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Thursday, August 19,2010

Sky’s the limit for local all-women bike ride

By Tom Winter

Inclusivity and opportunity. Two simple words. Two powerful words. And two words that pretty much sum up the raison d’etre for a not-so-little event called the Venus de Miles, scheduled for Aug. 29 on roads around Boulder this year.

Boulder is filled with cyclists. And they ride all sorts of two-wheeled contraptions. But when it comes to competitive cycling, or hitting the road for 50 miles or so, getting up and rolling on two wheels can be intimidating.

Now in its third year, the Venus de Miles solves that problem. Sure, there’s a serious component to the event, with athletes and participants being able to opt into a 67-mile journey that takes you through Jamestown and Lyons. But those who are just out for a good time can choose from two other routes, a 51-mile ride as well as a shorter 33-mile course.

“Each course offers mechanical support, including our infamous menin-drag crew, medical support, great rest stops featuring gourmet food and music,” says event founder Teresa Robbins. “And, before you even get on the saddle, you can sip on Bhakti Chai, Vic’s coffee and have an EVOL breakfast burrito. Now that’s a great way to start a ride.”

“The courses can accommodate any ability level,” adds Maria Hennessey, spokeswoman for the Venus de Miles. “There are three different mileage options, all of which are very scenic. The goal was to make all routes beautiful, scenic rides.

Wait, what was that about a mobile melange of male mechanics in drag?

“There will be 10-20 of them riding the course,” she laughs. “They’re great mechanics, and a fun addition to the event. They’re all from local bike shops, and they ride in drag every year.”

Male bike mechanics riding in support while also riding in drag?

Now that’s something you don’t see every day, and that fact alone should strongly suggest that the Venus de Miles is not your average cycling event.

“We wanted to give women the opportunity to ride with their girlfriends, giggle up hills and give back to the community, and we wanted to do it in a totally fresh way,” says Robbins. “Having moved here from the Bay Area, I was surprised that Boulder didn’t already have its own all-women’s bike ride. We saw the opportunity to create one focused on the spirit of sisterhood and charity, with all proceeds benefiting Greenhouse Scholars, a local nonprofit that offers college scholarships, mentorship and academic support for high-performing, under-resourced students.”

“This ride is about the experience,” says Hennessey, adding that “there is something about women’s events which provide a non-intimidating environment where women can enjoy who they are without worrying about anything like competition. There’s a different energy at the Venus de Miles, and the event gives women a chance to come together in a pro-women environment; it’s a different experience.”

And if you’re the kind of lady who likes “experiences” that include live music, gourmet food and spa treatments, in addition to the opportunity to get a bit of exercise on a bike, then the Venus is for you. Plus, if you think that adding in the chance to make a big difference in others’ lives is the icing on the cake, you’ll be very happy to know that those miles on the road, the gourmet lunch and the facial at the end of the ride all benefit the Greenhouse Scholars program, and, according to Robbins, 100 percent of the proceeds go to the charity.

Because while the Venus is a good time, the event would be just another cycling “happening” in a region overrun by cyclists, cycling races and cycling events without the involvement of Greenhouse Scholars. The Venus raises money in conjunction with Greenhouse Scholars to assist kids who have academic records that prove they are able to succeed at the highest levels of intellectual, professional and personal achievement, but don’t have the family or other support to make their college dreams possible.

These are kids who will make a difference. Take, for example, Greenhouse Scholar Adrienne. A Boulder High School graduate, Adrienne currently attends Spelman College with the assistance of Greenhouse Scholars. An involved leader in Boulder High’s student government and athletic teams, Adrienne promoted inclusiveness and combatted racial insensitivities, including doing work that resulted in doubling the number of students of color on Boulder High’s student council. Adrienne, whose goal is working in biomedical engineering and medicine, has already worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, completed an academic enrichment program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and traveled to Peru to carry out medical humanitarian work.

In other words, students like Adrienne are the kinds of kids who not only have made a difference, but will make a difference in the future. These are the kinds of people that Greenhouse Scholars supports.

“The individual stories behind each of our scholars is incredible,” says Robbins. “Many are among the first in their families to go to college and have faced tremendous hardship in their life. Our program not only offers them financial support, mentorship and peer-to-peer, professional and life coaching, it also opens doors for them and enables them to be the next generation of leaders. Take Caitlin, for example, a junior at Drake University in Ohio. She’s from the small farming town of Stratton, in far eastern Colorado. With the support of her Greenhouse Scholars mentor and our other leadership-training programs, Caitlin has achieved amazing things, including an internship at Billboard Magazine in L.A. and the position of editor-in-chief of the Drake University magazine.”

“When you look at the statistics of low-income and first-generation students, not many of them go on to higher education,” adds Hennessey. “The goal of Greenhouse Scholars is to give high-performing kids in that category the opportunity to go to college and support them with the cost of education and other expenses. Greenhouse Scholars’ goal is to ensure they have the funding to succeed.”

Says Hennessey of the fundraising component of the Venus de Miles ride, “Fundraising is neither required nor expected of those who participate in the Venus de Miles, but is hugely appreciated.”

And, according to Hennessey, the funds raised from both entry fees for participation as well as riders who take a more activist approach (such as getting donations for miles ridden or similar initiatives) are substantial. Last year’s edition of the Venus de Miles raised more than $60,000. That number is, of course, small compared to the overall needs of the under-funded students that Greenhouse Scholars supports. But it’s worth noting that three years ago, in the first year of the event, the Venus de Miles ride only attracted 800 cyclists. This year, the event hopes to see more than 2,500 riders. As the event grows, so do the opportunities that Greenhouse can provide, creating a virtuous circle that, like the wheel of a bike, rolls into a brighter future.

If this year’s event has about 2,500 women who ride, a lot of difference that’s going to make in young lives. It’s also a cause for celebration, which is exactly what the Venus de Miles is: a rolling, two-wheeled party that has an impact that reaches far beyond the roads of Boulder.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com


Forget 2,500 women, why not have 3,000 or 3,500 women on bikes at this year’s Venus de Miles? For that to happen, you need to enter and become part of something wonderful on Aug.

29. Enter the Venus de Miles today, get involved as a volunteer or support Greenhouse Scholars by logging onto www.venusdemiles.com.

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You talk well about first generation students and education as well.

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