Black History Month: A Celebration of SAS Athletes - Carla Fisher

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“The club set out to do hill training at Pilot Mountain where the guys were climbing the mountain and the ladies planned to circle the hilly countryside around the mountain. We were climbing a long hill and I was the last cyclist in the back having gotten dropped mid-hill. In the distance, I hear a bunch of screaming, and while we normally try to call out road obstacles for safety, the yelling sounded far more urgent.  “HIT THE JETS!”, “DOG, DOG!” and one high-pitched, blood curdling, “GET AWAY FROM ME!” can be heard as I’m slowly cranking it up the hill and out of breath.  As I approach the top, I know I don’t have enough energy left to out-pedal a big ol’ country dog looking for some mid-day entertainment, so I turn around and go back down the hill until the owner came out, which only meant I had to climb that hill twice, and they all know how much I love hills. When we regrouped a few minutes later, we had a huge laugh and let our heart rates get back to normal. We now carry a little self-defense pepper spray whenever we’re pedaling out in the country!”

Meet Carla Fisher, Senior Test Engineer and an inspiring cyclist.  The first and only athlete of her family, Carla began gymnastics as a little girl.  She was climbing and flipping off furniture, so her mom gave her something productive to do with all that energy.  She’s also been short her whole life, topping out at 4’ 8” – more on this to come.  Gymnastics and cheerleading were a natural fit through high school and college.  After college, it became more difficult for Carla to stay active that is, until she found her love of cycling.

How did you get started in cycling?

“After I got married, I tried to find outdoor activities that my husband and I could do together and it’s not always fair because my husband is normal height.  He’s almost 6 feet.  We lived in California - it’s a very active state – and we bought some matching mountain bikes one year. Of course, my mountain bike was a kids’ bike with little kid wheels while his was an adult bike.  I didn’t enjoy it one bit because I couldn’t keep up with him, and it just seemed contradictory to the fun couple’s activity I envisioned.”

Today’s quite a different story.  How’d you get into road cycling?

“We were on vacation in Hawaii with another couple who are avid cyclists.  The wife asked, “Do you ride?”  No, I don’t really ride.  We have bikes we take out maybe three times a year.  “What kind of bikes do you have?”  Specialized mountain bikes.   “Oh, you need to get a road bike.”  Is it really that much fun?  Really?  Are you just pulling my leg?  That was July of 2014.

“I did a little online research of all the local bike shops to see who had the smallest bike in stock.  My husband already had a road bike, but he’d ride the mountain bike to be slower for me.  I hated that because I’m a very competitive person.  I found one in my size, and my wheels were the same size as his wheels.  I could mostly keep up.  And from that day on I was hooked.”

What about cycling events?

“In 2015, I signed up for my first charity ride, Le Tour de Femme.  I did not know a soul.  I just showed up with my bike.  I remember being at the starting line by myself surrounded by groups of women in matching jerseys.  Everyone was very friendly, but as I looked around, I noticed very few women of color.  My husband was waiting for me at the finish which ended at a Cary bike shop.  After I crossed the finish line, he said, “There’s a bike in there in your size.  They are selling it from their rental fleet.  It’s carbon and a lot lighter.  You’ve been riding that starter bike for a year and it’s time for you to upgrade.  I think you should try it.”  I had just ridden 30 miles and I didn’t want to test drive a bike.  I really wanted to go home and have a burger, and a nap! Luckily, the bike fit well, and it came home with me.  You know how cyclists are, we like to upgrade our bikes.”

Indeed.  We laughed for a bit and swapped more tales of bike upgrades.  It’s a running meme in both the cycling and triathlon communities about “new bike day” and upgrading.  Carla is currently on her 3rd upgrade, a sparkly purple bike she named Purple Reign.  Don’t let this stop you from cycling, though.

What equipment would you recommend for cycling?

“Of course, you need a bike, but it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or new.  One thing I wish I would have known when I started is that because cyclists are often upgrading their bikes, you can find quality used bikes at a steep discount.  In retrospect, I could have put the money from my starter bike towards a used bike with far better components.  The starter bike served me well, though, and helped me learn how to ride.  But don’t rule out purchasing a gently used bike.  You just need to find two wheels, hop on it, and pedal. 

“The next thing I’d recommend is a pair of padded shorts.  For the first month or so of riding, your butt’s going to hurt.  You’ll want a nice pair.  Eventually you’ll learn that you don’t want shorts with the super thick pad.  In the beginning, I stocked up on shorts with heavy padding and quickly realized that more padding for me was a no-no.”

“Most importantly, be sure to invest in a properly fitted helmet.  I’ve seen a lot of crashes and quite a few concussions.  The crashes may not be your fault.  That indecisive squirrel on the greenway has brought down several friends!” 

“It’s easy to get caught up in all the cycling gear – jerseys, shoes, electronics.  It can be an expensive sport and addicting.  You really just need a bike, helmet, padded shorts, and a pump.”

