Trekking for Equality, Georgia Gould, Professional mountain bike, cyclocross competitor and Olympian
By: Krysta Kearney
Georgia Gould is an inspiration, and a total badass, who has spent her adult life trekking from one adventure to the next, only picking up momentum and drive along the way. One could only assume that with a list of accomplishments like hers, you've got to have a lot of ambition. Being a two time Olympian and having won an Olympic bronze metal comes with a lot of strength, and dignity. As for all athletes, it can be a rocky and windy path to get there. Gould not only is an acclaimed athlete she is also a revolutionary in the industry. She is known for her fight to help women secure equal prize money, the same amount as men. She took a stance for gender equality, and went where no one had gone before her, making way for a movement not just in the United States biking industry but also providing a global example, making an impact on other sports too.
Gould grew up in a world full of adventure with an enthusiasm for the outdoors. Hailing from Maryland, she was exposed to the many different landscapes of the area and was encouraged to be outdoors, as she rode horses at a very young age. During her teens, she attended prep school in New Hampshire, where it became obvious that she was a lover of the mountains, as she chose to go to college in North Carolina, at Warren Wilson and later transferred to the University of Montana, in Missoula. It wasn't until after she graduated college that she even discovered her love for biking. During her time in college she would spend her summers in Ketchum, Idaho, as it's where her father lived and she liked it so much that upon graduation she decided to make the big move there in 1999.
Casually she gave mountain biking a try. Funny enough, it was in part of her efforts to quit the dreadful habit of smoking cigarettes. She started this process by running, to keep her mind occupied from smoking and one day noticed her step mother's mountain bike in the garage. She recalls borrowing some of her clothes as well, teal biking shorts and a bright purple sports bra. Realizing very quickly, when she went down hill for the first time and crashed that maybe that’s why people wear jerseys? Maybe, just maybe. She recalls thinking,
“You know, I don't want to look back and think of all the things I could have been doing when I was 20 years old. Instead of quitting, this was my way of getting over it. ‘I’ll just put it off until I'm 80 when I'm done doing all the stuff that I want to do.’ Now I'm like, of course I will never smoke again.”
Before she knew it, she was in love, addicted to the sport and not smoking...and always trying to better her skills. This same summer, she started dating a mountain biker, who is now her husband. He encouraged her to sign up at a local race, which she ended up winning and it gave her the courage to keep racing and get even more involved in the sport.
At the end of 2003, she got a pro license and had participated in a couple national races. She realized that she may be on to something and if she enjoyed it as much as she did, why not make it her career? If she was here, finishing in the top 15 without having a full racing season, what would happen if she went all in and devoted herself entirely to the sport, to race professionally? So, there you have it. She and her husband bought a van in 2005 and went all around the country, having Gould bike competitively in professional races.
“This was before van life was a thing, we were just weird. It was before it was cool. (Haha) We went to all the national series races.”
They would travel, return home and work, then go back out on the road again and constantly repeat. This cycle took a lot of effort and was very laborious but it paid off. She ended up finishing tenth overall in the series, which is fantastic, especially since she wasn’t even getting paid. It felt honorable to be finishing amongst the most elite professionals.
One day, at the end of the season she received a call from the manager of the Luna Pro Team, the biggest professional race team. She couldn’t believe it, they were calling her?! Gould says, ‘I just started doing this and all the people on your team are stars!’ Turns out they were looking for a development rider and offered her a spot on the team. Little did she know she would end up spending a decade, her whole career as a monumental team member.
Gould continued to master her skills. She competitively excelled, becoming known as one of the greatest bikers in the world. Her list of accomplishments is just astounding and too much to note it all here. (Visit her website to see everything, it’s impressive!) Literally, 5 national titles, 9 series titles and 81 career wins...81 career wins! A few to note is that she is a 5 time USA National Champion and went to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. 2012 is known as her most accomplished year. This is the year she went to the London Olympics and took home the bronze medal for Cross-country mountain bike. She finished first, second and third in more events than you can count on your hands.
