This is Kelli Samuelson–aspiring to be a professional cyclist soon (Go Kelli!) and custom painting Ritte Bikes when off the bike. As a brutally inspiring role model in women’s cycling, she is running the Ritte Women’s Team and plays an active part in the Women’s Cycling Association (WCA). We met her together with her partner Ty Hathaway on a beautiful sunny day in March in L.A. for a ride up Angeles Crest.
Le Rouleur lent: You told me you did ballet dancing when you were younger–how come you decided to pursue cycling to one day become a pro cyclist?
Kelli: I never really saw myself as a professional dancer when it came time to decide to continue dancing or to get a real job and go to school. I was always creative so I decided to go into doing hair, when I found cycling in my early 20’s it was purely a hobby. After getting hit by a car on my commute to work one day something switched and I wanted to be stronger, faster, better. I entered a fun street race and caught the bug to start racing. When I found Ritte and was on a team with such supportive and encouraging teammates I wanted to push myself harder to see how far I can make it. I’m still pushing and my dream is to be a professional one-day.
LRL: What does it mean to become a pro cyclist? Can there be something like a work-life balance? In terms of: what happens when your life becomes work and work becomes life?
Kelli: Right now it means everything, it means that all my hard work, sacrifice and determination will have paid off. Don’t’ get me wrong those things don’t stop once you make it. I think there is a balance at least at the level I am at currently. I view racing as a job already, maybe its because I run my team and know that even at a development level, if you want to make it you have to make it a top priority. We all have to support ourselves and so work is necessary and I’m lucky enough to work in the industry I love.
LRL: You founded and are running the Ritte Women’s Team–how come? How did you find your teammates?
Kelli: In our first year we were a bunch of girls on different teams coming together and working together at races, I had a few sponsors from street racing and another girl had a few contacts as well. So we decided to start and run our own team. It’s not as easy as it sounds and is a job all in its own, but I love these girls and would do anything for them. Running the team is a labor of love.
LRL: How would you define your own and very realistic job description for becoming a pro, e.g. a team leader, logistics expert, breadwinning etc.?
Kelli: I think I’m part all of those things. as I move up in cycling I see other professional riders who have been doing this all their lives, never having to get their own sponsors, their job is to train and race their bike. For me the experience of running my team has offered me a different look on becoming a pro rider. One I would cherish and give 110% into any task given to me. I know how hard it is to run a team.
LRL: Women’s Pro Cycling is still not as financially funded and sponsored as men’s. How does that influence your personal situation now and your future plans of becoming a pro?
Kelli: This year I was determined to get my hands dirty and really be a part of the movement that is women’s cycling. When I was offered the chance to show what I could do in terms of supporting and creating an event to help spread the word for the WCA (Women’s Cycling Association) I jumped at it and went head first into it. My love for this sport doesn’t stop with my own dreams, it continues on to help make it just a little bit easier for other women and girls just starting. The Ritte Women’s Team is a fully self- supported team meaning we have no financial sponsors. It can make it very hard to travel to important races and pay registration fees. So working with the WCA to raise awareness of this issue (we aren’t the only team like this) is something very important to me.
LRL: When did you decide to aim at taking part in the Olympics in 2020?
Kelli: After my first half year of racing in sanctioned races, I was sitting at the velodrome with my teammate and we were talking about the future, I’ve always been an athlete and growing up a dancer I was always pissed that dancing wasn’t an Olympic sport. After that day I decided that that was my goal, I was either going to make it or die trying. There are many days I want to give up, many mental hurdles to jump over. But at the end of the day I want it.
LRL: What is your role in the WCA (Women’s Cycling Association)? Can you explain briefly what WCA stands for?
Kelli: So I guess you could say technically I’m the Southern California liaison for the WCA. The Women’s Cycling Association supports the growth of Women’s Cycling worldwide by advancing policies with governing bodies and creating opportunities to develop new riders and grow the sport.
LRL: You have organized a couple of women’s rides in the past. What is your agenda as a cyclist?
Kelli: I have, I guess organizing is something I’m good at. I like to do these events and see the faces of women who may have never ridden that far, or never gone up a big hill and seeing their sense of accomplishment is so refreshing. And working with my mentors and women I look up to is an opportunity like no other. I want to be a cyclist that is a positive role model for others. For me coming from a street racing back ground I have a following of young girls that look up to me and I want them to see that this is a community of supportive women and not something to be intimidated by.
LRL: How do you get other women into cycling? What do you tell them?
Kelli: I tell them to take a chance. I’m also very honest with them and up front about the hard work and dedication it takes. But it’s so much fun and having fun and challenging yourself is worth it.
LRL: It makes such a huge difference to experience a city you are visiting, when a local shows you their favorite spots – will you share your favorite route in LA with us? Is it a fun ride or a do you also use that one to train?
Kelli: I think my favorite ride would be the one I took you on. I’m from Idaho so I like being in the mountains and wilderness. Living in LA can get a little claustrophobic at times, so being able to ride up the 2 Highway and escape the city for hours on end is perfect for me.
LRL: Why is cycling so damn addictive?
Kelli: I don’t know! If you find out let me know.
Photos: Chris Milliman, Andrea Schiliro, Nick Kova, Jesse Carmody, Le Rouleur lent