Bel Capie rolls his ATV down a steep dirt descent in Matairangi / Mt Victoria, keeping his heels low behind his pedals and his arms bent to absorb the impacts of the trail.
Judging by her smile, the 10-year-old is completely in her element.
“I am a fast runner. I’m winning medals… so I’m pretty confident, ”says Bel.
The first time she was mistaken for a boy while riding a bicycle, she thought it was funny. But when it continued to happen, she started to think about the preconceptions behind it.
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“It means people assume girls aren’t very good at this stuff. That it’s a boys’ sport. At the races, if they haven’t been classified, they just put the boys in front and it’s frustrating because I have to pass them all.
Bel recently gave a speech in her 6th grade class on gender equality in sport, after her teacher defined the topic, It would be better if …
While researching the speech, Bel discovered a conditioning analogy that has struck home with his own experiences.
“A gentleman was walking through an elephant camp and noticed that the elephants were not locked in cages or held by chains. All that kept them from escaping was a small piece of rope tied to one of their legs. He was confused as to why the elephants hadn’t just used their strength to break the rope. He asked a trainer nearby why the elephants never tried to escape. The trainer replied, “When they are very young and much smaller, we use the same waist rope to tie them up and at that age it is enough to hold them. As they grow up, they’re conditioned to believe that they can’t break up, ”Capie told his class.
The weekend before his speech, Bel took part in Revolve Cycling’s Women of Dirt event at Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park.
Revolve has been running women-only races for over a decade. While the November event was limited to 60 runners due to Covid restrictions, races regularly draw up to 100 women.
Revolve co-chair Meagan Robertson said the consistently high turnout showed the appeal of an event where women were the center of attention.
Isla Day gives mountain biking lessons for the Wellington Off Road Department (WORD), including those for young girls, which Bel attends.
Day said she was aware that other race organizers were working hard to attract more participation in the women’s categories, but the disparity between mixed events and Revolve races showed there was still a lot of work to do.
“A lot of organizations, races and events create equal opportunity, but equal opportunity does not always create equal representation,” she said.
Of the 325 students enrolled in WORD, around 30% are girls. The organization hopes to achieve an even distribution of students in the not too distant future.
Day said the opportunity to ride in girl groups and be mentored by skilled female riders made her young students see themselves as part of a larger biker community.
“I’m really excited that we have all of these girls out there and we’re creating a fraternity that girls can be a part of.”
She looks forward to the day when groups like Revolve and WORD don’t have to take such deliberate steps to encourage women and girls to hit the trails.
“Right now we are dividing our groups by gender because that results in more registrations, but in the long run we wish we didn’t have to. Achieving a 50/50 split would be my dream.
Bel said it would be “really great” if there could be an equal number of girls on horseback and she wanted to encourage others to challenge all expectations of their gender.
“No matter how much you’ve been told that you can’t do or be what you want because of your gender, always go on with the belief that what you want to accomplish is possible. You can break the rope.