It's never a good thing when a bike race ends and you can't find one of your riders. That was the story back in April, when I was at a race with the collegiate team that I coach with my husband. It was a rainy day and any number of things could have happened to this rider. We were relieved when she finally came across the finish line, covered in dirt and grease. There had been a crash and then she had to stop and fix a problem with her bike. As she wiped off her face with a towel, she said “This is going to end up in your book, right?”
Of course it was.
The team knows all about my book. We’ve talked about it on long training rides and during road trips to races. It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl named Sarah who tries to live her life according to what she learns from Little Women. One of the major subplots is Sarah's decision to join her school's mostly-male cycling team.
I’ve found that there is a strong connection between the philosophy of Little Women and Sarah becoming a bike racer. Most of this is because of Jo March, the spirited, resourceful and determined main character of Little Women. She pushes the boundaries of what a young woman of her time is able to do, getting a job when her father lost his fortune and then selling her hair in her family's time of need. As I see it, the spirit of Jo March is one of the things that lays the groundwork for Sarah to be able to join her high school cycling team without ever having raced a bike before.
Cycling is a hard sport for women to break into, even with the best support in the world. Most bike racers are men. This means that there are few mentors or even other women to relate to. With so few women at races, they often don't have their own race and get lumped in with men, some of whom have been racing for years. The difference between a woman starting her first race and a man in his third year of racing is breathtaking. But it’s totally hard core when a young woman can hold her own with a group of guys in a bike race.
There is a part of Sarah that grasps that bike racing is the kind of thing that Jo March might have done. There is another part that just falls in love with the sport. As Sarah begins to train, she applies the lessons that she learns from Little Women. When Sarah gets her team kit, she finds out that cycling clothes aren't cut with boobs and hips in mind. But she figures it out. She finds a sewing machine and learns enough about sewing to tailor it to fit her. I have a feeling that Jo March would have totally have done the same thing.