A Mission That Matters: Q&A with 2022 Masters Club of The Year, IAMICANIWILLIDO RACING

From ballerina hopeful to Club of the Year founder: Christine D'Ercole shares IAMICANIWILLIDO RACING's powerful origin story and why their mission matters.

Christine's Origin Story

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina.

But no matter how much I practiced - they never cast me in a role with a short tutu. They told me I was too big, my thighs were twice the size of all the other girls.

And so, I believed I should hide under longer skirts to cover those thighs in the second or third row, away from the spotlight. I believed I was too big to beautiful, to be in front, to be seen, to be lifted, to be loved

I turned to acting and thought this was the answer.

There are roles for every one of every size and type and age. And so, I auditioned for and got into a very fancy school, and I thought this must be a sign that I am on the right track. I happened to catch a glimpse of an audition sheet that said, ‘Loved her monologue, but she is a little heavy in the thigh’.

I wondered how it could be that I was not built for any of my dreams.

Yet I kept at it. I tried, again and again. I did everything in my power to whittle myself down to take up less space so that I could fit into someone else’s narrative

Broke in NYC in the early 90’s, I rode my bike instead of paying for the train, to get to my jobs and auditions all over the city. I rode in hopes that I would hear a different answer ,only to be told I was always too much of something. Too young, too old, too big, and finally I had too much. And I rode my bike home so hard and so fast that my two too-big legs hurt more than the ache in my heart.

And that was the only thing that felt good. So, I kept riding my bike. And I got a job riding my bike, as a messenger in NYC. I fell in love with the surprising speed with which I was able to deliver packages. I fell in love with the swimmingness and flyingness of cycling. I fell in love with getting out of the mirror and in to the world

And I thought I am really happy on my bike.

The bike messenger world was a whole underground community and everyone had a sort of super hero name. The dispatchers would call us on our walkie-talkies, ‘Speedy’, ‘Zippo’, ‘Monster’, and they called me “Legs”. I told them I did not like it.

And they asked, ‘But why? You’re so fast’.

And my thick legs were fast.

And they said, in fact, you should race!

And so I did. And I won. A lot.

And the thing I was ashamed of became a thing I am most proud of. And I thought, maybe I am built for something, just the way I am. Maybe this is what these thighs were built for, and maybe I don’t need to be tiny to be lifted because I am strong enough to lift myself.

And because of a bicycle, a new story started in my head about who I was and who I thought I could be.

And then I became a mother, to a beautiful baby girl, and I became bigger than I had ever been before. I comforted myself with knowing I had discovered the unexpected athlete within me, but now, I needed to fully embrace that I was a ‘big girl’ and thought to celebrate my big-ness, I would become a plus sized model.

I auditioned for a home shopping channel. They said, ‘We love your look, we love your walk, but you’re not quite big enough’. I was mighty confused.

They went on, ‘But if you wear these pads you can work the fall and winter seasons, just not spring and summer, because your arms will look too small, exposed in short sleeves, with the rest of you padded’.

I did it. For a year, I arranged these pads in an oversized pair of pantyhose over my bust, my butt, my belly, my back and thighs , taking me from a size 16 to a 22. And every time I went on set I had to stop for a mirror check, to make sure the outfit was buttoned right. I practiced posturing ‘proud’ to sell the ensemble I was dressed in.

By engaging the muscles that we squeeze to lift the chin and pull the shoulders back, the muscles that make us appear confident, over time, I believe, we can strengthen our proud muscles.

It seemed this unconscious exercise in psychological gesture gradually strengthened my mental and emotional musculature enough that a certain synapse finally had the strength to fire a connection in my brain and open a pathway, because one day, as I walked to the mirror, I heard my voice in my head, loud and clear. It made me do a double take and I stopped, eyes locked on my own in the mirror and I listened.

‘You’ve been missing the mark. You’ve spent your entire life chasing success based on others’ opinions of you. When you raced your bike, you won because of YOU and your decisions and your actions. On the racetrack no one cares how you look. What matters is what you DO.

There is no such thing as too big, too small, too loud or too quiet. There is no 'too much' of anything. You were built for something, exactly as you are. Go ride your bike and discover'.

I finished the day and walked away. I got back on my bike and over the next 20 years rode right out of that mirror and all the way to Gold at Masters World Championships and 13 Masters National medals titles and founded our team, IAMICANIWILLIDO RACING with the mission of bringing the empowering experience of cycling to as many lives as possible.

Women in particular are taught from a very early age that our worth is tied to our weight. We spend our lives trying to make ourselves smaller and take up less space. Cycling has empowered me to embrace my build and find my true strength. Cycling has given me a stage where I am able to empower others to see themselves differently and to realize that they are bigger than a smaller pair of pants.

I am driven to invite as many others as possible to experience the joy, freedom, peace and empowerment of the simple act of riding a bike.

What sets your club apart?

What sets us apart is our community. Jim Lyman, co-captain, Whitney DeSpain, team Organizer, and I work together to reduce barriers and create points of entry for riders of all ages and in all bodies. We facilitate and promote clinics and have a very “hands on your back’ philosophy of support for new riders. We sponsor premes for women’s nights in Trexlertown and sponsor all women’s race fees and prizes for a women’s day at Kissena Velodrome in conjunction with Affinity, in an effort to boost participation and rally excitement for our sport.

What do you feel are the best qualities of a standout club?

I believe a standout club has a clear mission and moves towards it, mindfully.

Our mission is to grow the sport overall and with a focus on the very niche discipline of Track cycling. Our club is a true community, focused on helping people overcome fears. Whether a rider is brand new or returning from an injury, we want everyone to feel they have a space here. Team organizer Whitney DeSpain works very hard to connect prospective riders from all over the country to more experienced riders in their areas. Everyone is incredibly supportive and positive. While the team is designed to be accessible to the newest riders who may never ride competitively, there are also riders in the club racing at the Elite level, like Emily Schelburg. We are not exclusive and there is no velvet rope. We also help facilitate support for the youth cycling organization, StarTrack, helping send athletes to major competitions including Junior Worlds.

What is your club’s focus for the upcoming year?

The desired outcome is for folks to try it and to have a positive and empowering experience doing so. Our focus is for the upcoming year is the same as last year- to facilitate connections. At Masters Nationals this past year, we had incredibly low attendance. In fact I was the only one in my age group registered. I met another experienced racer, Deb Milne, at Trexlertown Velodrome and asked her if she would register. I know I was inviting competition and that I had a very good chance of being beat by her, but we must get more people, especially more women, on the track. I was so grateful for Deb to join the event. I fought hard and am very proud of those silver medals.

At the same event, we were able to form a womens 35+ Pursuit team from women who may never have even met by speaking up and asking around.

Creating opportunities for riders to communicate and network with each other could do a lot to improve participation, especially at the Master’s level.

For the upcoming year, we hope to raise money to get a new scoreboard and a starting gate (or two) for Trexlertown Velodrome.

What advice do you have for a new club?

This depends on their goals. Our goals are to get more people on bikes and conquer fears and create moments that make folks proud. We focus on the community over competition. We focus on curiosity over judgment. We realize that winning is not always crossing the finish line first, sometimes winning is showing up. Sometimes showing up is gold.