who understand that the only limits they have are the ones they put on themselves.

What would you say were good lessons you learned about yourself this riding season?
Whew. Uhhhhh… Patience. Resilience. Grit. It’s been a long season. From not really taking a break off the bike at all last winter to early spring riding on a ton of trails that were new to me to my massive shoulder injury in March at the ProGRT to the subsequent injuries and the National Champs debacle, it’s been a pretty hectic roller coaster. I learned pretty early on this year that I’m still growing as a rider and even as a racer and a coach and a mentor — things I scoffed at last year as being too hard or something I’d never do, I went out and did, just because I could. From the stupidly difficult road rides I did in early spring while I was rehabbing my shoulder to the really technical, steep XC climbs I found great pleasure in during the summer, I learned that my sense of humor is probably my greatest asset. I’m getting better at laughing at myself and not being afraid to look stupid. MUCH better. At this point, I’m just hellbent on enjoying myself, regardless of how I look. I’m embracing the uncertainty, trying to be prepared and then just having a blast with it all. I’ve done away with expectations, I think. I no longer have this bar of how I ‘should’ look or feel or ride or walk and am far less focused on perfection than I am on just enjoying it or, barring enjoyment, just surviving it. I think that’s the great benefit of failing spectacularly on a national stage, to be honest: I’m so comfortable looking like a total moron that laughing and trying it all again is something I’ve accepted as normal. I’m human, just like everyone else, and it’s been a fun, difficult and hilarious adjustment. None of us get out of this alive — may as well enjoy it and laugh along the way. I guess there’s a lot more humility and humor than there ever was before.

How do you see your future #bikelife?
At this point, my #bikelife is going to be any time I’m on two wheels. Less time freaking out about how I look and whether I’m fast or not, and time just spent enjoying the fucking thing. I wasted a lot of time worrying about meaningless things, and I think this latest injury has been a huge help in just appreciating the fact that the next time I get on a bike, I’m going to simply ‘be’.
You've been in the social media spotlight as an advocate for many years, how difficult has it been to have such a socially "active" lifestyle? How do you keep yourself grounded?
I won’t lie: it hasn’t been easy. I’m also not going to ignore the fact that for a lot of those issues, I was the only person publicly speaking out and taking a stance, and that I also painted a target on my own back. I’m not excusing the actions of the people too stupid to see me as a human being or too ignorant to offer up basic respect (or who still demand that I be something they want), but I did choose to post the things that I’ve posted. I will say that it hasn’t made my life easier. It’s made it rather difficult to be ‘Amanda’ versus ‘Amanda Batty’ and that relationships have always been fraught with issues about what people see on social media and who I actually am as a real person, and I don’t know that I wouldn’t undo it were I given the chance. Social media is hard. The algorithm and the neuro-hacking and the chemicals that are influenced in a very pavlovian way by our use of it makes it a minefield fraught with assumption and consumption and the disposable nature of it all. I think it’s been an incredible tool to reach people, but it’s also been weaponized by people who hide in their own cowardice and stew in mediocrity, yet project those emotions onto people just trying to make a difference. It’s a rough go, but lately, I’ve enjoyed not having the ridiculous mantle of ‘professional athlete’ holding me back — I don’t have to be nice (not that I ever was) or tolerate any nonsense whatsoever (not that I really ever did). At this point, I’m kind of enjoying watching my follower count drop as people realize they have literally zero interest in me as a person and that I’m no longer useful for their consumption. It’s been a very fascinating intellectual study to walk away from my life as a bike athlete and see folks get vehemently upset because I’m no longer willing to fulfill their fantasies or create a narrative they want to see. I post what I want to post now, and there’s been a really hilarious amount of furor about me being exactly what I am: a person. Nothing in my feed is curated and I’ve completely done away with Facebook (thank fuck!) and the circus that brought about, and I find myself checking social media less frequently than ever. Maybe it’s laziness and maybe I’m just burnt out after years of being subjected to what strangers thought, but I just don’t care anymore. And that’s not a great place to be when interacting with other people, but numbness is nice sometimes when stupidity in concerned.