Do you ride with a team or club?

“As I started doing charity events, I met other like-minded women and discovered the club Black Girls Do Bike was building a local chapter.  I was a little more experienced than most of them, but I shared my knowledge and helped recruit and train beginner cyclists.  After a year or so, I wanted something more challenging, so I started riding with Team Flow, a mixed club, but mostly black male cyclists.  We started with 5 or 6 black women, with a goal of becoming stronger cyclists. A few of the men were incredibly supportive and they continue to train us for charity events during cycling season. 

“I found that I really enjoyed raising money for a cause. My first, Le Tour de Femme was near and dear to my heart because my sister had cancer.  I raised $1200 for that event, but it’s difficult to continually peg friends and family for money year after year.  These days, I select one event each year where I do a serious fundraising effort rather than all of them. 

“My first century (100 miles) was BikeMS in New Bern. It’s a beautiful route that is relatively flat.  My friends and I rode with Team on Draft (TOD), an amazing club.  At the pre-event dinner, they invited us to sign up with a pace group.  They just welcomed us in, which you don’t always get when you’re an outsider in a sport that is predominantly white.  We rode with them for the first 70 miles and then one of the girls I was riding with cramped up, so we fell off the pack. We were surprised to find the TOD ride leaders waiting at the finish to cheer us in.  It’s rare to find that kind of support and camaraderie with friends you’ve just met. That’s part of the joy of cycling.” 

I haven’t heard of Black Girls Do Bike.  Will you share a little more about that club?

“Cycling can be an intimidating sport, and it’s by and large dominated by white males. The goal of Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB) is to introduce more women, especially women of color, to cycling for fun, to improve health and stay fit.  As you know, there are a variety of health concerns prevalent in the African American community such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.  A couple of years ago, I had my physical and my A1C number was in the pre-diabetic range.  I knew I needed to take better care of my health and diet.  This club helps women stay active and fit and keep those health issues at bay in a non-intimidating environment."

Final question – What are the tips you’d give to a friend who’s interested in cycling?

“Find your ride tribe.  Find a group that you’re comfortable with, that’s willing to teach you and push you at the same time.  The support of a group makes it fun.  We always do birthday miles, and we have a tough hilly Sunday training ride affectionately called ‘No Funday Sunday’ where we commiserate together.  Find the people that encourage you and keep you accountable.  Try out several groups.”

I loved this advice as I think it can be easy to feel obligated to stay in one place because it’s where you got started, even when it’s time to move on to grow in your sport, or really, in life – your career or goals.

“Know that you might outgrow your group, and that’s ok, expected even.  With BGDB, I spent a lot of time teaching what I learned.  It was fun, but I wasn’t growing myself as a cyclist.  I began seeking out other local clubs.  You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn from fresh faces.  If you outgrow a group, that just means it’s time to welcome the next thing to push you on your journey.”

In the last year, COVID has shut down most large group events.  Carla has been riding with small groups of friends to stay active and keep cycling.  She typically likes to ride 1-2 centuries a year, and weekend rides are 40-60 miles.  It’s the group dynamic that she really enjoys as a cyclist and laughing with friends through those long miles.

“Cycling doesn’t feel like exercise to me.  You get to draft, you have to keep up with your paceline, and when it’s your turn to pull, you have to pull.  When I’m cycling, I never feel like it’s a chore.  It feels more like a childhood pleasure.  Maybe not when I’m climbing hills, but oh how I love that downhill {smile}.”

Carla and her core group of cycling friends jump in local rides with Major Taylor, Team Flow, Team on Draft, or Team CBC when they can fit it in.  Carla has some events lined up at the end of the year and is really looking forward to spinning through cycling season again.

It doesn’t take a bike to stay active!  Stay tuned to the final installation of our Black History Month: Celebrating SASletes series tomorrow as we talk with Ursula Polo, distance runner who got her start with a pair of sneakers.

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Check out April's story:  Black History Month: Celebrating SAS Athletes - April Purnell, Triathlete & Runner

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About Author

Amanda Pack

Sr. Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator

Amanda received her B.A. in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At SAS, she has shares her passion of wellness with SAS employees as a Senior Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator. When she’s not teaching others how to squat, chaturanga, and run or coaching expecting moms and Ironmen-to-be, you’ll find her exploring the outdoors with her husband, two sons, and schnoodle, cooking, propagating succulents, and training for endurance events. She’s a 2x IRONMAN finisher and multi-marathoner who loves to be on the trails or on her yoga mat! Amanda is registered through Yoga Alliance as an Experienced 200 hour Yoga Teacher (E-RYT200), certified in personal training and group exercise instruction through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), an IRONMAN Certified Coach and has training in prenatal yoga, Cosmic Kid's Yoga, and as a postpartum doula.

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