The Women’s Field
A recent Thursday night had a maxed out women’s field. In the first time in the history of the NSC Velodrome there were enough women racing that it necessitated two separate fields to allow all to compete. Generally, the women’s field is one, with all categories bunched up to compete together. This tended to discourage new racers from competing as most of our regular female attendees were quite strong and regional, if not national, contenders. Lately, however, the field was put in with other men’s categories or cut outright due to the small number of racers. Last year it seemed as if women’s track racing was on its way out at the NSC.
Enter Koochella and the indomitable Anna Schwinn. Their kits are bold, loud and neon. They have an affinity for dinosaurs (specifically the triceratops). They’re far from the subdued, focused racing type—they’re fun and keep a positive, supportive attitude not just for their own teammates but set the tone for every competitor as well. They’ve gone from a handful of women last season to a full on invasion in only one off-season, but how did they get here?
Presented with the state of women’s racing up at her own local track, Anna wasted no time and started the hard work. Recruiting a number of exceptional young women with talent and the drive to compete, she banded them together under the Koochella moniker and began to build the women’s racing scene one kick-ass lady at a time. But Anna has done more than just build her own team, she provides a “base-camp” for everyone who is interested in racing at the NSC. You’ll see multiple different kits hanging out at the southern-part of the infield, the de facto Koochella homebase for Thursday’s events. With a designated snack person every Thursday from the team and support from their sponsors, Sunrise Cycles and All-City Cycles, it’s a welcome sight for many new racers.
I’ve been in many meetings where older racers try desperately to figure out a way to appeal to a younger audience and grow the sport they so love. I’ve heard everything, from advertising in newspapers to trying out “that new Tweeter thing.” But at the end of the day, if you want to get anyone to do anything, being a nice, positive human being with a vision is a good way to get that done. Anna Schwinn and Koochella are a shining example of what can be done by just shutting up and doing the work and I applaud her and her crew for that. It’s made our little wooden bowl a better place and I’m sure it will continue to for years ahead.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ANNA SCHWINN
Aaron Thomas Smith: Tell us a little about yourself. Who you are, what you do.
Anna Schwinn: I’m the Lead Engineer for All-City [Cycles] which is an important title because it doesn’t mean anything at all—I’m the only engineer at All-City. I like bikes. I like bikes a lot. They kind of run every aspect of my life. I decided to start [track] racing last year because somebody made some comment about how if I showed up there could be a women’s field and then the women who deserved to be able to race could race. I found something really offensive about that for some reason, and then I showed up and I saw that there were all of these awesome racers up here but they didn’t have a race. And the reason for that was purely because they were ladies.
ATS: Last year I remember there would be three ladies and races would be cancelled or fit into the men’s class, and now tonight there are enough to have two separate women’s fields?
AS: So we’re anticipating at least twenty-five women, realistically about twenty-eight. What’s really exciting about that is that I took two good representatives of our field [to other velodromes] and we did great. We are competitive with other more well-established fields—real racers. We don’t just have bodies, we have talented women.
ATS: Why Koochella? Where did the name come from?
AS: It was a Powderhorn 24 Team. Actually [it was] on my birthday in March and I basically pointed at these five really fast women at my party and said “You need to be on an awesome team. We need to have a women’s super team that can rival any team out there and we need to do Powderhorn better than anybody.” So we got matching bikes and we got tents and we got sponsorship. It was nuts. We showed up in these crazy kits and we were monsters for twenty-four hours. The crazy thing was that everyone was really stoked on us. For months afterwards I would be riding around in street clothes or whatever and people would know who I was. They would yell “Koochella” at me. The name was basically just a funny name that was really aggressively feminine and it should be. It should scream WOMEN.
ATS: Quite honestly I think you’ve been the driving force behind the women’s field. What’s the long con?
AS: Honestly, it’s tonight. We’ve maxed out the track. You remember, that was inconceivable last year. And we’re maxing it out with a genuinely talented field who wants to be here. These are ladies who are looking at racing cyclocross or road down the road and because they’re attached to this very positive entity. Look around—we’ve got this base-camp for ladies going on, both wearing and not wearing Koochella kits. This was inconceivable last year, it was completely inconceivable. I remember the first time this popped into my head last winter, I started counting up in my head all of the ladies and I was like “We could max this out, this could happen.” So that’s tonight. What’s really cool is we finally have enough women that we can Cat up a bunch of 4s and we’ve got seven or eight Cat 3 women hanging around, we could upgrade some to [Cat] 2s.
ATS: What’s the next goal? If we’ve made it, where now?
AS: I kind of joke about the five-year plan. But I’m looking ahead—track season—people are getting through track season for this season, I’m looking at ‘cross honestly. For the rest of track season I want to get the team to other velodromes. I’ve had some friends come to me and ask me how they can set up women’s track teams where they are. What’s the Kool-Aid that they need to serve to scoop up the ladies and where do they find them. I’m developing new teams for track, because I’ve done one. You’ve got this set of tools set up—you know what to do. You know the language to use, you know how to talk to people. Setting up development teams under my team’s umbrella and setting them up to find resources and structure, you know, get them set up like businesses so they can set up and be their own clubs next season. The goal isn’t to have this singular “chick entity” the goal is to create the chick community.