The Cyclists’ Alliance is helping pros like Ruth find their feet after retirement
Ruth Winder is less than two months into retirement and already trying to find a balance between her former life as a pro cyclist and the new one she’s just starting.
When Ruth headed out for her first ride since her final race at the Leuven World Championships, she calmly removed the Wahoo bike computer and slipped it into her jersey’s back pocket. It may have seemed like a small gesture, but that small electronic processor, the holy grail of a pro cyclist, controlled a big part of life for Ruth, measuring her rides almost every day for more than eight years. For Ruth, pedaling without seeing the data was a significant step in helping her make the transition from training to riding for pleasure.
“I am only five weeks into retirement, and I am freaking out about training,” Winder laughed. “I am riding without the power meter. I have taken it off and told myself you are not allowed to look at it.” It’s a common theme amongst ex-athletes who are suddenly robbed of meaning: the training and competitions that had consumed their athletic careers gone. Now they must sort out the ‘who am I?’ while figuring out the ‘what’s next?’
Like many pro athletes, Winder went straight into a cycling career at a young age. Now, 28 years old, she has a world of cycling knowledge but never attended college or attained other work experience. With her extensive sporting background, Ruth is confident she can handle many different jobs. However, she has no experience on how to begin searching for that next career.
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“There are a lot of jobs I can’t do obviously, and a lot of jobs that many people can’t do without specific degrees,” said Winder, “but I don’t feel uncomfortable about not having a university degree. I only feel uncomfortable when I have to write a resume because I feel that’s a blank section that they will look at.”
Leaving behind the only life she has known and entering an undetermined future may seem formidable. But Ruth is at ease with her decision, thanks in big part to a support network that didn’t exist for women cyclists until a few years ago. Winder is a member of The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA), a foundation run by current and former pros that supports female cyclists before, during and after their careers.
This year, Ruth benefitted from their new mentoring program called TCAMP (The Cyclists’ Alliance Mentoring Program), which pairs current or former pro cyclists with other cyclists seeking direction within the sport. Ruth is a mentee (TCA co-founder Gracie Elvin is guiding Ruth) and also mentors a young Dutch cyclocross rider. This unique peer-to-peer support is helping female cyclists at all levels, from up-and-coming pros to those, like Ruth, heading into retirement.
“I think TCA is doing great things and has been really helpful to me through the mentoring program specifically. Having Gracie Elvin as a mentor while I was retiring has been great, and I continue to talk with her. That has been amazing for me – that programme alone has been so good,” explained Winder. “Just the fact that we have this now is such a huge change and huge step for women in the sport.”
For three days, 22 former and current female cyclists took part as the Podium Partners covered self-advocacy, media training, networking and CV building. Each day after the presentations, the attendees separated into break-out groups with one or two Podium Partners for interactive work on building a resume or creating a LinkedIn profile. Networking and self-advocacy were significant themes, something Winder as a highly sought-after rider, didn’t have to think much about during her cycling career.
“Networking was a big thing they talked about, and there was so much openness from other women on how to network,” explained Ruth. “It was also nice to spend time specifically thinking about resumes and having constructive feedback and help in building a CV – especially for me since I have always been recruited by cycling teams and never had to write one to get onto a cycling team. I felt like I never had any experience at all, so for me, it was super helpful to have this workshop from people in the industry that I would want to go and work in.”
“Part of the workshops was really encouraging, but there was no one saying, ‘so you could do this job’ so I still feel that I am not totally sure where I will end up,” said Winder. “But it was encouraging to hear from the companies that they believe I have a lot of experience and that they are open to hiring an ex-professional cyclist even though that is all I’ve done my whole life.”
Ruth may not have figured out her future in the three days. Still, with this ongoing support from TCAMP and its Podium Partners, she and many female cyclists have a more straightforward path to get there.