It's a cool Saturday morning in Marin and a bunch of lunatics, or rather Luna Chix, are pumping up their tires as they prepare for a mountain bike clinic with two-time National Downhill Champion, Marla Streb.
Team Luna Chix, an all-girls sports program dedicated to inspiring women to lead a healthy and active lifestyle, hosts clinics like this across the country. Ambassadors volunteer their time to help female athletes take their skills to the next level. In the process, they hope their enthusiasm for sports rubs off on their communities.
Although they joke about being lunatics, outsiders might agree. Colleen Wanty, a Luna Chix ambassador, is known in her neighborhood for biking everywhere: to the grocery store; to drop her kids off at school; even to the dry cleaners. "When I get dressed in the morning, I put on clothes I know I can ride in," Wanty says.
Marika Holmgren, a breast cancer survivor and Luna Chix ambassador, says biking got her through chemotherapy. "I wouldn't call myself a fanatical rider," she says. "But I was out there (on my bike) the day my doc gave me the OK."
Streb is no better at quelling the lunatic title. She once completed a race (and placed third) with a broken ankle. Addressing the clinic, she apologizes in advance for forgetting people's names. "I've had a lot of concussions," she laughs.
Things like this seem crazy to those who have not caught the mountain biking bug. Riding is what makes these women feel alive, but you don't have to race with a broken ankle to be a lunatic.
Athletes of all levels are gathered around Streb, anxious to soak in her secrets. Holding a newborn while her three-year-old daughter tugs on her leg, Streb jokes that she did her hair just for today. Everyone laughs and it quickly becomes clear that although she is a mountain biking champion, she is also a regular woman.
Team Luna Chix treats both pros and participants like old friends. That is one of the things rider Linda Wilder likes about mountain biking. "I show up by myself and all of a sudden I'm with my peeps," she says.
There are moms, wives, scientists, retired professional racers, women who have been riding for 16 years, and women who have only been riding for six months, but everyone gets equal attention. Streb, who has broken over 20 bones admits, "I wish there were clinics like this when I started riding." That might be what makes her such a great teacher.
Bonnie Phippen likes this clinic better than one she attended taught by a man: "He ignored me," she says. "Guys run over it once and expect you to get it; Marla breaks things down slowly."
Today Streb focuses on cornering, ascending, descending, and why a manual is more efficient than a bunny hop. Wanty smiles every time a light bulb goes off in the crowd.
"That's why I do this," she says. "I love seeing that look of recognition when a rider finally gets it."
It's not just about mountain biking though; money raised through these events is donated to the Breast Cancer Fund, a non-profit dedicated to identifying and eliminating preventable causes of the disease.
Holmgren jokes that she is the token cancer survivor in the group, but her real motivation on the Luna Chix team is working with women that don't think they can do it. Three weeks after finishing chemotherapy Holmgren completed a lap of a 24-hour mountain bike race. "I was bald, I had no eyebrows, and I was balling, she says." "If I can do that, anyone can learn to mountain bike."
Susan Miller, the newest member of the Bay Area Luna Chix team, has always been a proponent of philanthropic races but jumped at the chance to actually teach women to ride while supporting a good cause. Her enthusiasm is infectious: "I tell everybody," she says with a huge smile. "I tell people in the grocery store line; I'm a lunatic!"
To learn more about Team Luna Chix or to find an event near you go to http://teamlunachix.com/.