Everything was going great. She recalls there being nothing like the Olympics. Prior to going, she didn’t understand all the hype. For what she does, it’s not necessarily the biggest race. World Cup races would have over 100 women, where the Olympics only has 25 qualifying spots. She figured, what’s the big deal, I'm racing against women I have been side by side with all year but there are less people. Well, little did she know, when she arrived in Beijing, it would be absolutely spectacular. There is a different energy with the Olympics. She said there is nothing else like it, the hype is different, the spectators, the meaning behind it and the pride everyone has for their country.
“I finally made it to the top and now, (here I am) hitting my stride, then the next year was the worst year ever. I struggled, I got to the point where I almost had to quit racing and I really had to reevaluate.”
With the win in 2012 and the build up of her career, always moving forward and never looking back, it makes sense that one day all that impact, both physically and mentally will start to compile and bury some of the integrity of the structure that has been built. Things started to break down for Gould. Unknowingly and most certainly undesirably her career started to shatter before her eyes. She couldn’t figure out what was causing it all. Her stats were looking the same, her endurance levels weren’t declining. So why was she not finishing in the top 5? She was finally here, at the top of her game and instead of plateauing she was tumbling downwards. Could it be her iron levels or her equipment? She tried to think of everything and what was really going on, was from within. She questioned if she wanted to keep doing it, if she wasn’t even close to winning, or if biking just wasn’t for her anymore. Mentally, at the height of her game with all the pressure she had been slowly gaining...the pressures that she was putting on herself to represent the best she could be, for her, her team and her country was in actuality starting to break her down.
“I was over trained and I also had this mentality where I should be at the front of the race, because I have been there. So I was sort of in a panic, I wasn’t riding where I thought I should be. There was sort of a disconnect between the training and the racing.”
Gould was experiencing anger and frustration and truly wanted to just quit, give up. She recalls after a certain race, just not having it anymore. That was it. She went to her coach and husband and basically said, ‘I quit!’ They asked her to think about it a little bit and she received a call from her brother who at the time was in the special forces in the military. He was like, ‘How’s your race,’ and she said something along the lines of , ‘It was hard and I’m not winning, and people are passing me, etc. etc.’’ Internally she was like, here I am talking to someone who actually suffered and had to go to war! He went on to say that people are intimidated by her, and she kind of is too.
“Yeah you got metal at the Olympics! You have a big target on your back, people want to beat you and you’re racing out of fear of being beaten or getting 5th place, that's your ego and you got to get rid of that. You got to get over it and just race.”
He encouraged her to just go out and race, to let go. Once she did that, it was a different feeling, she raced better and more confidently. She was able to shed her insecurities and was there to just race. She had to backtrack. Go back to the beginning, what her mind frame was in when she first started racing. In a way, she had to retrain her brain and strip down the walls to rediscover what racing meant to her.
"As long as I do my training and I get to the race there is nothing to worry about. I can’t control what other people are doing, or how am I doing but I really started coming back.”
At the end of 2015 she qualified for the Olympic lawn team, which takes place the year prior to any given Olympics where Olympians go to the future course to test run it. Gould went to Rio de Janeiro and ran the course and was pumped to be returning to the Olympics, for 2016. During this time she had also made the executive decision to be her own coach. She had always been very dependent on her coaches and it was one of the big mental boxes she wanted to check during her career. She recalls in 2013, when she was really suffering, she couldn’t count on her manager. She knew she needed something different. So she started working with another coach. Which in turn made her appreciate her first coach! Through that she ended up being self -sufficient and realized she could actually do this on her own. It was awesome for her, that she was able to do it successfully and not have to depend on anyone else, to make every decision on her own. She was doing a great job and started being back at the front of the national races.
