When she was two years old, Cindy Sigler was involved in a really bad bike accident. She was t-boned at top speed and, until she got to Gainesville, she had not ridden a bike since.
Sigler, a plant genetics major at the University of Florida, discovered The Freewheel Project, a local non-profit bike collective and shop, through her roommate. Eager to overcome her fear of biking, Sigler decided to join the project’s weekly rides. But she found the co-ed ones unfulfilling.
“Some of my guy friends just get really competitive about riding,” she said. “Just how boys show off because they’re boys, so they’ll bike ahead.”
So Sigler decided to try the women’s rides. Though she’s only been on one, she found the ride to be empowering.
“It feels more like a teamwork kind-of-thing, like a little pod,” she said. “No one’s separated, we’re all just riding together.”
It was this feeling that Sigler described – empowerment – that led Ana Fajardo to create the Freewheel Project’s weekly women’s ride. It’s empowerment that comes from working together, whether it be the sweatiness of the Gainesville Roller Rebels, Alachua County’s first and only competitive women’s flat track roller derby league, or the scrappiness of the Florida Ultimate Elite Ladies, UF’s Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. “Pleasant,” as Sigler said, or aggressive, what unites all these women is the power of the relationships they build while learning to rely on their teammates and learning to trust themselves.
Chelsea Hetelson contributed to this report.
Photos by Sean Doolan.
Two members of the Gainesville Roller Rebels skate waiting for practice to begin. “Roller derby is a lot more inclusive of people of different body types, there’s kind of a space for everyone. Small people, tall, short, big, whatever size you are, you can play,” Chelsea “Slayer” Tobias sai...
Derby names are personally chosen by each player and are typically a play on words or a pop-culture reference.
A team member of the Roller Rebels gears up before practice. “It’s very empowering for people who do it,” said Katy “Feyd-Wratha” Lazarus. The Roller Rebels solely responsible for raising money, scheduling bouts, getting uniforms and running practice.
Gainesville Roller Rebels warm up around the track. “You need to be committed, during and outside of practice. You need to show up, you need to help out and you need to work hard. Anyone can play derby, but I think only dedicated people should be a part of it,” Rhea “Audrey Scorn” Begazo, sa...
The women’s bathroom sign inside the Alachua County Fairgrounds building where the Gainesville Roller Rebels practice. “It’s really empowering being a part of a sport that’s so female dominated, because there’s not a lot of space for that,” Tobias said.
Cecile Gotteland blocks Christina “Rosie D. Ribsplitter “ Cates during a practice. “Playing a women's sport, especially roller derby, has helped me to love and appreciate women from all walks of life and to really see the beauty and strength that each individual brings to the table,” Cates s...
Weekly women's ride bikers line up outside of The Freewheel Project before heading out. “I really like the empowerment that can happen among women,” Fajardo said. From left to right: Cindy Sigler, Amber Medina, Ana Farajado, Kristen Gaines and Nicole Davila.
Kristen Gaines, 20, screws on her front wheel. “[Anyone] wanting to build a relationship with their bike more, wanting to build more relationships with other people who like to be on their bikes and [are] in a relationship with bikes [should come out],” she said.
One of the bike mechanic stations in The Freewheel Project’s shop. For Gaines, an occasional woman’s ride participant, the community at the Project provides a reprieve from the sometimes male-dominated biking culture. “Women in any sort of male-dominated area just have more of a connection,”...
A bike leans against a work counter. It’s not just the ride that’s important to the people at The Freewheel Project, Sigler said, but the time spent working on their bikes.
“It’s my secret plan to get more badass lady friends who ride,” Farjado said. Since December 2015, The Freewheel Project has run a weekly women’s ride every Friday evening. The project was started by Farajado (center), who now serves as its leader and coordinator.
Flicking the disc past her opponent, Lucy Berman advances the play. This is her third year on FUEL, and she credits the all-woman team with teaching her to stand up for herself. “With these girls, we all have this common goal, and it makes this environment of pure positivity,” she said.
Leaping into the air, Peters catches the flying disc with a gator chomp. This is her second year on FUEL, which she joined after playing a couple pick-up Ultimate games. For her, the team is defined by its motto: relentless positivity.
Berman aims a disk down the field before tossing it. “[Ultimate] teaches women to stand up for themselves, because we call our own fouls,” Berman said, “It gives you a voice and teaches you to stand up for yourself and to communicate with other people in a stressful or intense situation.”
Members of the Florida Ultimate Elite Ladies, FUEL, stand together after a practice. From left to right, Lucy Berman, Lily Moline, and Harley Peters.