USA Cycling today launched a new "In Our Own Words" section of its website, providing a platform for athletes to write in the first person about issues that are important to them.
The first three submissions come from former pro Phil Gaimon, who discusses depression he suffered as an elite athlete; from cyclo-cross legend Katie Compton, who writes about her long path of dealing with mysterious leg pain throughout her career; and from an anonymous writer who reveals being sexually assaulted by her coach and discusses the pathway to reporting it.
"In Our Own Words is aimed at giving our members a way to speak candidly about issues that are important to them so that we can start having critical conversations and addressing common issues within our community,” Kelsey Erickson, SafeSport Director for USA Cycling, said in a statement sent to media.
“We are excited to provide a space for members to share their experiences, and we hope that this platform will evolve into place where our members can feel heard, recognized, supported and able to engage in productive dialogue on the important issues raised."
The opening piece from the anonymous contributor immediate jumps into the difficult and all-too-rarely discussed issue of sexual assault on athletes by coaches.
"Some people say it is healing to read or write about something traumatic, but the honest truth is that every time I try, my heart starts racing and I’m shaking from adrenaline.
"It didn’t used to be this way, there was a time when the memory of that day was packaged into a neat little box at the very edge of my brain. The memory was [relatively] easy to ignore, to pretend it didn’t happen or that it happened differently. That all changed when I reported my sexual assault.
"Everyone who experiences sexual misconduct will have a very different story, and I don’t claim to speak for the masses. My hope is that by sharing my story I might provide some insight on sexual assault and help educate other athletes."
The piece goes on to discuss the difficulty of accepting and reporting the assault, and how the SafeSport process treated her complaint.
Pro experiences with medical issues
Former road professional Phil Gaimon's submission revealed his bouts with depression and the benefits of asking for help when he needed it.
"Medication didn’t help me, but talking did," Gaimon writes. "It took me a few tries to fit the right therapist. Starting with Google, I just looked at who was nearby and had a PhD in psychology. She helped me develop healthy sleep routines, fight my anxiety, coping and communication strategies, was a great sounding board for ideas and feelings, and just provided general catharsis from someone you don’t feel bad unloading on.
"Weekly sessions taught me a lot and made me feel better. I didn’t choose a sports-specific therapist as I was looking to tackle mental issues more than performance ones, but a couple years of weekly sessions improved my racing performance, evolving into monthly sessions to keep me on track. After a few years, now I only see her when I have a major life trigger or an important decision to make."
Seventeen-time US cyclo-cross champion Katie Compton discusses her longtime battle with leg pain and describes how she finally discovered a solution provide topics for her first submission.
"It’s annoying that all my health issues were really that simple to fix, but I’m happy I finally figured out the root cause," she writes. "I’ve learned what my body can do and how I recover. I know that I don’t respond to training like most people, nor do I recover as well or as quickly. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to allow me to figure out what my body can do and how I can get the most out of it with quality workouts and dialing in my race schedule to suit my strengths."
USA Cycling President and CEO Rob DeMartini said the new platform is a way for the organisation to show its members that it supports them both on and off the bike.
"Whether that is through giving them a place to report violations through SafeSport, providing an arena to share their sentiments or simply showing up to their local bike race and feeling an overwhelming sense of community, we are working towards ensuring our members have a sense of belonging within USA Cycling," dDeMartini said.
"The launch of In Our Own Words is one of many steps we are taking towards creating an open and inclusive environment where every cyclist is welcome."