“The tendency for a lot of people that are elite athletes, or, elite at anything is to be super Type A, to always push harder and do more. As an athlete that works up to a point but you're not able to also be as serious about recovery and rest...and taking it easy. You’re never gonna get stronger, you’re just gonna get over trained.”
Unfortunately during her 2016 season she had a couple of untimely flat tires in important qualifying races. The USA only has two spots on the Olympic team and after one woman had automatically qualified, her losses made it discretionary for her to get the second spot. The committee ended up taking a younger rider that had more ‘future potential.’ This really let Gould down. In her head she was like, ‘But I won you a metal in the last Olympics.’ At the same time she was at a point in her career where she felt she had done everything that she could. Of course, it was very disappointing but she didn’t have the energy anymore. She and her husband decided to pivot and start working on their next chapter, she became pregnant!
“I was at a point where I had trained myself for that season and I had done a good job and I was satisfied. I did a good job as my own coach, my training was really good, I had some bad luck but it wasn’t anything I had control over. I still view that season as a big success.”
She was ready for racing to not be her only purpose anymore and always knew she wanted to be a mother. Prior to the 2012 Olympics she was already discussing with her husband about how they wanted to move forward with that chapter in their lives and if she wanted to try to continue to keep racing or not. Thankfully, the industry supports women through pregnancies and encourages them to stay on their career paths. Gould had seen time and time again, women decide to stay through this process and it just wasn’t something that she had wanted to continue on with. Gould feels thankful that she was at a point in her career, when all that went down with the Rio Olympics, that she was already mentally ok with leaving, ok with moving on.
“I have done racing since I had my kids. I’m not getting paid to race anymore but it’s just something I love doing so I’ll jump in a single race here and there. I didn’t want to have to commit to a timeline.”
She gave birth to her first child in Colorado and she and her husband found herself travelling back and forth to the east coast all of the time, as they are both from that area. Her husband was envying a change and wanted to move to the north east. Gould says with her daughter being four months old at the time, he did most of the work, finding them a new home. She knew how important it was to her husband to move, so she was happy to make the change. He had supported her professionally and followed her dream alongside her, so now it was time to do what he wanted to do.
Now, a mother of two she looks back at her career as a total success and is looking forward to what the future holds. Currently she and her family reside in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (about 40 mins south of Canada) and are absolutely in love with the area, as there is nature all around. So many places to go mountain biking...tons of trails and lots of cycling as well. Recently, a fellow cyclist of hers moved to the area and they are currently in the works of developing a plan for a cycling tour company, projected to launch in the fall of 2021. Many of the tours will be women focused but not exclusive, it will just be a big element of it. She is excited to continue her career in cycling but with a new twist, a new reasoning and purpose. Gould says you never know what you are capable of until you try. In the beginning of her career she never could have imagined she would win a big race. When she did, she was delighted and captivated.
“It's scary to put yourself out there but I think you just learn so much more, even when you aren't successful. Every time that you do it, it just paves the way for the next time. The more that you don’t do it, the more you open yourself up to failure. Stop looking at failure as something that shows it wasn’t worth it…instead of showing failure as, ‘Oh, why did I even bother doing that.’ Instead roll that failure into a learning experience.”
Another huge career milestone for Gould that we can all gain some inspiration from is the advocacy that she did for gender equality in the sport. For years in her career, she had no idea that she wasn’t getting the same prize money as her male counterparts. One day, when she had won a Cyclo-cross race, the man who had also won was standing next to her and said something along the lines of, ‘Pretty awesome payday, right?’ Gould shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘Yea I guess.’ So he went on to say with concernment, ‘$2,500...that’s not a good pay day?’ This made Gould furious, as she only made $250, ‘Are you kidding?!’
So, she went and looked at the rules and learned, that it’s the truth...that was the pay schedule, men received ten times the amount that women did. So, in 2007 she became known for the Gould Formula, where she wrote an online petition for equal prize money for the top five (men and women) finishers in international Cyclo-cross events. She got about 3,500 signatures, printed it all out and sent copies to each of the commissions for UCI. She never heard anything back, from any of the commissions. It was shocking to her, and to others, as most people just didn’t even know that there was such inequity.
