Enter to win a replica of Jolanda's 'First Light' Supercaliber, and help the Grow Cycling Foundation create more opportunity in cycling
Jolanda Neff found her calling in cycling. That’s clear just by glancing at her pile of wins and podiums, including an elite cross country mountain biking world championship and an Olympic gold medal. But, as she explained to Grow Cycling Foundation founder Eliot Jackson below, she didn’t start a career in racing because she wanted accolades, but because it gave her access to unique people and experiences.
“I meet people from all over the world, I get to travel the world,” Neff said. “Of course if you win the Olympics, that’s fantastic, but the lifestyle matters more.”
Jackson started Grow in 2020 to give education, access and opportunities to people who have long been underrepresented in the cycling industry. Grow’s first major initiative is raising $1.2 million to build a pump track in Inglewood, Calif., a predominantly Hispanic and Black city in Los Angeles County that lacks the cycling infrastructure that can help stoke lifelong passion for the sport.
Neff wants riders to have the same chance at a fulfilling life through cycling that she has had. That’s why she’s giving Grow a replica of her “First Light” Supercaliber in a sweepstakes that will raise money for the pump track. Donations can be made for entries beginning Friday, Oct. 15. Click here to enter!
Neff was introduced to mountain biking through her parents as she was growing up in Switzerland. They later started a weekly training ride that other neighborhood kids joined, creating a small community of riders that eventually became friends.
Jackson, likewise, was able to create a strong connection to cycling at a young age. He and his friends started mountain biking together as teenagers after predominantly riding BMX. He was fortunate to make connections who helped him turn mountain biking into a career that has spanned elite downhill racing, live commentary and, now, advocacy.
“I always think about how serendipitous it was that if I wouldn’t have met someone, I never would have been riding a mountain bike because nobody else in my community was,” Jackson told the Trek Race Shop.
Jackson believes that a pump track can help Inglewood adopt cycling in a way that suits the community. It’s more than a place to ride; the track can be a place where community members gather for events, or for experienced cyclists to exchange knowledge with up-and-comers. Jackson also hopes that the new venue can eventually host the Pump Track World Championships
“It’s not so much about saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to bring in a bunch of big bike companies.’ We want to have music and food and make it a fun event,” Jackson said. “It’s really about trying to understand a specific community’s culture, and then give them tools and empower them to use the bike in the way that they would want to use it.”
It's really about trying to understand a specific community's culture, and then give them tools and empower them to use the bike in the way that they would want to use it.
- Eliot Jackson
Grow is also creating school programs that promote cycling, giving kids knowledge that they can take home to parents, who then can enable their children’s passion for the sport.
“We’re always thinking about what is that pathway, how can we expand knowledge, how can we give people an understanding of the opportunities that exist in cycling,” Jackson said. “It can be just a transportation tool to the store, but it can also be a career. You can be a World Cup racer, you can be an Olympic champion. Or you can be a programmer. All of these things exist in the cycling world.”
Neff is particularly grateful for the knowledge she has gleaned from the sport. In particular, how cycling has helped her lead a healthy lifestyle — like good eating, sleeping and recovery habits — and how being active has brought her joy.
“I realized, ‘Wow, you have so many opportunities in life, and you can do this and that, and life feels good when you’re active and move,’ Neff said. “That’s something that cycling gave me, that whole access to that world.”
Along with Neff, women’s freestyle icon Casey Brown has also been a strong ambassador for Grow. Last March, she announced that she’d be donating her winnings from a custom competition Trek Session celebrating diversity to the foundation, then auctioning it off at the end of the season.
According to Jackson, Neff and Brown have been great representatives for Grow because their enthusiasm is genuine. Jackson didn’t have to pitch them to help the foundation. They heard about its mission and immediately devised ways to help.
“I love that both of these have been initiated by the athlete, where Casey was like, ‘Hey I had this idea,’ and Jolanda is like, ‘Oh, I would love to do something around this bike,'” Jackson said. “And that’s kind of how we think about it, not just for the athletes, but for everyone. It’s an opt-in thing.”
I realized, 'Wow, you have so many opportunities in life, and you can do this and that, and life feels good when you're active and move.'
- Jolanda Neff
Grow is based on the idea that if you empower people to build their communities with safe and feasible access to cycling, and encourage them to bring their own unique culture to it, the joy of riding will sell itself. And if there’s joy, then there is also hunger to explore the boundless opportunities within the industry.
Everyone’s story within cycling is different, but they all needed access and opportunity to get started. Decorated riders like Neff and Brown know that as well as anyone, and they’re helping Jackson and Grow make cycling a more robust and diverse ecosystem, so that even more people can experience the happiness they’ve found.