By: Sarah Molloy, TMA Operations Coordinator
Heather Sawtelle bought her first bike almost four years ago.
It wasn’t anything she would buy today—no gears, inexpensive—but at the time, she just wanted to try cycling on for size. A lifelong athlete, Heather used to run and play volleyball until her knees couldn’t hold out anymore. Her fiancé, a longtime cycler, suggested she try cycling. It had always been a passion of his, but she had stuck to running. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nowadays, Heather’s collection has grown to seven bikes, and she rides hundreds of miles a week. She’s a member of the InternationElles, a cycling group made up of ten women from around the world, riding to raise awareness for gender inequality in cycling. The male-dominated sport is tinged with sexism. Professional male cyclers get paid more than their female counterparts and often make inappropriate remarks about female cyclers’ bodies. And still, in 2020, only men can compete in the full Tour de France, 21 stages of racing. Heather wants to set an example for young female cyclers and show them that there’s a place for them in the cycling world.
This year was a big year for the InternationElles. In an alternate universe where COVID-19 didn’t happen, the group flew to France and rode the entirety of the Tour de France one day before the men do. In this universe, the pandemic forced the team to come up with a Plan B, but they were more than prepared. The team used their indoor cycling programs to ride the entire distance of the Tour de France, which is around 2000 miles. They rode it together as a team, relay-style, biking 24 hours a day for four days straight. Each team member rode in 2.5-hour increments, and everyone had to go as far as they could in that time. They even recreated the elevation of the Tour de France, about 29,000 feet, successfully completing the hardest endurance challenge in the world. The feat landed the team in the Hall of Fame.
Cycling is more than just a hobby for Heather. It bleeds into every facet of her life. Beyond her activism and impressive accolades, she simply enjoys being on a bike. She loves the freedom of cycling and feeling like a kid again with the wind in her hair. She can go anywhere on her bike, sometimes exploring the same roads but seeing them differently every time. She even credits cycling with helping her career. During the day, Heather leads TMA’s Goodyear Product Team. Cycling has given her extensive knowledge of tires that she might not have otherwise, ultimately helping the business. Cycling also helps her when she has a creative block and boosts her mood—something her colleagues appreciate, she jokes.
2020 was a milestone year for Heather, and 2021 is sure to be even bigger. Very few things are certain right now, but we know one thing: Heather is making a difference in the cycling community, impacting young women cyclers everywhere.
Listen to this podcast episode where Heather talks about her journey this year and the InternationElles in her own words. Continue to follow her journey on Instagram and the InternationElles on Instagram and Facebook.