Little Bellas: Empowering Females Through Mountain Biking
International Women’s Day Featuring Little Bellas
On International Women's Day (and every day) we celebrate the incredible work of our partner, Little Bellas. An organization that is committed to creating opportunities for females to experience success using mountain biking as the pathway to personal growth. We are excited to continue our partnership since 2017 by supplying Little Bellas with hydration gear and help get more girls on mountain bikes!
We caught up with Kelsey Miller, founder of the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Little Bellas to hear about what inspires her as a woman in the mountain biking and Little Bellas community and the work she is doing to further drive empowerment.
What is your background and how did you get into mountain biking?
My name is Kelsey Miller, and I’m the Program Lead for the Bentonville, Arkansas Little Bellas. I’ve lived in Bentonville most of my life and rode my bike to friends’ houses, and enjoyed that childhood autonomy of getting myself somewhere, scrounging up change for ice cream, and finding little secret creeks around town, all on my bike!
At some point in Junior High, my friend and I found a trail by her house that we’d never noticed before and decided to go for it. Voila! We were mountain bikers! The main thing that I loved was getting to be outside with my friend, dipping our feet in creeks, and generally feeling really accomplished that we were doing something hard. Lots of sweaty smiles were (and still are!) had.
The part I love most about mountain biking (aside from riding with friends) is being able to see my personal growth. I remember seeing techy rocks or drops and jumps and thinking “Absolutely not”. That attitude eventually changed to “maybe someday…” and then to “that’s my favorite part of the trail!” My goal is to never forget what it was like to be a beginner because it’s so incredible to think about when I was afraid of certain features and now, I enjoy them—it’s a powerful metaphor!
What brought you to Little Bellas?
Working with younger people has always felt natural to me, and I think my brain and personality are frozen as 12-year-old Kelsey. I had found through other areas of my life that using my experiences to help others overcome or completely bypass obstacles that I’ve faced really gives me energy and fulfillment.
After applying and working with Little Bellas, we decided to start the Bentonville chapter which is now going into its fifth year. Being really invested in encouraging the next generation seemed like a great fit for me personally. We all wish that we had something like Little Bellas when we were growing up.
The more I learned about it, the more invested I was. Building strong relationships? A healthy outlook on food as fuel? Using mountain biking as a tool to build confidence? All while playing games and singing songs!? I literally can’t think of anything that I would want to be a part of more. I don’t know who loves helmet stickers more, me or an 8-year-old Little Bella.
How does Little Bellas support females?
I’d like to preface that when I say ‘girl’ or ‘woman’, I’m referring to anyone who identifies as female.
Little Bellas is magical. I really believe in the mentoring process through mountain biking to build a healthy relationship with fear, failure, and success. Even if our participants aren’t mountain biking when they’re 30, I believe that the experiences they had in Little Bellas will influence the way they think and the lifestyles they choose. A perceived failure at work can be something that can destroy confidence and dissuade someone from trying again. Fear can hold us all back from ever giving something a try.
In Little Bellas, we can take those moments and shrink them down to this scary root that I don’t think I can ride over. Trying it, maybe crashing or riding off the trail, getting back up, reassessing, maybe having a good cry, and then trying again! It may be a bit before I try again, or even longer until I succeed, but soon I’ll stop seeing the root altogether or will maybe try to jump it! I believe those building moments translate to a better awareness of what our bodies can do, let alone what our minds and spirits can.
The women who mentor are also not-so-secretly influenced by Little Bellas. When you’re a mentor and you’re talking about Food as Fuel or encouraging others through their fears, you start to reframe your own inner dialogue. Sometimes I find myself not talking to myself kindly and think “Would I let a Little Bella say this about herself? Absolutely not!” and then say five things I like about myself. It’s weirdly powerful to be surrounded by women who are all on the same page about encouragement and unrelenting kindness.
When the mentors are supportive and encouraging to each other, we hope to show that adults can have fun, laugh, be silly, as well as have real conversations and self-doubt. Little Bellas encourages everyone to show up as their authentic selves and never asks anyone to edit their personality. It’s one thing to say that you’d like to build up women, another altogether to actively work on it together.
How does Little Bellas empower you as a woman?
Little Bellas is the most special thing I’ve ever been a part of. I tend to exaggerate often in my life and language, but I always find myself at a bit of a loss when I try to convey how much I love this organization and its people. I say this as someone who tends to be rather cynical and contrarian.
To be able to be on a team of women who know what they want, listen to, and give constructive feedback, keep a firm grasp on the goal, and are relentless in getting there, is something that will forever change how I approach things in my life. These are women that I respect the most, women that I emulate and want to be like when I grow up (which may be never at this point).
The fact that they trust me to lead while being myself, see my strengths weaknesses, and still want me to be a peer blows my mind. I’m not kidding, there are many times a day when I ask WWMD (What Would Martha Do), and it’s really worked for me. To say I’m deeply humbled to be a part of this organization is an understatement.
What empowers you as a woman in the mountain biking community?
I realized quickly when I started riding bikes in general that it’s a great uniter. Riding side-by-side with people who are different than me is a great experience because we obviously have something in common already—we like to ride bikes!
We should all be well-familiar with it by now, but representation matters! I see my rad dude friends do a big drop and my knee-jerk thought is “Good for them!”. But then I see Gabbi or Ashley or Katherine do a big drop and my stomach kind of flops and I think, “Dang, now I have to try.” And wouldn’t you know it, it usually works out (because they tow me in). Being challenged by your true peers makes you realize you can do much more than you’d limited yourself to.
What are your hopes and dreams for Little Bellas as a Program Lead?
I know what Little Bellas has done for myself, my co-mentors, and the participants in my community. I haven’t met anyone who has been a part of this organization who wasn’t influenced by it, whether it's parents or people just riding by the coolest group of 8-year-olds they’ve ever seen.
Little Bellas has an uncontainable energy and enthusiasm that is contagious. The goal on paper is to grow more chapters in the area. The real goal is to have a ton of Little Bellas and mentors in the region and build a baseline of incredibly strong and confident women that change the landscape. Every girl should have the opportunity to ride her bike, but I’d love my region to have more girls and women who just go for it, whatever it is. I can’t think of anything better than being a part of something like that.
Any advice you want to share with females in the outdoor space, particularly mountain biking?
I once mentored a girl for a long time who would always say “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I think that mountain biking can be full of comparison which can really suck the fun out of it. I find myself thinking “She did that feature and I’m too scared to try. I must suck at mountain biking.” when in reality, someone else’s success is not my failure! This is something I’m always reminding myself of.
Learning to celebrate each other is key if we’re going to make it out of here together. I find when I’m comparing myself to others, whether I’m racing or just out for a social ride, I start to really resent myself and others. It’s a gross feeling. When I focus on what I can do and what my personal goals are, all while encouraging others in their goals and celebrating their wins, that’s where I find the joy. There’s room for everyone.
Want to get the kids outside and on the bike trail? Read our Tips for Getting Kids on Mountain Bikes—a collaboration with Little Bellas.