“One of the big outcomes of that was it got enough media attention that race promoters in the US started making their prize money equal.”
In 2011, she was contacted by someone to be appointed as a member of the inaugural UCI Athletes' Commission. From there she gained a spot on the mountain bike committee and it gave her the leverage she needed to really change the rules. At the first meeting it was her and about 8 European men and at the end of it the chair asked if anyone wanted to talk about other topics. So she raised her voice and mentioned, ‘How about equal prize money.’ Everyone surprisingly was like, yeah lets do this. She knew she couldn’t complain without actually doing something about it.
“It highlighted to me that maybe it was because there had never been a woman on there. They’re guys, it's not even a topic that comes up for them. They’re not even paying attention to that. So to me, it's not like, ‘Wow I am this strident, hard working woman, they were like ok.’ So you just never know until you put it out there. You just need to get involved in some way. “Then mountain bike became the first discipline to have the first equal prize money in all their UCI sanctioned races and then all those other disciplines looked and said, well if mountain bike did it why can’t we?”
This was a major achievement for her and a huge moment, making history in athletics. Besides unequal pay, Gould never personally experienced much sexism in the industry. She says that it’s true that people are more interested if you are a woman racer who wears makeup and is a model, which is something that no male athletes have to deal with. Gould says, ‘For women it’s not just about your results.’ Things are changing but there is still going to be more of an opportunity for you if you kind of glamorize yourself. It wasn’t me and wasn’t something I was willing to do, it didn’t seem authentic.” She could list people that had more opportunities or sponsorships because they did do that, “It was really important to me to set an example that you don't have to do that and you can be successful. You can have a normal looking body, that's the example that I wanted to send.”
Besides her career accomplishments, the medals and titles there are other moments that she feels bears just as much weight. During her career she has noticed a change, a change in everyday life. While biking, just out on the trails, she has noticed more dad’s riding with their daughters. To Gould, having a little boy come up to her and ask for her autograph was always so gratifying. Knowing that she can be a hero to a little boy is one of her biggest measures of success.
“Knowing that you’re a hero for that little boy...when that little boy is a man with a daughter, he’s not gonna say like, ‘Oh well your a girl, I'm not gonna take you…(something like shopping)...No...we’re gonna go mountain biking! It’s been cool to just see that, and how much more accepted it is. Whatever you were gonna do with your son you can do with your daughter too.”
Between Gould’s dedication to her career and motherhood, she is one powerful woman, a fearless female indeed! We here at Moxxi look forward to hearing about what other amazing ways she contributes to this world. In light of Women’s History Month, we thank her for stepping up with all she has done.
Q + A
Q What type of advice do you have for women?
“Women tend to under sell or underestimate themselves. In racing a lot of times women won’t upgrade to the next race level. The more you put yourself out there and challenge yourself you will surprise yourself. Commit to being challenged and be open to that, don’t see yourself being different from everyone else.
“Everyone goes through things. ‘Don't be afraid to wing it, because everyone is’.”
Q What does the word Moxxi mean to you?
"Nerve, or you know…She’s got Moxxi!!! She’s got spunk!!! Spunk or fieriness.”
Q What does coffee mean to you?
“It's that moment at five in the morning when my eight month year old, three year old daughter and cat all want me to pet them at the same time.”
It's the experience, I just love the smell, the taste and the way to just start your day, and sometimes in the afternoon it's time to reset, or set!”
Q How do you drink your coffee?
Espresso, they have an espresso machine at home. She drinks just shots, but every once in a while will have a Cappuccino.
Q Any words of inspiration?
She always tried to learn at least one thing from each race. She would figure out what that one thing was, why she was proud of it and how to implement it.
“Always take away something so you feel like you’ve grown a little because of it.”
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