It's been great to start our European campaign with a training camp in Tuscany, Italy, getting to know the other girls that we will be riding with this year. The team consists of nine Belgian girls, mostly younger riders and six South Africans. I think I'm the oldest one on the team! It's also been great getting to know An-Li and Lise better who were just cycling rivals in SA.
After working with mostly men for the last 12 years of my life it's been quite an adjustment for me (in a pleasant way) to be surrounded by women. During my varsity days I had only male friends in electrical engineering, rock-climbing and during work it was the same. I've had many male friends at work & Tijl's male friends we cycle with but have not had time for much of a social life while working full-time & cycling to meet/make any girl friends since my school days.
I must admit that I felt socially inept last year when I travelled to EU for the first time. Surrounded by only girls for the first time in many years! But wow it's been so refreshing and inspiring for me!
I have often looked on women as the 'weaker' sex. I have always been able to relate to men better and have always had more male friends. I am quite insensitive, don't get emotional, don't read deeply into things, am more a do-er than a talker, don't like discussing how I feel or making small chat or entertaining people. Men to me were more respected and had more authority in the workplace. My male friends at work commented how I acted so confident at work around other men but that I wasn't nearly so confident around women.
I saw certain characteristics of women as 'weaknesses', such as being too sensitive, getting emotional, taking things personally, negativity about themselves, getting jealous over other women, getting upset over small things, being so concerned about fashion, shopping, wasting so much time/money on nails, hair and other beauty treatments, skinnering about other girls instead of building each other up, having so much to say but not putting an action plan together to solve it. And yes I am generalising and my view has changed since I've actually taken the time to get to know some great women!
So as jealous as all the guys were at my work that I was going to be sharing a house full of girls in Europe last year, I was pretty daunted by the idea!
The first week I arrived back after EU last year, almost everyone (except my husband :)) remarked how I had changed. For one, I had painted nails to match my watch and name branded outfits and handbag (Robyn taught me to shop although I must admit that I'm still not that concerned about fashion) But also that I was more confident, could have a deep conversation, was more sensitive and took more interest in fellow women. Ash and Robyn are great women ambassadors. Not only socially but I was also more confident on my bike.
I have started to realise that sports women have a lot stronger characters than I had thought to give credit for. Women are so much more diverse than men, have by far more interesting stories, personalities, sacrifices they've had to make for the sport, determination, passion, dreams & inspirations and the list continues.
So the personal side of my journey this year is to learn to appreciate and promote the amazing talent & personalities of women in sport and show other men/women who thought as I did that women can also be powerful, strong and inspirational!