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Moving Past Proving Myself: Finding Freedom (& Friends) on the Trail

I recently posted a quick story about my experience in my local dirt bike shop, where I was told a larger size bike was too much power for me and a smaller one I could maybe handle easier.

This story, while brief, is one that reached and connected with many women. Largely because interactions like the one I had aren’t as rare as we’d like them to be in the dirt bike world.

It’s incredibly meaningful to be able to connect with other riders, especially with other female riders who have experienced similar interactions as my recent chat in the local shop. However, it is important to me to share more of my story, as it’s one that I believe is worth sharing and might prove helpful to anyone new to the sport or just navigating the dirt bike world as a female.

If you read my previous post, you saw a small glimpse of a typical interaction that happens with females in dirt bike shops. Not ideal, and certainly not everywhere! However, for the sake of sharing my journey, I must go back about 9 years, when my first experience like this happened:.

It’s 2013 and I’m preparing for the 38th annual Colorado 500 Charity Dirt Ride. A 5 day ride in the rocky mountains (Up to this point, no female had ever done the 500). The ride is about 6 weeks away and I’m getting my gear in order. I needed elbow pads. (I’d always hated riding with them, but my dad insisted I get some).

I go into the local KTM shop, find the gear section and their inventory looks low. Adult M/L is too big and youth S is way too tight. An adult S would likely be great. I’m helping myself climb up to get items off the hooks. There aren’t any other customers in the store, but I don’t mind self exploring the protective equipment section.

Eventually I got it all back hanging and looking the way it did before I tried on each size. An employee makes his way over, and I ask about sizes - if they have any orders arriving soon to fill the size gaps in the inventory. The answer is ‘No’, with no other follow up. I persist and ask if it would be possible for them to order a set of size Small elbow pads for me. The response I received, “You know, why don’t you try Sports Authority, in their rollerblading section. Maybe they will have elbow pads for you”.

Now, I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I would be willing to place a hefty wager on the fact that not a single male rider has been directed to the roller blading section of a sporting goods store when looking for protective equipment.

As you can imagine, being recommended to a sporting goods store didn’t exactly sit well with me. I was pretty fired up, and swore off ever going to that shop again. However, life on the bike continued - I rode in the 2013 Colorado 500 and was one of the first ever female riders. I rode with my Dad and a handful of his riding buddies that he’s had for nearly 20 years. They all treated me with absoluterespect and kindness -

At the bottom of the sair steps coming down Black Bear Pass, above Telluride, CO

I had been on my Honda CRF 250x maybe 5 times before that ride, it was my first ‘big bike’. (When I signed up, I was on a CRF 150 and we had to hustle to find a bigger bike in time for the ride!) As soon as I was invited, I signed right up - it was the first year invitations went out to women! I signed up for that ride based on my confidence in myself, my determination and grit, but never really factored in time on the bike or training. I look back now and am glad I didn’t have concern for experience on the bike (or lack thereof), because I surely would have played it safe and trained for a season or two before throwing myself into the longest and hardest ride of my life. At the end of the ride, among the 225 plus riders, I was voted Rookie of the Year. I was shocked, proud and excited! I remember I gave a speech and said something about starting out just riding with my Dad, but finished the week with a group of Dads. My mom told me that my Dad teared up during my speech and was so proud of me. It was an incredible moment and one I’m forever thankful to share with my family. The next summer, I sent out about 5 fathers day cards. My moto family was expanding.

Accepting Rookie of The Year Award. Left to Right: Peppy Dallenbach, Maurine Fitzpatrick, John Fitzpatrick, Kat Fitzpatrick, Wally Dallenbach Sr.

The following year as the 500 approached, I was really hoping to feel respected as a female rider. Thinking I had broken through the glass ceiling and hopefully changed the way women are treated. I was rudely brought back down when one cocky rider said “we have a rookie with us this year who isn’t any good, I think he will be great for your group, mind if we send him with you guys instead?” I was so annoyed, - so are you saying my group isn’t any good? Or are you commenting on how we are a group with patience, and respect on the trail? I wanted to tell that rider there wasn’t enough room on the trail for him, his bike and his ego. But I held it inside. At this point in my story, I want to point out that this was 1 rider, in a group of almost 250. And the 249 were incredibly supportive, respectful, complementary and kind! Truly, for 5 days of riding in the mountains with 249 guys, only that one rider had the lack of awareness let that subtle insult slip. But all it took was one and my mind was fired up again, there I was -back to the feeling of having to ‘prove’ myself as a female. On the ride, I was consistently reminded and shown how incredible this group is. I had help with anything and everything possible. Nobody tried to change what trail we rode because I was there, they all said “we will get through it together, don’t worry” and with that sense of ease and trust, I ended up getting over, up, down and through things I had no idea I could ever have done! It wasn’t until watching GoPro footage the following week that I really grasped the landscape we were riding and what the consequences could have been, and how challenging the stuff really was! At the time, I was riding with a group of guys who believed in me, never doubted my ability for a second and were truly setting the example for what it means to be a dirt biker, and a teammate on the trail.

