Guest Author, Kelly Catale
When I was a competitive runner in middle school and high school, I didn’t have a relatable, female athlete role model. Sure, Mia Hamm was a worldwide soccer icon, but she felt like a different species to me, an untouchable hero for all womankind rather than a normal human. Instead, the most accessible and relatable role model in my life was my dad, who wore through pairs of running shoes regularly and who I cheered for in many local 5K road races. I studied his behaviors and habits when it came to athletic routines, admiring him in the way a young child does when watching one of the most important adults in their life. I aimed to eat soupy oatmeal in the morning and a banana with a tall glass of water right before each run. I tried to beat him up our neighborhood hills and dreamed of one day being just as fast as him.
Unfortunately, I never talked to my dad about uncomfortable things while growing up. So, naturally, I didn’t seek guidance from him when I lost my period for months due to under-fueling, when I was feeling overweight compared to my extra thin competitors, or when I was so anxious about racing that I would regularly self-sabotage mid-race just to avoid failure at the end. My dad and I remained in comfortable territory discussing running shoes, race strategy, workouts, and pacing. If I’m honest, I didn’t know at the time that I needed a female athlete role model because I thought all the things I was experiencing in my life were normal for every runner.
Fast forward 15 years, and now I’m a professional endurance mountain bike racer with several years of elite racing experience. The movement modality has changed, but my love of endurance has stayed the same. Most notably since my teenage years, I now understand the true importance of being a healthy, whole athlete.
I have suffered through debilitating performance anxiety, depression, disordered eating, obsessive training, RED-S–which eventually led to a severe stress fracture in my femur–and most of the ailments that plague endurance athletes who take their craft seriously but don’t approach the sport in a sustainable way. From an average outsider’s perspective, it must be shocking that the relentless adversity I have faced didn’t cause me to quit on many occasions. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, my stubbornness borders on stupidity. If it weren’t for my near insane inability to give up, my fate in sports would be very similar to most of my teenage peers, and the majority of teenage girls.
As a teenager, and then as a young twenty-something, I was just barely surviving in sport. It’s painful to think about all the girls that didn’t or couldn’t push through the adversity, that gave up because they didn't have the knowledge, resources, or role models to show them what sport could look like for a female athlete if pursued in a sustainable way with healthy, realistic expectations.
This is exactly why I founded KellCat Devo.
KellCat Devo is an all female junior development mountain bike team focused on sustainable personal growth in a safe and healthy environment. The goal is to develop high performing female student athletes by giving them access to resources that could make the difference between staying or leaving sports. This includes providing the kind of mentorship I didn’t have – but desperately needed – when I was a teenager.
KellCat Devo’s foundation is based on strong mental health, physical health, and overall wellness. As sports psychologist Dr. Kristin Keim says “happy racers go faster”, so we believe in creating a safe space for learning, failing, and growing together. This includes me. As the team manager and mentor, I am constantly sharing my experiences–both good and bad–and working through challenges openly and honestly. Authentic conversation about uncomfortable topics is starting to become more common in our team gatherings, along with discussions of our goals, workouts, and favorite ride snacks. My personal goal is to be vulnerable while still being a leader and chasing my own athletic dreams.
As I look to the future of this program, I want the KellCat Devo girls to believe they are worthy of a future that includes love for sport. I want them to know that self worth comes from within. And I want them to see a bit of themselves when they look at me – a human who makes mistakes but has still been able to achieve great things.
In turn, I want young girls to look at my KellCat Devo teammates and see a bit of themselves in the Devo girls. In a culture full of barriers and unfair truths, I want young girls to see an achievable goal – a team full of healthy, strong athletes who also happen to be female. I want young girls to know there is a future worth pushing through adversity for, rather than succumbing to it.
This is just the beginning, of course. I’m a dreamer, so I have big goals for the future and countless ideas for how to make mountain bike racing more accessible, sustainable, and welcoming for young girls. With a little KellCourage, I know this program is going to change the future of girls in sport within New England and beyond.
Kelly Catale is a US National Team member for marathon MTB racing who uses her professional athlete platform for mental health advocacy. KellCat Devo is a Massachusetts 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in January 2023. Visit https://teamkellcat.com/about-team-kellcat-devo to learn more about the KellCat Devo program.