Last Friday evening, No Man’s Land Film Festival: Un-Define Feminine came through Bentonville. It was a full house at the Meteor Guitar Gallery and the air was charged with excitement and support. From the starting trailer, there were cheers and claps as some familiar local faces crossed the screen. Notably, Marly Blonsky was featured in her film All Bodies on Bikes. The festival showcased 7 films about women in the cycling community throughout the US. There were two main themes that showed up through all of the films: that was first, “representation” and second, finding a space to show up as one's full, authentic self. Whether mother, Black, fat, trans, or disabled, the phrase was “I never saw anyone who looked like me in this space” and so they made one. In A Space for All Brooke Goudy, a black cyclist from Colorado, talked about the way that she’s growing the BIPOC mountain bike community in Colorado and across the US. Sonya Looney opened up about her time navigating the pro cycling space as a pregnant woman and a mother in her film Benched. Marley was quoted in her film as saying, “Fat people, we’re done hiding!” And of course, there were women showing up and doing hard things just because they can, from putting on a women/trans/femme alley cat race in the middle of winter in Pittsburgh, to setting the women’s fastest known time on a self supported ride over the 750 mile Arizona Trail.
Halfway through the festival, Mojo’s own Becci Neal moderated a panel of three women working to improve representation in NWA. Jennifer Norris who didn’t start mountain biking until the age of 48, Olivia Barraza who started Latinas en Bici and was recently featured on Mojo’s Community Spotlight, and Marley Blonksy, who started All Bodies on Bikes (also recently featured on Mojo’s Community Spotlight). Marley spoke frankly about what it was like navigating the cycling world as a fat rider. When asked about the biggest barriers she and other fat cyclists face in biking, Marley stated: “It’s hard to be a part of the community when you don’t have access” including access to clothes that fit, bikes with weight limits below their size.”
All of the women were asked about ways they’ve overcome failure and Jennifer reminded us that our memories are terrible. “Take a photo of your ride,” she said, “Chances are you’ll look back on it and remember the blue sky or your laughing friends or the view from the top instead of your failure.” Olivia spoke of failure as a win for representation. Last fall she participated in the World Cup races in Fayetteville and was the last one in but it didn’t matter because she was there representing Latina women and showing young Latina girls and women that they belong in the sport.
Olivia also spoke of the way cycling helped her navigate the isolation she felt after moving to NWA, caring for her children, one of whom has special needs. She talked about how she found a sense of belonging through cycling and a connection with other people and community she was searching for. She started Latinas en Bici to bring that community to other Latinas in the area. She stated, “Those people who feel like we don’t have a home, a space, we don’t belong. You have a space and that’s Latinas en Bici.”
The best part of the evening was the way the community in NWA showed up for each other. There were those impromptu cheers in the middle of the films of course, but it was bigger than that. All three panelists praised the work the others are doing. Conversation among film goers centered on how to be good allies and what the local community can and should be doing differently. My favorite part of the evening, however, came when Olivia was humbly speaking about her need to raise funds to certify ride leaders for Latinas en Bici and as she finished, ready to pass the mic, Marley took it and frankly stated, “Ok friends, Olivia is being modest, Latinas en Bici needs us to show up for them and you can do that by donating to help get her ride leaders certified.” These women know that creating space for more representation only helps to improve the sport and everyone who participates in it.
Overall, the evening was as informative as it was inspiring. Bentonville is a growing metropolis with a culture built around cycling and as more and more people move here and the area diversifies, it becomes increasingly important to have these conversations about how we can show up for members of the community that have traditionally felt overlooked by the sport. One of the best ways to do that is listen to the voices from these communities and what they would like to see. No Man’s Land Film Festival did a great job of highlighting those voices both nationally and the one’s in our own community.
By Sarah Bodine