Kelli Samuelson: The Road to Red Hook
Words by Kelli Samuelson Hathaway, Introduction by Anna Maria
Few other riders bring the spotlight to women’s cycling like Kelli Samuelson. From her impressive record as a competitive cyclist to her skilfull management of the nascent LA Sweat team, Kelli brings attention to the sport like no other. Imagining Kelli racing at Red Hook Crit might bring to mind images of her on the podium, triumphant in a Cinelli Chrome kit, but it wasn't that long ago that racing RHC as a woman in a mixed field made her more than a little nervous. Kelli shares her story and the beginnings of RHC’s women's race, one of the few crits that has total gender parity. Injury and recovery punctuate this story as this will be her first race back since a major surgery four months ago. We wish Kelli the very best of luck in this years RHC, and love this walk down memory lane.
I had done a handful of fixed gear races by the end of 2012 and recently gotten into road racing. I was new to say the least and had just started The Ritte Women’s Team (now LA Sweat) when I first met David Trimble at Interbike in Vegas. I knew David, I had friends that raced Red Hook and it was always something I wanted to do, but the thought of lining up next to my male counterparts was more than intimidating.
David, myself, Jen Whalen, and a few other friends had escaped the craziness that is Interbike were hanging by the pool of the Bellagio and, in true bike racer fashion, the topic of conversation turned to bikes; racing and in particular. Should there be a women’s field at Red Hook? We talked a lot about if a women’s race would be successful, if girls would show up and if so how many? Would it be worth all the work that goes into putting on a race?
That year (2013) I mustered up the courage to go to NYC and race Red Hook with the men. Well, I tried anyways. I finished 110th (I think) in the qualifier out of all the men and the handful of women that year. I missed the final race, but the environment was the best and at that point I didn't care if I had to race with the men for years to come. I knew I would be back. The year went by and, with failed attempts to make it to the remaining races in Barcelona and in Milan, I was sad but I hadn’t lost my desire.
The season was coming to an end and I was approached to join a new team for 2014 that was forming just for Red Hook. My first question was “ Are there any other girls on the team?” I wasn’t surprised to find I would be the only girl. That’s how it had always been for years. Each team was filled with dudes and each team had their token female rider. I had heard rumors of a possible women’s race that year, but was still excited and surprised to see it. There it was on the eventbrite page our very own race! It had happened. I watched over the next weeks as the field got bigger and more girls signed up. Proud is an understatement of how I felt lining up next to the 30 other women on that very cold and very wet day.
In 2014 I travelled to five fixed criteriums including all 3 RHCs with Team Cinelli Chrome. I watched as the competition got bigger and stronger with each race. The community not only grew, it exploded. I competed in two of the three RHC races. It was heartbreaking to be forced to withdraw from Milano, my team’s home town race, but with an injury and the required extensive surgery, I knew it was for the best. I hobbled away from 2014 with my head held high and a new found love for Red Hook and fixed crits. I am more than determined to recover and come back stronger in 2015. Red Hook Brooklyn will be my debut race back after surgery. No pressure!