The days on the 500 with those guys were transformational for me, I gained confidence, and began to somewhat shed the ideas of ‘proving’ anyone wrong. Those emotions would pop up from time to time as riding ebbed and flowed into my life. There was tremendous joy when riding with my 500 family, but I felt the ‘proving’ mentality come back when I would ride with other groups, especially male riders closer to my age. Maybe it was a form of playground style flirting to put down my bike or make comments about me being a girl and what trails I could handle. Suddenly, an average beginner/intermediate trail felt so much harder. Mistakes came easier and I wasn’t feeling the joy that I had felt with the riders on the 500. I felt like I was floating down Black Bear Pass when I was with the incredible group of supporters on the 500. Yet, there I was with a group my age, feeling like a pinball bouncing side to side on the trail, hitting every rock possible. Only to arrive last to the group, hear a comment about my Honda and want to cry. I would hold it in, throw back some witty comment, get a few laughs and I guarantee nobody knew how much my feelings were hurt. How was I to ride and get better when I didn’t have anyone to ride with and the season is incredibly short in Colorado. Well, I just stuck to the regular schedule, riding the 500 and then the desert in the fall and spring with the group I’ve known all my life because those groups were safe from the criticism and comments. I was craving riding more, but didn’t have a group to ride with. It was hard to not let the comments of years past begin to pile up and take over. Despite the incredible experiences I had riding with supportive riders, and encouragement from male riders who didn’t even ride with me. I still let the short comments of a very few guys pile up in my mind and I had a heavy pot of resentment simmering.

For the most part that pot was in the background, and never boiled over, because I was able to ride with amazing people and riders who were excited to ride with me! The thoughts of others and those comments didn’t guide my actions in any way but I hadn’t fully let them go yet.

My #1 supporter always

Fast forward a few years. Life takes over, as it has a tendency to do and I hadn’t really been on the bike in years. With the exception of a few weekends here and there. I'd even upgraded to my 2020 Husqvarna TE 150i, but it sat alone in my garage with only short rides around my property to fend off cabin fever as quarantine regulations set in. I was in the middle of a pretty difficult separation and in the process of moving back home. Riding was something I had craved more of, but I didn’t make it happen over the years, as I had let the needs of others take precedence. Moving home it was my goal to ride as much as I could; that was it - even if it meant riding with other groups again, I was determined. When I shared with others that I wanted to ride more, I was met with excitement and “I’ve wanted to ride more too, let’s make it happen”. And it began to actually happen. I met great riders and made new friends, the moto family began to expand! However, when It came to my riding, I didn’t feel fully comfortable or like I was riding at my ability. Maybe it was nerves or anxiety from meeting new people, I would tell myself. And yes, largely that was true - riding with new people would give me a ridiculous amount of anxiety because without being fully aware of it, part of me was worried about what they would think of me and the ‘proving’ mentality would peek back in to make an appearance in my life. The comments made years before would play out in the back of my mind and it was hard to completely get away from them.

But I persisted and continued riding, tip-toeing my way back into the world of dirt bikes, a world I knew I loved so much. I jumped on Facebook, and noticed there were groups all over of women riders! Planning rides, asking questions and getting out there! It was incredible, and intimidating all at the same time. I wanted in. So I joined a bunch of them!

Previously shy and introverted, I slowly became so tired of being on the sidelines that I began to push down the walls that were keeping me from getting out on the trails. It would take a little bit to realize these walls were ones I had put up. When I allowed the comments and opinions of a few guys to pile up and grow, I shrunk myself and stopped participating. It was easier to tell myself “not that many women ride” or “there isn’t anyone who would want to ride trails and get after it” because those thoughts helped keep me in my comfort zone. It was easy to blame the few guys with stupid comments for me not having a group of people to ride with.

At some point I got sick of my own BS, and the desire to ride overpowered the discomfort of stepping out and facing some fears. I let go of caring what people thought about me, and continued to ride and meet new people. Now, for the most part - my riding to ‘prove’ others wrong was in the background and not driving the show anymore. But it wasn’t officially wiped out until one day in September when I met with my Naturopath.

I meet with the most badass Naturopath to keep on track with my health; mind, body and spirit - it is all connected, so she can also essentially function as my therapist. Because things in the mind can quickly turn into physical ailments and the Naturopathic approach works for me in staying healthy overall. Anyway, the day before I met with her, I had the best day of riding I had probably ever had in my life! I rode and didn’t care what the guy riding with me thought about me, released any worry there and felt on top of the world! At some point, the riding got a little more difficult and I was really in the zone, and started to ride even better than when it was more mild. What was this magic?

