Women Involved Series: Amanda Wais

The essence of my being is to help save the world -- one heart at a time. My son, Brady P., was born four years ago with Down syndrome. His wisdom, charm, love, and strength through adversity has inspired me to make love and fortitude a priority. I want to inspire others as he has inspired me.

Well, I'm raising him as a single mom up on Copper Harbor, Michigan which is literally at the end of the road. It's all Lake Superior and sweet trails from here! My main outlets for inspiration are writing books

(I have three published so far), blogging weekly about my and Brady P's life, taking macro pictures of wildflowers, giving wildflower tours, coaching mountain biking and giving Brady P. the best life possible here in this scenic sanctuary. I don't spend as much time on my bike as I'd like to at this point in my life, but my time is coming again! And if someone calls me to coach, I am there.

Copper Harbor Vitality, LLC, A Fresh Air Inspired Life
The Brady P. Project, Promoting Love, Acceptance and Mother Nature

Tell us about your introduction to mountain biking, what about it made you say "Yes! This is for me!"
My intro was pretty brutal. I rode a rigid frame over rooty, rocky terrain with my then-boyfriend who had no good advice to calm my nerves except, “Just go. Just do it.” And then leave me in the dust. It wasn’t until I started riding with other women that I felt comradery emotionally and speed-wise. We would laugh and session the obstacles, building each other’s confidence and actually having fun! Then I felt it was something I could do for me – not just my boyfriend.

When you started out riding, what were some handling skills that challenged you? Do you have any suggestions for what helped you grasp them?
Roots and rocks about 3 inches high would stop me in my tracks -- because I looked down at them and stopped! Once I realized that my bike could naturally roll over them, I started to look past those minor obstacles at what was ahead and kept my momentum going right over and through. The lesson was to look at where I wanted to go instead of focusing on what was in the way.

Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
I try to focus on where I want to go. If I don’t think I can make it over a boulder, I stop and find the best path, then execute the proper technique to make it over. If I’m scared to go down a feature, I watch a friend do it and think, “Man, if they can do it, I can too!” Where I ride, however, there are a lot of insane features that I have come to terms with the fact that I just will never attempt them. And that’s okay. I’m a mom!

For folks who are nervous about giving mountain biking a shot, do you have any suggestions on how they can go about creating a positive experience?
Go with somebody you like who knows what they are doing! Preferably a woman because they are often patient teachers. And do it for yourself. You don’t have to ride at anybody’s standards except your own. Be nice to yourself, and have fun!

What was your inspiration for becoming a mountain bike coach?
I took my first skills clinic in 2016. I improved sooooo much. And I actually went to college to be a teacher, so I really loved to teach. I thought I can do this! I can teach people how to a mountain bike! And the next year I helped coach the same clinic I took. I teach more clinics every year, and it just fills my heart to help build confidence in other people.

Have you had any biffs (accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
Oh, yes. One day I was riding with a girlfriend who was an awesome downhill rider. I was in front and I wanted to show off how good I was at some of the gnarly features. Well, with that mindset, I crashed on a rock bed. Something sharp went right into my knee and I could see inside my body. That night ended with stitches in the ER.

Then, three weeks later, after I finally healed from that crash enough to take my first ride, I crashed again. Why? Because I was trying to catch the fast girls ahead of me. Now, those girls were also the other coaches I was coaching with that weekend. And suddenly I had a nearly broken thumb. But I coached through it!

I can say that that biggest lesson I learned from those consecutive crashes was that riders should only ride for themselves. Once we get cocky about our skills or try to be something we’re not, we are shown instantly that that isn’t our path at the time. And we are humbled and broken. So I took a different approach after that and have remained safer ever since.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the freedom I feel in my soul, the fresh air I breathe, the challenges I need to overcome, the concentration it takes to do it right and the sweat that pours out of my body.

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
Right now I ride the Trek Lush. It’s a “women-specific” design that they don’t make anymore. The wheels are 27.5” (an upgrade from my 26-er) and the frame is carbon fiber. It climbs like a dream, but I do notice I might need a little more cush on some of the jumps I’ve been taking. I just might have to get another bike!
The outdoors is something very special to you and you've made sure to incorporate it into your son's life. Tell us more about the Brady P. Project-
When my son Brady P. was born, my whole outlook on life changed instantly. I never really wanted to be a mom, and suddenly I was a mother of a little person with Down syndrome. Not ever understanding people with different mental capacities before the moment I found out, I was suddenly forced to. I realized how important accepting people’s differences was going to be in order to be a kind person in this world. I watched love, strength, perseverance and great joy pour out of Braeden’s being. I realized that every person in this world is a gift worthy of love. Unconditional love. And one of the best places to practice feeling love in the moment and exploring curiosities is in Mother Nature. That’s why I make sure to get my son out to experience the wonders of the natural world, and it’s why I have created a non-profit organization that can facilitate getting other people out in that sacred space as well – promoting love, acceptance and Mother Nature. That’s the mission of the Brady P. Project!

You've published three books so far, tell us a little about the books you've written-
My first book was published in 2012 called Little Slices of da Harbor – Copper Harbor, Michigan. It’s a collection of super-short stories where the people, places and things in the town tell you about their life during each season of the year. It’s great reading for bedtime, at the coffee table or on the john.

The second came out in 2014, and it’s a pocket-size tour guide book called Touring the Tip. It offers step-by-step directions for biking, hiking, skiing, and paddling while reaching the desired skill/activity level of the reader. It covers Copper Harbor and beyond and gives insights along the way like a real tour guide would.

My latest and greatest is an inspirational memoir published in 2017. It’s called Digging for Light. I love it because it’s the real, raw story of what I went through after my sweet little nugget, Brady P., was born. It showcases the tough situations we endured, yet uplifts the spirit because we made it through, and we are stronger. Most people read it straight through because they can’t put it down!

I now publish my books through my own company, Copper Harbor Vitality.

How did writing become an outlet for you?
I loved to write stories since I was a kid. In college, I took writing classes and even tutored other students’ writing. When I moved to Copper Harbor, I filled notebooks with inspirations from nature and this quirky little town. Then I put it all together and realized that I have to write, or I feel like a part of me is dead. To make sure I keep up, I post a weekly blog called “Downs by the Bay.” I’m also loosely working on my next book.

What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
Mostly fear. Mountain biking can be a scary thing. I have thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to die!” many times on the trails – especially on advanced or poorly maintained ones. Also, a lot of women get introduced to the sport through their male significant other. I like men, but they often don’t take the time (or even know how) to teach a frightened person how to correctly perform the task of traversing the trail ahead while still keeping it light-hearted and fun. The dudes just want to send it, but they bring their girl with them! It’s not an effective way to learn, and I’ve seen many women stop riding because of it.

What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
I see many women’s bike clinics rising up. Some focus locally and some take it around the world. I have found that once a woman enters the female bike scene, she is hooked. A truly open-minded, free-spirited mountain biker chic goes to those clinics and thinks, “Wow. These are my people!” And then they show up as often as possible. I think that the more these opportunities take place, the more women will get the chance to find this comradery. It truly is a beautiful thing.

What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
When I coach other women, I watch them transform during the hours I spend with them. I love to learn why they are there because then I can reach them from where they’re at. I want to know what already motivates them, so I can keep that momentum moving forward. And when I watch them relax, improve, find joy, let their true self shine and encourage the other ladies in the group, I know I did my job well. It’s the most rewarding part for me.

Tell us a random fact about yourself!
Here are two: I make homemade wine from local berries, and I am the singer in a classic rock band!