Whatever the weather, if you’re a cyclist and it’s Sunday, all roads are likely to lead to an enclave of commercial department stores and office parks in Doral.
Located west of Miami International Airport and Norwegian Cruise Line headquarters, the area is filled with office parks and secluded streets that make it perfect for a “crit race” – a bike race with a specified number of laps on a closed track over public roads closed to normal traffic. And one recent Sunday, cyclist Sheerie Edwards saw an important milestone.
The setting was significant not only for her, but for her followers and the two other predominantly black cycling clubs that were there to see history being made.
Edwards, as the only black woman out of more than 40 female cyclists, was easily identified in the field, or group of riders, and was on the verge of getting her name written in the canon of cycling history makers. At 4 ′ 11 ″, the “pint-sized power plant” is considered a local giant in the sport. Her journey started during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Edwards, who graduated from Florida A&M University and the former Miss FAMU 2007, was at home recovering from surgery when the lockdown started in March last year. The avid gym goer, looking for a pandemic-safe workout, turned to an old mountain bike in his storage room.
“I needed to get back in shape,” Edwards said. “I could not even hold 10 to 15 minutes on that thing. I needed a way to stay active.”
After cycling around the neighborhood on the clunker, she decided to buy a much newer and lighter hybrid bike.
“I started building my stamina and joined a group of friends to ride,” she said. “Then I invited my Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters to ride together.”
Getting better and faster became her goal; Seeing cyclists pass by on their much lighter, sophisticated carbon road bikes was a motivation – and created a turning point.
“People walked past me on their road bikes, I mean just really fast! I thought, ‘What is this?'” Edwards said. “From that moment on, I researched and bought my first road bike in July, and the rest was history.”
After purchasing the new bike, the next step was to find a group of like-minded people to help her continue her cycling journey.
“I came across the Level Up Cycling Movement; they offer a ‘Tuesday workout’ specifically for beginners. And I knew I needed the basic road safety and bike basics that the class would provide. “
Level Up is a mix of pro- and master-level cyclists and cycling enthusiasts of color, Level Up was established to introduce cycling as a health benefit for minority communities while providing exposure to the sport.
“I met amazing people at the club, especially Luis Scott, who led Tuesday’s training trip,” Edwards said.
She faithfully attended all beginner courses, learning basics such as riding in a tempo line, how and when to change bike gears, cut and trim the pedals, and what types of bike equipment to buy, called “sets”. It was a lot to learn and invest in, but the returns came quickly. Soon the purpose summoned Edwards in addition to the beginner trips.
“I was asked to lead Level Up’s Tuesday morning ride called ‘Tuesday Jump Off’ at 6am, where the speeds are a sustained pace of 23 mph for 48 miles nonstop,” Edwards said.
She also started driving at higher speeds and driving several rides with other established groups for the rest of the shutdown.
“I wanted to ride with CTR (Century Towing Riders), and my confidence grew,” Edwards said. “CTR gave me the challenge I needed. They are known for fast group rides while driving distances of 23 to 100 miles per. session. It was definitely the missing piece I needed to lift myself. ”
It was as a member of the group, after improving his speed, strength and skills on technical group trips, that Edwards got his “pint-sized powerhouse”.
She remained committed to her training even after returning to work early this year. Participating in more and more group rides with other groups that were often male-dominated – she often found herself as the lone black woman riding among a sea of mostly white faces – improved her cycling skills. She eventually found her way to the Doral Criterium Race, but as a spectator.
At that time, there were no racial categories for women only; the only option was to compete in the men’s categories. But when a women’s race was finally established, Edwards was ready to take up the challenge.
“I knew it would be a tough task to show up in a bike race as the only black woman as a newer cyclist competing with women who have over 15 years of racing experience. I knew it would not be easy. Everything would be served directly, as to claim my place in the field and fight to keep it, ”she said.
Edwards spent three months training for the critic. The day saw her family, friends, sorority sisters and followers wearing T-shirts with “Pint-Sized Powerhouse” and standing in line to take pictures and give greetings as she moved to the starting line. Her presence was noticed.
“I got the look, of course, I felt it,” Edwards recalled. “The others drove with teams and knew each other while I drove independently. But I simply focused on the moment. ”
When the race started, she maneuvered herself immediately and aggressively for a decent place in the field so as not to be left behind, or what the cycling world calls “fell”. Shot after lap screamed benevolently and shouted “Let’s Go Sheerie!” The encouragement helped her enter the “Top 10 Finishers” list as a first-time racer, a rare achievement for a new cyclist in a field of experienced riders. Her performance that day led her to become a local ambassador for the Rapha Cycling Club, an advanced cycling lifestyle brand that sponsors the Tour De France cycling team Education Foundation and the leading cycling team Legion of Los Angeles, owned by the Williams brothers, two Black men from Compton , California. The affiliation is something of a coup.
“When I was asked, I thought, am I ready for this, will they accept me?” said Edwards. “In South Florida, cycling is white- and Latin-American-dominated. The Rapha representatives said to me, ‘We want you, we need you!’ [They’re] great on diversity, inclusion and greater equality. I am happy to be associated with a brand that is committed to the three points inside and outside of cycling, because representation matters. ”
Today, Edwards continues her rides – she is now also sponsored by Big Wheel Bicycles, a popular and long-standing local store – and has no plans to slow down. She finished the 2021 racing season in sixth place in her category, a great achievement for someone with less than a year of focused running training.
“I am willing to continue to share my story and share my journey to inspire other women and cyclists,” she said. “I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. We have amazing black professional cyclists who came before me, like Ayesha McGowan from Atlanta and Tenielle Campbell from Trinidad and Tobago. They are my inspiration. If I can bring exposure to others while I is on this journey, it’s good enough for me. ”
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