Sure enough, the brain pops in and delivers the ‘proving’ pot that had been simmering. This time it wasn’t comments said by previous riders, it was comments made by my previous partner in regards to me riding and following that dream and something about needing to ‘grow up’. “I did it. I proved him wrong. Look at me, I am out here crushing it and he would never believe it if he saw this. But I did it. I proved him wrong”. Yeah yeah yeah, sounds good and like I’m the champion of the story? Not quite. Suddenly the riding began to feel harder. So I kicked it up a bit in my head “yeah, bring it on. I can handle anything. Who else wants to doubt me? Bring it”. I was fired up. Still riding pretty well, but feeling a bit more tired.

After a short break I was able to get back some energy and we had more tough stuff ahead. I recognized how the ‘proved him wrong’ mentality might have fired me up mentally, but physically I had to admit it didn’t do me any favors. So I shifted it on the trail and instead was saying “I proved myself right. I knew I could do this, I believed in myself, and here I am proving it to myself, yes, I am so proud”. Also, sounds pretty positive, like the end of a movie where we root for the underdog who overcame and found happiness? Well, that is how it felt to me and I was excited about it.

The next day I met with my Naturopath and shared my experience. Making it clear I was proud of myself for shifting the mindset away from proving my ex wrong, and towards proving myself right. I mean, we were working on self love and that seems like a win to me?!

She took it all in, followed my story and then hit me with a series of questions that would change the way I ride forever.

What if it’s not about proving at all? Eliminate the proving entirely. Not just proving someone wrong, but eliminating proving yourself right as well. What would it look like if your riding wasn’t about proving in any way”

I had to sit with that for a minute and think about it. I realized how much ‘proving’ I had been doing with my riding over the past 9 years. Some years more than others, even if it was subtle, it was there in some capacity.

“What if you ride, because it brings you joy, and that's it?’.

She asked those questions and it just landed straight on. Of course. It was right there all along. Every time I came back to the bike, every time I had missed it and wanted to go out more, it was because I missed the joy. The joy was what was below it all. It was always there, I had just thrown some layers of junk on top of it for long enough that it was a little more difficult to get to.

Feeling Like a Kid Again

From that day on, I made a conscious choice to ride because it brings me joy and that’s it. Giving myself permission to be happy. From that place, it truly doesn’t matter what any shop owner says about my ability to ride, I could care less what anyone says about my bike, my ability, my speed, all of it - it just doesn’t matter. Because when I ride, from a place of joy - no outside opinion or comment can change the feeling I get when I am on the bike and happy. You think I should get rollerblading elbow pads? Cool, thank you for the suggestion. You want your rookie to ride with my team tomorrow? Great! The more the merrier, we will have a blast.

Somehow, my riding felt like it improved almost overnight! And honestly, in a way I think it did - because my intention when getting on the bike shifted, it allowed my riding to shift in a positive way as well. Riding requires a great deal of physical and mental energy. Add resentment, revenge or a ‘proving’ mentality to that and you are sure to be beyond worn out at the end of a day.

How we approach each ride in our minds, directly connects to how our bodies function and in turn how we connect with the bike and the trail. Riding with anger or resentment tightens the muscles, and shortens the breath. Hello arm pump. “I’m fine, I can handle some arm pump, because I’m tough. Despite what they said, - I am tough, and F’ them, I’ll show them”. Meanwhile the arm pump isn't going away, and the brain is so focused on the redemption movie it’s playing out that it’s barely focusing on the trail, the obstacles or listening to the body.

When riding with resentment, anger or negative energy. It’s my experience that the brain tries to take over everything. No longer is the body an ally, the body instead is just a tool used to get the brain what it wants. Fueled by ego, cut off from listening to the body, connecting to it, paying attention to its messages and signals. This is where we get hurt, push past limits or just end up ridiculously sore at the end of the day. Far more sore than necessary!

We aren't proving anything. We are taking on that person's beliefs, carrying them in our bodies and letting them battle it out with our own true belief in ourselves, and then eventually our belief prevails. Yay. We won. Yes, we won a battle that was completely unnecessary and in no way changed the outcome of what other people think.

Photo: Gabe Dilla. Thanks Gabe!

You may be able to relate to this experience. Riding when fueled by resentment, proving or anger might have us feeling like we are crushing it on the trail, when in reality we most likely can ride just as well, with much less energy if we release the anger and resentment. For so many athletes, they can do just as well or even better when they are out having fun.

