Working in the Cycling Industry: Cait Dooley
Words Anna Maria Wolf
Photography Laura Wilson
Cait Dooley is without a doubt, one of the coolest girls you’ll ever meet. With a shock of platinum through the fringe of her auburn hair and chunky glasses, she embodies 90’s riot grrrl cool while somehow having a fun-loving, kid at heart nature at the same time. A cyclocross racer, a cancer survivor, a mountain biker, and animal lover, she's also the women’s product manager for GT. It's tough keeping up with her, even when you're just trying to follow her on Instagram. Bike races, trade shows, factory visits in Taiwan, product testing in Majorca, Cait is always on the move, “ I travel about 15- 20 weeks a year, and probably a little more with the personal travel I do, too.” That’s why I felt particularly lucky to catch up with her in real life. And not just hang out, but to ride some amazing trails on a GT hardtail whose production she oversaw.
Side note- I am a novice mountain biker. I ride flat pedals and vans, I don't know what most of the components on my bike are even called. While I love it, I truly have no idea what I am doing. I was totally not surprised that leading up to our ride, I was plagued by terrifying MTB nightmares. I was following Cait off giant drops, or worse yet, just inching up to the edge and staring down into the abyss, to terrified to roll an inch forward. The irony is that I was meeting Cait in a gorgeous, beginner friendly area, that I had ridden before. Unlike it’s name suggests, Rocky Point is a network of gentle flowing trails that are sandy and well groomed. I truly had nothing to worry about. Furthermore, I'd have another beginner in my corner, Sofia Whitcomb from Cycle Sports Group would be joining us too.
So early one morning this fall I headed out to the geographic center of Long Island to meet Cait and Sofia at the Rocky Point trails. I would have no trouble finding them. The blaring Taylor Swift jams led right to the GT truck; a monster pickup truck is the size of a Manhattan apartment with three bikes draped over the tailgate. I was stoked and terrified at the same time! We kitted up. I was wearing my signature Cait Dooley “You got this” socks from the Athletic, but totally not feeling like “I got it" at all. They had brought me some rad Sombrio baggy shorts and tank. It's amazing how a little gear can go along way to making you feel at ease. Off into the trails we went. In less than thirty seconds, all the things I had been scared of were completely forgotten.
Cait’s career as a cyclist has been punctuated by her battle with cancer. During the drawn out and difficult pre-diagnosis stage and subsequent treatment and recovery, she has had to fight incredibly hard. “I was diagnosed in November 2012. I had started feeling off in the winter- tired, weird numbness in my body, and a little unlike myself. I chalked it up to needing more sleep, training hard, and needing a new fit on my bike. It wasn't until the end of August when I was racing the Concord Criterium and had to drop out. I couldn't really feel my legs and my tongue felt like it was 10 sizes too big for my mouth. I called my dad, who is a nurse, and he told to me to get to an ER right away” At first they thought it might be MS, but in scanning for nerve issues, they found a giant mass in her neck. Roughly a year into her illness, she was finally diagnosed with cancer.
For someone who grew up constantly riding, no part of this struggle comes easy. I asked her how getting sick had changed the way she thought about cycling. “Getting sick made me realize how lucky I was. I took it for granted that my health was great and that I could push myself in my sport and race at an elite level. It is truly a luxury to be healthy enough to train and race and go on fun rides, and have a normal life. I have learned to be nicer to myself about bikes, which is really hard, especially when you are a competitive athlete. I listen to my body and I take a rest if I need to.” Her absolute joy and love of riding come through that balanced deep calm and patience. She is at the same time the “Look mom, no hands!” kid, and the person who will wait for you to go over an obstacle times till you nail it, with absolutely no hurry.
The “You got this” mantra has clearly gotten Cait through some of the hardest times in her life, but that hyper commitment to positive thinking powers her every day. At a race, over an obstacle on a trail, in persevering in training, she is constantly reminding herself that she can do it, even when signs point otherwise. “You got this” doesn’t guarantee success, but negative self talk surely guarantees failure. Cait says, “I think if I have had any success, in addition to having an incredible support system of family and friends, it's because I try to look on the bright side and try again even if I fail miserably. And I have failed pretty miserably racing many times. Now that I've been doing more mountain bike racing and training, I've had some pretty spectacular crashes and I try to not let those scare me off from doing more difficult things. Bike racing is constantly humbling you - whether you think you have fast legs and get dropped hard, or you crash and have to pull it together and get back up into the race.”
She travels constantly for work, and while that affects her training schedule and her home life, that’s not at all what she focuses on. Cait is incredibly proud, and rightfully so, of the GT women’s product she oversees. From the tiniest of details on the factory floor, to field testing, to walking you through the product on the trade show floor, it's clear that Cait is putting her whole heart into what she does. I wanted to know a little more about the Zaskar in particular, and what it was like for Cait to be a part of that heritage bike, "The Zaskar is heritage bike for mountain biking, period. It’s the only bike that has won World Cups in downhill, cross country, slalom, and trials. So it’s really incredible to be a part of it now. I see myself in this bike so much as all the women I worked with to help make it. Cindy, GT's head of graphic design, spent so much time with me making sure we made these bikes rad - not just from a color and graphics viewpoint, but as a whole package. We went on research trips and interviewed women, and rode with women, including our pro athletes, and my biggest hope is that this bike reflects that.”
As we pedaled through the sandy, well maintained trails of Rocky Point we chatted and took in the beauty of the woods. At times we’d be deep enough in the woods to feel a quiet that New Yorker’s rarely get. We’d take turns leading and setting the pace, working through obstacles and feeling those blissful moments when everything just comes together. And while it was incredibly fun and confidence building for Sofia and myself, it's was a treat to watch Cait occasionally zip ahead to recon a section of trail. Her body in perfect position, she’d take off like a slingshot, flying where we could only roll slowly.
It's interesting the paths that peoples lives take. And while Cait hasn't worked at GT for a very long time, it's clear that there is a particularly good match. For a youthful, rebellious brand, with its roots in BMX, Cait clearly seems at home. There’s not a shred of elitism or cliquishness about Cait, so it makes perfect sense that her bikes have this "bring your friends, lets play in the dirt" vibe. Even the commuter bikes she works on, seem to invite you to get lost, get off road and get rowdy. A passion for cycling with a rebel heart is shared by Cait and everything she does at GT.