A Quick Brown Fox
Interviewed by Anna Maria Diaz-Balart
Photos courtesy of Josh Cohen
If you have ridden in NYC in the last few years, you probably know Ayesha Rosena Anna McGowan. Few cyclists have the presence that she does in both the community and the competitive sport. Many New Yorkers know her from her work with InTandem, an organization that provides tandem cycling programs to people with disabilities or from her activities with We Bike NYC, a group committed to growing women's participation in cycling. But even with work, and a full roster of volunteer activities, she manages to train and absolutely crush it on road and track. An ever present fixture at the local velodrome, and local crits, Ayesha was hard to miss. But like many New York cyclists before her, she heard the West Coast calling. It's hard to beat the Bay Area for cycling, especially when one hopes to be the first African American female pro cyclist. While it's hard to believe that such a first is still possible in 2016, we are positive that Ayesha can do it. We were stoked to recently catch up with her, learn about her new team, and hear about how she's settling in to her new digs.
Can you tell us a little about your blog "A Quick Brown Fox"?
It serves a few purposes for me. I needed a written log to hold myself accountable, a place where other women might find inspiration to start a similar journey and ask questions. It has also been a great way for my friends and family to keep track of me! I really enjoy the feedback, especially hearing the stories of women all over interested in getting into the sport.
How did you get started racing?
In 2013 I went to a group ride in Central Park for Evie Stevens and the then Specialized Lululemon women's team. I showed up to a sea of women in cycling kits and road bikes. I was wearing my cycling outfit of choice, jorts and a tank top. I was also rolling on a single speed bike with mustache bars and a milk crate on the rear rack. Needless to say, I did not fit in. Somehow I ended up making small talk with Kristy Scrymgeour, then team manager, now owner of Velocio Apparel. She did her best to convince me to start racing, she even offered to loan me her bike. I wasn't ready. I really wanted to race, but I was intimidated by the idea of trading in my "grandma bike" for a road bike, and my chucks for what I called "clicky shoes". Over the course of the following year, I slowly started to adapt. First came the shoes, then the kits, then I got my hands on a 1980's Eddy Merckx Mexico Edition Steel Road bike. I'd seen the other side, and I wanted to go fast. By 2014, I was ready to give it a shot. The rest is history!
You and your husband just did a major move. I'm sure that was rough on your training, but it looks like you’ve settled in!
It took a while, but i'm finally getting used to the differences. Brooklyn will always have my heart and soul, but the riding out here is phenomenal. It's really nice to have so many great rides to choose from less than 3 miles from my house. I got a late start to my training and it took a bit to find a coach and a team, but now i'm all set!
Ok folks always say that there mom is their number one fan, but your mom is literally out there, cheering you on at races. How has she influences your cycling career?
My mom is such a direct person, and I respect her opinion a ton. To have the unwavering faith of someone like that is crucial when you have big goals like mine. She graduated high school a year early and her guidance counselor tried to convince her she'd never make it through Nursing school. Fast forward to now, my mom has a graduate degree in Nursing, and she runs her own department. Whoever tried to stand in the way of her goals and dreams was promptly told to go fly a kite. It's great to have that example. It also doesn't hurt that she's a great one woman cheer squad. It's not like it's hard to figure out who's mom she is when i'm racing...
Tell us a little about your new team?
My new California pal, Luisa Sempere, was tired of racing without teammates, and none of the existing teams met her squad goals, so she started one of her own. Razzle Dazzle is a great example of diversity in culture, ages, and experience levels that could happen in women's competitive cycling. Every individual has something awesome to offer. When I asked her about the team, she spoke to my spirit with this, "I think this is how we help the sport grow. By not just settling for what's there and accepting the status quo when we think it could be improved." It's my exact mission, how could I not get on board with that?
What are your goals for the 2016 season?
I've been on my own for the most part up until now. I'm really excited to learn how to be a teammate, improve my technique, and get used to the speed, grit, and strategy of more elite/ pro level races. It turns out i'm a pretty good climber too, so I'm going to take a shot at a few road races in addition to the crits i'm used to.
Are you racing track as well? Fixed gear crits?
I love, love, love the track. It's a bit far from where I live, but I hope to make it out to the Hellyer Velodrome enough times get my upgrade and maybe even go to track Nats at T-Town. It's so close to home back east. I know it would be so much fun! As far as fixed gear crits, I plan to maybe sneak in a few here and there.
You’re on a mission to be the first African American female pro road cyclist. That this type of first exists in 2016 comes as a shock to some. Can you speak a little about women’s cycling diversity problem, and what is giving you most hope these days?
Cycling in general is overwhelmingly white. It's even worse for women. I can still count the number of black women I've encountered at races on one hand. A few more have popped up on the internet, but it just makes me sad that this is where we're at in 2016. I get really excited when I see little black girls like Victoria and Hannah Duffey in Florida, or Maize Wimbush in Maryland. They're young, dedicated, and killing it. The few development opportunities in women's cycling are typically reserved for the juniors and U23 riders. They have an opportunity to really go for it. My hope lives in little girls like them.
I'm struck by the immensely positive tone in all your writing, how do you see positive thinking influencing your overall athletic achievement?
A huge part of succeeding is believing you can do it in the first place. Before a race, I like to listen to upbeat super egotistical music. Rupaul, Kanye West, stuff like that. It really helps to hear things like "You're a champion" in your head when you feel like you're going to die and the final sprint is coming up. It gives you the motivation for one last push. Positivity is pro after all.
In New York I always was impressed with how much community advocacy you were doing (in addition to working a training full time) have you connected with philanthropic/community groups in your new home?
I'm just now getting comfortable with my surroundings. It took far longer than I expected. I've still been doing some remote work for InTandem, and I'm hoping to start occasionally volunteering as a tandem captain for the Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program in the summer.