I heard a racer say they did a ‘hard’ lap and then a ‘fun’ lap, and the two times were almost identical and the biggest difference they noticed was having way more energy after the ‘fun’ lap. Dirt biking is hard work - let’s help ourselves out a little and save some energy by having fun!?

I know my best days of riding have come from getting on the bike with the intention of riding because It makes me happy. Yes, there’s hard rides and I’m certainly not always laughing and smiling the whole time. When it gets hard, I’m there for it and focused, determined, and will do my best to endure and embrace the suck, because at the end of the day - that’s also part of the joy! And it’s much more enjoyable when it’s a difficult ride that I choose to go on, instead of an average ride - made difficult by my mind holding onto past comments and riding with resentment and anger. (Let alone a hard ride, made harder by holding onto negative energy. No thank you!)

In the past 5 months my experience riding in groups, and being supported as a female in the sport has since become far more than I could have ever imagined! From companies, to riding groups, social media and local friends and family - I’ve received so much encouragement and support. I’ve been lucky enough to join on some rides with amazing male riders and when riding from joy and with an open mind - I’ve been shown how much positivity there is in the dirt bike world for not just women, but for anyone and everyone getting out on two wheels.

I share this part of my story, because I think it is a vitally important link that can take you from a negative female-focused comment, to an incredible support system and community faster than you thought possible! But it’s something that only you can do - shifting the outside world to force it to happen isn’t the answer.

First, I want to point out that it isn’t a bad thing to be annoyed with crappy comments targeted at female riders. It happens, and it’s not ideal - but I like to look at that experience as a mirror - instead of focusing on the person who said whatever they said, use them as a mirror to see what is happening within you. These experiences show us there is a fire inside, there’s power, authenticity, and a legit warrior goddess inside you who is finally saying ‘Enough!’. That fire, and that drive is a good thing - it shows us what we are passionate about! And maybe we need to have a ride or two with that fired up goddess to let her be heard.

But eventually I invite you to take a moment and sit with yourself. Take some deep breaths and ask yourself the following questions:

What comments or experiences am I holding on to? What stories am I telling myself about what others think of me as a rider?

Whatever answers show up, allow them all. And I’d invite you to meet them with some curiosity by asking, “Do I need to hold onto this comment or this story?” “Is this still serving me?” “Do I feel good when I think about this comment?”

If there are stories, comments, events you’re holding onto that don't serve you or make you feel good anymore, let them go.

Then ask or call in other ideas - what else could be out there for you? What do you want to have in that space instead? How can you call in or connect to joy and bring that with you as you ride? As you let the stories and negative comments go, what possibilities can fill that space?

See what shows up and hold space for it all. If you need to hold onto things for a bit, that’s absolutely okay. Move through it whenever you’re ready or it feels right. And I guarantee you will be so pleasantly surprised with the expansive community for dirt bikers that is out there! For me, I had shut myself off from this community when I allowed myself to let the stories and negative comments of others take up space in my mind for too long. Since recognizing my role in holding myself back, and letting that go- I've connected back to my inner-child-like joy on the bike. With that shift in mindset I have been (re)introduced to a community of men and women who provide endless support, encouragement and so guessed it- joy! I know I am beyond thankful for this community and the many friends I’ve been able to make and ride with!

I want to take a last moment to truly give thanks and credit to the many men who have supported and encouraged me from the very beginning! Without their consistent support and belief in me, I wouldn’t have been able to keep persevering, and pushing through to get to the point I am at now.

I am thankful to have a group of inspiring badass women around me - to look up to, learn from and share trails with. But I know that may not have happened without the early support of a handful of really incredible guys - and Dads!

It’s easy to take a few stupid comments, and have that fire within be directed against guys in general - and I want to caution against that. Because just as us female riders don’t want to be stereotyped in any certain way, it’s equally unfair to stereotype male riders in a way that suggests they aren’t supportive or welcoming.

I know so many of us can relate and bond over crappy things said to us, I also know we can bond over working through those comments and the effects they have. The power is within each of us, and riding with resentment gives away that power. We can take it back, and have soo much fun along the way. I encourage anyone with that fire inside, to sit with it, and direct it towards your dreams, lead with joy and the support is there!

Let go of what you need to let go of, forgive whoever needs forgiven, leave the judgement behind, throw away any blueprints of how you think things should go, hold tight to your dreams and keep moving forward....I believe in you, keep moving forward. - No matter your gender, age, ability, style of riding or experience - there is limitless room in the riding community and I hope you choose to throw a leg over the bike, leave the stories and comments that don’t serve you behind and let’s enjoy this incredible ride!

Team Native on Double Top. Colorado 500. 2021

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Feb 01, 2022

Kat, didn’t realize you had such angst. When we rode together, you always seemed confident and happy! Glad you were able to work this out. Now let’s get out there and ride!

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