Women's History Month: Clara's community
‘I’m constantly finding women who inspire me, on and off the bike’
Clara Honsinger is an accomplished cyclocross racer and road cyclist — but she didn’t get here by herself. She credits the people in her first cyclocross community with providing her with a platform to learn and grow both as a cyclist and as an individual.
It was almost a decade ago that Clara first started to think about riding bikes as more than a way to get from A to B. It was thanks to one of her high school teachers that she grew curious.
“This teacher would hang his jerseys out to air, which is kind of gross now that I think about it,” Clara laughs. “The sweaty jersey that he'd commute to school in, he'd hang it up and also declare that, yeah, he's a bike rider. I remember asking him about riding and he was really into cyclocross. I didn't know that there was this entire series of cyclocross races that went on in the valley that I grew up in, and so he informed me of how to find information about them.”
The conversation sparked by that sweaty jersey got Clara thinking and she soon after decided to try a local cyclocross race without knowing much about what exactly that entailed.
"Welcome to our sport. How can we help you feel as though you're part of this community?"
Then a teenager, Clara showed up to a bike race where she didn’t know anyone and wasn’t even sure if this cyclocross thing was something she’d like. She was understandably a little nervous.
“There's often this feeling when you're showing up to a new scene and you're a beginner and you don't know anyone. I sort of thought, do I belong here?”
After just a couple of minutes spent observing the scene around her and chatting with the friendly volunteers at the sign-up table, any sense of apprehension quickly melted away.
“I went there and registered and it was immediately just an embracing and supportive community,” she recalls. “It was just like, welcome. Welcome to our sport. How can we help you feel as though you're part of this community? How can we support you and engage you and make you feel included?”
Thanks to this genuine welcome and warm support in a community previously unknown to her, Clara was hooked. She felt empowered to delve into cyclocross. She asked questions that may have seemed silly without fear of being laughed at or dismissed. Clara joined a club where she grew close with other cyclists.
The cycling community opened the borders of Clara’s world, allowing her to meet people of all ages, classes, professions and beyond that she may not have otherwise had the opportunity to get to know as a high-school student.
“I was probably the youngest person there. I think a lot of people saw that and were enthusiastic to have someone of a different age who could bring a new perspective, new life into the riding atmosphere. And for me, there were a lot of people I looked up to. There were really smart, strong women, not only in their riding ability. There was a physical therapist and I was always impressed by the work she did. I was interested in her career so I spent a lot of time learning from her about her job and who she was beyond the bicycle.”
As Clara got to know the people around her on the weekly group rides, she got to know herself better, too.
“I just really enjoyed being around them,” Clara says of the women she met through cycling. “Some of them were women with really interesting jobs and backgrounds and daily lives beyond cycling. I really enjoyed getting to hang out with them and learn about who they were and I think it helped me learn who I was. As well as having a life outside of their careers and being cyclists, they’d get up in the morning and do really hard training or spend their weekends going to a race instead of staying at home. I was really impressed with their hard work and determination. They had these different activities and passions, and it helped me by seeing how hard they worked. It really drove me to do well in my schooling, as well as to train and be a good bike racer. They taught me a really strong work ethic.”
“Community gives you so much opportunity. It gives support not only with the sport itself but with developing as a person and getting to know who you are."
Another woman who made a deep impact on Clara was Jana, the owner and manager of a nearby bike shop. Clara first met Jana in the early days of her cyclocross adventures and Jana has remained a supportive pillar in Clara’s life as she has branched out from cyclocross and into road racing.
“Jana became like a grandmother to me. She would always be like, ‘Oh, hey, Clara, how's it going?’ And as I started getting better and traveling around to the state competitions, she was always so proud. She’s been amazing. When I go back to Oregon to visit my folks, I'll ride by her shop to say hi.”
As she has trained, raced, and traveled over the past decade, Clara’s community has continued to grow. Today, she says her primary community, “is with the team. It’s kind of this familial passion, this community of us coming together on a weekend for a race, to hang out and do the job, to have a good time at the end of the day. We’re teammates. On and off the bike, we have a lot of fun together.”
Clara is the first to recognize the vital role that a nurturing community has played in her personal and professional life.
“Community gives you so much opportunity,” she says. “It gives support not only with the sport itself but with developing as a person and getting to know who you are. It’s really essential. I think when you look at every rider, whether it’s a rider just starting out or the world champion, they’re not just a rider. They come from a community and have a whole network around them to become a better person. I’m constantly finding women who inspire me, on and off the bike.”