International Women’s Day: pros paving the way for girls

Mar 8, 2019, 09:56 AM

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we take a look at initiatives undertaken by two women pro cyclists who are creating opportunities for younger girls. American Lea Davison and Australian Caroline Buchanan are among an increasing number of women professionals investing in the future of their successors. Their message goes well beyond the cycling theme.

Lea Davison and Little Bellas

“At Little Bellas, we try to foster a growth mindset and create an environment where it’s okay to fail. Failing is part of sport and part of life, and once it is embraced, it’s very empowering.” Lea Davison

Lea Davison is a mountain biker and not just any mountain-biker. The two-time Olympian (7th at Rio 2016) and UCI World Championships silver medallist in 2016 started out in the sport with her sister Sabra. As the only women on a Junior development team in the USA, she quickly realised there was a gender imbalance, not only in her team but in races.

“There were not nearly as many junior women as junior men on the start line. Having been raised by feminist parents, we realised that this wasn’t right, and we wanted to change it.”

The sisters joined forces with like-minded athlete Angela Irvine and formed Little Bellas. Focusing on girls aged 7 to 16, the inaugural programme consisted of twelve Sunday sessions. That was in 2007. Nearly 12 years later, some 4500 girls – including those registered for 2019 – have signed up for Little Bellas which offers weekly sessions during the summer as well as multi-day camps led by an ever-growing network of women mentors.

“We want to empower girls through cycling,” explains Davison. “Sport, and in particular mountain biking, is such an impactful activity for girls. In mountain biking, you literally have to overcome obstacles, and this process looks the same for challenges in real life.

“At Little Bellas, we try to foster a growth mindset and create an environment where it’s okay to fail. Failing is part of sport and part of life, and once it is embraced, it’s very empowering.”

Davison cherishes her mentoring role which transforms her in the eyes of programme participants from an intimidating pro to a friend.


“Giving back in this capacity is the most important thing I will do with my cycling career. Racing my bike fast is such an awesome thing, but if I can positively impact girls and be a good role model, then I really feel successful.”

Caroline Buchanan Next Gen

“I 100% feel there has been a huge shift in support for women in sport, with events providing equal pay, and social medial and new main stream media providing positive information and updates on successful female role models.” Caroline Buchanan

Caroline Buchanan needs little introduction. With three BMX World titles and five mountain bike World titles to her name, the Australian go-getter has competed at the UCI World Championships in four disciplines: BMX Racing, mountain bike downhill, mountain bike four-cross and, most recently, BMX Freestyle.

And when she is not training or racing she is mentoring young girls.

Buchanan launched the Buchanan Next Gen initiative in 2014, and every year since then has sourced enough money to send between one and two girls to compete in the Challenge Classes of the UCI BMX World Championships. This year she has a new sponsor, strategic business solutions company Rubik3, on board for her initiative.

More than providing finance, Buchanan takes on a mentoring role for the promising young athletes.

“I wanted to give back to the sport that has taken me through an amazing journey to the highest level competing at the Olympic Games for Australia.  I love helping the girls to overcome adversity that is faced in male dominated sport and when aspiring to be the best in the world. Giving them the opportunities to compete on the world stage and gain the experience necessary to be champions of the future.”

Buchanan paved an incredibly successful career for herself in what have traditionally been male-dominated cycling disciplines. Since she started out, she has seen the change.

“I 100% feel there has been a huge shift in support for women in sport, with events providing equal pay, and social medial and new main stream media providing positive information and updates on successful female role models.”

She sees the progress as further motivation to continue striving to be “a bit of a modern-day super hero rebel who does things differently, breaks the mould, helps the future of women’s cycling women’s sport and women’s empowerment in general.”

Buchanan carries the empowerment theme beyond cycling, and recently published the first in a series of children’s books entitled Girls Can B, steering away from the fairy princess stereotype.

“It’s written for girls, but boys, there are no rules. So it’s for you too,” says the cyclist-cum-author from Down Under.