She Rides Penticton has found another gear.
Before Penticton hosted the 2016 B.C. Winter Games in February, Louise Blais of She Rides Penticton had a blossoming group of 30 to 40 women participating sporadically in the program she designed to help them learn to ride bikes and do it safely. During the Games in February, Blais received the B.C. Games Society and ProMOTION Plus leadership award, which identifies, recognizes and celebrates those who have supported girls and/or women to participate more fully in physical activity or sport.
After receiving the award, Blais was contacted by at least 30 women familiar with the program from following it on Facebook. However, Blais said they didn’t think they were in shape enough to try it. They then realized the program is exactly where they should be.
“That’s been really rewarding to get the message across that is what this group is really for,” she said.
Blais is a health and fitness instructor at Okanagan College, but also owns Wellness Speak as she is a professional speaker and is involved with Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx Okanagan.
With She Rides Penticton, Blais’ focus was creating a safe and caring environment for women. The feedback she gets from the riders is great.
During their first session two weeks ago in the parking lot of Moduline Industries Ltd., Blais put the cyclists through a skills session working on turning, breaking, signalling, reaching for their water bottles as well as handing things to other cyclists — getting riders comfortable cycling close together. Blais said women underestimate and undervalue what they are capable of.
“They are going to see that they can do this,” she said.
Blais, who considers herself a mountain biker and not a road cyclist, did research regarding participation numbers in various sports. She wanted to know what kept women from signing up for events. She knew women weren’t afraid of challenges. One answer she found is that women don’t feel safe on the road.
“I thought well here’s a huge opportunity perhaps to make a difference,” she said. “Nobody was touching that in this area. I was really surprised though at the need that was recognized. I didn’t expect the turnout to be as great as it was. It’s been awesome.”
She even joked she’s glad not all the women come for every session.
“One of the most rewarding things for me is that I have women who started new with me two years ago that are now coaches,” she continued. “They are helping to lead the others. That’s been really awesome. They are paying forward in a free program.”
Debbie Ziegler is among the women who assist Blais. She said the She Rides Penticton program was perfect for her.
“It inspired me to get out and ride,” said Ziegler, who cycles with a core group outside of the regular weekly sessions.
Ziegler said what Blais has done for cycling in the Penticton area for women is incredible.
The success of the program has resulted in Blais starting the She Rides Stronger program. This will address the need of women coming out the last two years that want to get better, but also push the pace. That program will begin in a few weeks once Blais receives her mountain bike instruction certification.