“As humans, our bodies are meant to move, we’re not meant to be sedentary. But it also doesn’t matter what size you are — everybody is meant to move,” Marley Blonsky, All Bodies on Bikes
KATE MADDEN IS AN ATHLETE. This statement might not seem revolutionary, but rediscovering this truth has changed the way she looks at her bike, her body and her life.
Kate started mountain biking in 2018 because it looked fun. Friends Scot and Tracey Banks helped her find her first bike, a Kona hardtail, and encouraged her to find her joy and ride at her pace. Then, in fall 2021, separation from her husband prompted a desire to be more active. When a friend told her about Roam Fest, an all-female mountain bike festival, she decided to give it a try. This Fruita festival celebrates women, focusing on the underrepresented populations in the sport, including trans, queer, BIPOC and large-bodied athletes. That last group spoke volumes to her.
Kate lives in a bigger body. And although she’s been athletic for much of her life — rugby, soccer, basketball, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing — she gained weight with life and motherhood. She said, “While I always felt like I was still an athlete, people didn’t treat me like that because I’m a bigger person. I’m 6 feet tall. Even if I’m skinny, I’m still a big person.”
Festival evenings included film screenings and panel discussions. One of these films, Shimano’s “All Bodies on Bikes,” follows bikers Kailey Kornhauser and Marley Blonsky as they ride the Corvalis to the Sea Trail in Oregon. These women, both self-proclaimed fat bikers, founded the nonprofit All Bodies on Bikes. Their mission is to “envision a world where anyone, regardless of body size, weight or perceived fitness level, can safely enjoy a bike ride in a way that is joyful to them.”
The film planted the first seed of change in Kate’s mind. “Watching this film,” she said, “I felt seen. It started me thinking: I can be an athlete and be my size.”
The next night, Kornhauser discussed her experiences as a large woman on a bike. Kate said, “I realized how much I resented being told I’m not enough because of my size.” This epiphany prompted an emotional reckoning and lit a fire in Kate.
This fire led her to apply for a program sponsored by ABOB. The program sends 15 non-traditional athletes to SBT GRVL, a gravel bike race set in Steamboat Springs on August 14. The application requirements included a video, something Kate found very challenging, partially because it required her to discuss her current situation in such detail: mother of two boys, one of whom is autistic; separated, in the process of divorce; middle school teacher in the midst of a pandemic; a big-bodied woman who gained weight. Telling this story took her miles out of her comfort zone but it also won her a spot on the team. ABOB selected her to race in Steamboat.
This changed everything. The fact that someone else had faith in her despite her body size changed her mindset around her abilities. “70 people applied and didn’t get in, and I did.” As she spoke, the importance of this moment felt palpable. “Somebody sees something in me that’s worth elevating. Somebody else having faith in me independent of my body size means it’s not just me telling me I’m okay to do these things.” This external affirmation, the importance of being chosen, pushed her to believe in herself. “I’m not crazy … I do have something to give. I guess now I need to do this and not only for myself.”
When Kate applied, she’d never even heard of gravel biking (which, in case you haven’t either, is a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike, meant for dirt roads and smooth trails). Now, she’s a sponsored athlete on a team of 15. This group, which meets monthly via Zoom, has become incredibly important to Kate and her progression as a biker. So much so that she applied to another biking organization, Distance to Empty, made up of individuals who strive to overcome challenges and push through when they feel the tank is empty. DTE provides the four riders on the team free entry to six additional gravel rides in Colorado, plus the support to continue to pursue their cycling interests and goals.
And this is how a woman who had never ridden more than 12 miles on a bike before October joined two teams and entered seven races in a sport she just discovered. In reflection, Kate marveled, “A year ago, I’d never heard of gravel racing and now it’s changing my life.”
At the time of our interview, Kate had ridden the Co2uT Desert Gravel in Fruita and the Wild Horse Gravel in DeBeque. While Co2uT canceled due to rain and flooding, Kate didn’t give up. She and her DTE crew rode to the Utah border, taking an accidental alternative route, that tacked on an additional 15 miles to the 30-mile course. It was Kate’s longest ride ever.
The Wild Horse Gravel course covered 30 miles, with riders climbing to 7,000 feet and facing a 21% grade.
The change these experiences have brought to Kate’s life goes beyond the bike; she now uses them as a teaching point in her classroom. She said, “My students look at me everyday, so they have a different image of me than I have of myself. They see that heavier person.” After Wild Horse, she wore her race jersey to school and showed her students the course profiles and pictures of her finishing. She told them, “If I can do this hard thing, you can do hard things, too.”
She also showed them a picture of her at the end of the course with Camden Gillis, a former student. He’d finished 14th in the race and waited for her. The circle had come back around.
Kate reported all sorts of people from the community reaching out to her with stories of how she has inspired them. “It’s more than just my mom,” she said with a laugh. Which seems appropriate because, in the end, this story is truly an endless loop of women inspiring women through bike riding. And while that might seem simple, it has clearly helped Kate make very real changes that matter in the grand scheme. “When you’re struggling with self image or depression, it’s so easy to get bogged down and say, ‘I can’t do this. It’s too hard.’ Part of this for me has been, ‘You can do this. You have something to share. You are worth the effort.’ That has been a wind in my sails again.”
As we talked, Kate found a quote from Brooke Goudy, co-leader of the Denver chapter of Black Girls Do Bike. It encapsulates Kate’s feeling that joyful movement on her bike is what matters: “It ain’t that bad at the back of the pack. We are just ordinary folks taking on extraordinary adventures and showing everyone at home that we have a place here, too.”
Kate has five upcoming races between July and October. She is currently considering an entry in the Salida 76 in October too. Keep up with Kate and her adventures on
Lisa Ledwith wants to bike more after spending time with Kate. She lives and loves in Salida. This article is sponsored by Mark Zander and Leslie Champ.