For those who wish to follow in your footsteps as an advocate for cycling/fairness/etc. what advice would you give?
Don’t. Please don’t follow in my footsteps at all. It’s not a road, it’s not a trail, it’s not even a footpath. It’s a dangerous crawl along the cliffs built by someone who has already seen the other side of hell. If you want to be an advocate, be one. But you can’t advocate for people you don’t understand and experiences you haven’t lived, and so my advice is to go out there and live your life and learn the lessons you need to learn and immerse yourself in the doing, but don’t set out to be an advocate — those are my least favorite people. Go find something that sets your soul on fire and then fail at it. Pick yourself up and do it again, ten thousand times. Go live your life in a way that doesn’t hurt other people, and you’ll learn quickly enough that you can’t advocate for things you don’t understand, and you’ll never understand something until you fail at it ten thousand different ways. Go out and fail, and you’ll learn the answer when you’ve failed enough.

Why do you feel it is important for women to be involved in the cycling industry?
Because there’s a place for women everywhere, and because diversity makes for stronger businesses and better products. I outlined this in an essay a few years back that I’m almost certain exactly three people read. It’s an interesting topic that can’t really be summarized in a quick quote for an article, but if you have genuine interest in the argument for women and POC (and LGTBQIA and different ability folks) to be included, check it out here: http://blog.amandabatty.com/2017/05/solving-discrepancies-in-cycling-starts.html

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
Whew. I think women have to be involved at every level, and they have to be corralled and encouraged and cheered on — women operate differently than men in an organization and with very rare exception, tend to do a lot of work but stay on the fringes of leadership for fear of failing in very public ways, and we have to change all of that. We have to give women and girls opportunity to excel and the leniency to learn and fail, without judgment or condemnation. But that’s also going to require a much bigger cultural change on a global scale because right now, we still condemn women when they’re not perfect. We take tiny imperfections and use it as leverage to make a case for why women are unfit to lead, own, create, work and collaborate when, I mean, look around you! The world is burning and not once have I heard the words “perhaps men are just unfit to lead” leave a person’s mount as a sincere consideration… Not that I want it to be, but that’s a contrast of what needs to change. We need to treat women like humans, like people who will fuck up, and welcome that learning process. Change starts with equality, and equality means true equality — same standards, same demands, same measuring sticks. And I don’t think that exists right now and that it won’t exist until women start challenging the status quo and demanding that it exists. I truly would love to see women stop waiting for permission and just take what they want and burn down the structures that stand in the way of what they need. It would be great to see fellow ladies in the industry just step up and stop waiting for an invite to the proverbial table. How do white men get power? They take it. If we want to see more women involved, we need to start encouraging aggression and end the coddling. Women are brilliant and powerful and stronger than they even realize, and part of giving them that power back is ending the bullshit messaging surrounding our gender.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
Part of my favorite thing of taking women out on trail rides and putting on clinics and speaking to groups is the opportunity it gives me to knock down the bullshit messaging that so many women have internalized and show them how strong and capable they are. A lot of women have come to me in the past after a free clinic and told me they were kind of scared at the demands I had for them, but by the end of the clinic they realized that I saw more in them than they saw in themselves, but that they realized they didn’t have to wait to get better at riding. That’s what inspires me and it’s why I do what I do — I want women to stop letting fear rule their lives. I want women and girls to see themselves as the force they are and I want them to pass that knowledge on. Getting women out to race and ride and push their limits shows them that they’re capable of facing fears and rising to the challenges, and it builds communities full of women who continue to push their limits and show other women that it’s possible. I’m inspired by women who face those things and who deal with scary stuff and who confront their fears and rise out of it as better riders and better people who are more capable of changing the world. That inspires me, whether I’m coaching a bike clinic or speaking to someone… I believe that two wheels can change a person and that facing small fears on the bike or on skis translates to massively different abilities in real life. And that’s what I want to do for people: I want to give them the ability to create the tools they need to conquer the world. I’m inspired by what sport has given me, and I want to pass it on. That’s my duty.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I hate underwear.

What would be your battle cry?
My battle cry has always been “chin up, eyes forward, elbows out” because it’s an inherently aggressive stance — you can’t cower when your chin is raised and your eyes are staring into what’s ahead. It’s a move of defiance, of strength, of determination, and anyone with their elbows out is headed to fuck shit up, whether it’s a dinner party or a mosh pit.

2 comments:

  1. I’m a Passionate, but Casual MTB rider (when ya start in your mid-50s, potential is limited). Don’t know anything about Amanda, but love this interview (actually, have really enjoyed ALL of them). She has the right “sight picture” (AF pilot speak)!!

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