When Kathryn Bertine moved to Tucson in 1998, she had no idea she would eventually ignite a global movement that would result in women being included in the Tour de France.
Bertine moved to the Old Pueblo to pursue an MFA in creative writing at the University of Arizona. Having figure skated for most of her life, she needed a new athletic outlet when she moved to the desert. She joined the UA TriCats, a competitive triathlon sports club, and discovered her passion for cycling. From there, Bertine moved on to become a professional triathlete, an ESPN journalist, an Olympic hopeful and an activist.
In her new book, “STAND,” Bertine describes the struggles and triumphs she endured while working to eradicate the inequities of the professional cycling world.
When did you transition from being a professional cyclist to an activist?
That was actually something that began during my ESPN days when I was on assignment and started bike racing in 2007. For the next year and a half, it was all about the Olympic quest. I was very much focused on the performance side of cycling. But I was noticing the inequities that were happening — specifically the fact that women didn’t have access to the same races that men did. And when we did have access to those races, our distance was shorter. Our prize money was pennies on the dollar compared to what the pro-men were earning. These things didn’t make sense to me. It was about 2009 when I started thinking, maybe I can do some digging into this and use my journalism brain to try to find answers. Why is this sport so outdated and old fashioned and borderline sexist? What’s going on with how they’re treating women? That’s when I really started the journey of activism.
What do you hope people discover when they read STAND?
I hope anybody who reads STAND will come away with the knowledge that we are all capable of creating change. And when I say “all,” I mean those of us who are not famous or wealthy or Olympians or politicians or movie stars or Instagram celebrities. Too often, it’s people at a higher echelon of fame or wealth who are associated with change. But in reality, we are all a driving force for change.
In your book, you explore the question, “What really happens when we stand on the front lines of change?” What is your answer to that question?
If we are going to go on a mission to change a small part of the world, we have to understand our personal world will change along with it. I had to find that out the hard way. I thought, if I’m going to fight for women to have equal opportunities, all women will stand behind me. I was really shocked to find out how many women don’t want anything to change. In 2013, my team manager, who was a woman, didn’t want me to talk about equality. She didn’t want me to talk about the downside of the sport because she felt it would detract sponsors—that they only wanted to see women smiling and waving, and if somebody’s squawking about inequality that might cause the sponsors to leave. I can attest that it’s the opposite—more sponsors and businesses want to stay in the game when they can be part of something that’s authentic. Especially now, people are paying attention.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you were petitioning the ASO to include women in the Tour de France?
The biggest obstacle for us was how loud we had to get before anybody paid attention to us. Then, once we did catch the eye of ASO, we were also astounded by how many people didn’t truly understand what it was that we were fighting for. The majority of people who were ignorant thought that the women wanted to race against the men, and that kind of blew us away because we were not looking to race against the men. We were looking to have equal opportunity for women to have a race.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I do. I think we need to remind people what a feminist is. The definition of a feminist is someone who believes men and women are equal to one another as human beings. Feminism is something I would hope everybody will feel comfortable believing in at some point. But unfortunately, it has a very outdated, old school connotation.
“STAND: A memoir on activism. A manual for progress. What really happens when we stand on the front lines of change.” is available now on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and at local, independent bookstores.