This gravel cyclist is on a mission to get women into cycling
Noun: Crystal Kovacs
hometown: Bloomington, Wisconsin
works: E-Commerce Manager/Athlete and Team Manager at Eliel Cycling
Cycling time: 7 years
The reason for cycling: While our kids were growing up, my husband and I wanted to get involved in a sport with them. Cycling allowed us to be in the action with them versus standing on the sidelines encouraging them.
In a way, life got in the way of my being fit. I grew up riding horses in the mountains with my family every summer. We’ll leave the world behind for 30 days and go explore. I was fit and loved nature. I also knew I loved finding new places to explore.
When our kids got older, my husband and I wanted to ride bikes with them. In 2015, he asked me to buy any bike I wanted if I was going to ride it. The most precious words I said that year were: “I think I want to try a fat bike.”
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The fat bike was confidence-inspiring. If you pedal, you go – and we go Everywhere. We now have a way that we can be in the ring, play and ride with the kids versus just standing on the cheering side.
Cycling quickly led me back to my roots, and my cycling journey began. Our family knew we loved riding in the dirt! Cycling was a way for me to take my family back to the places I explored as a kid. The mountains and national forests were our playgrounds.
For two weeks each summer, we spent time with the kids on the rides. Our cell phones didn’t work, we only had each other to talk, and suddenly our family became a tighter group. The world literally melted away. Life became simple on those trips.
And one day on social media, in 2018, I saw a dirty sweater (now called Unbound gravel) and Land Run (now called mid south) races. I had no idea people would ride gravel that way, in the mud, and have fun. I didn’t know what all this meant, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Gravel quickly became my second love on the bike and the evolution really started to ride my bike.
As all things evolve, so has my involvement in the cycling world. I wanted to show other women that they could find freedom again on the bike.
Since I found cycling, it has changed my life in every way. I once got involved in the horse show world as a photographer, but now I’m the e-commerce manager at Eliel Cycling. I am very excited to help break down the barriers to women entering the sport.
Since I started cycling, I have had the honor to be a supported athlete for the Salsa and Shimano leagues. I am currently a member of the Shimano Gravel Alliance. I also had opportunities to ride in amazing places, like Kenya.
To help improve my bike, I’ve had a trainer for the past six years. I’m really busy at work and the coach has helped me stay focused and stay committed even when I’m lacking in motivation.
Events motivate me every day. There are athletes at events who inspire me. I know the pointed end of the pack is where the media is, but the back is where the real stories happen. The people in the back of the group don’t have a party, they work hard to achieve goals that seem unattainable to them. They work every day to make this goal something they can achieve.
My husband Nick and I wanted to start a company where we could break down perceived barriers to women entering cycling. This is how Company Nomadic Adventure Born in 2021. The goal was to take women on an adventure outside their comfort zone, keep them there until they feel comfortable, and then help them grow again. The growth and strength the women found was amazing! I smile every time I think of it. When you can take out five to eight women on an adventure as strangers and return as friends, you’ve won.
Women are often giving by nature. We give to everyone except ourselves. My goal is to help women see that giving to themselves is the best gift ever. I am not a lady of small stature. Everyone knows someone who was fit once not now, and everyone can deal with the life that gets in their way. When I first started cycling, I had never seen anyone like me in advertisements—nothing. My goal was to change that.
I want people to be able to see me and see themselves. I want them to know that everyone can do it. The more people we cycle, the healthier we will be – both mentally and physically.
Cycling was also what helped me get over the grief. I lost my mom in a fatal car accident this year. There was no goodbye or “I love you”. she’s gone Time stopped and then staggered around. Suddenly, we were the family that lost someone, and I was the backbone. My bike has become my friend. When I couldn’t sleep, I rode. When I couldn’t talk, I rode. And when I just wanted to ride slowly, I did too. I didn’t take my GPS unit and didn’t track my time; I just rode my bike. My bike has been my best friend and ally during this time, and I am so grateful for cycling.
I’m starting to look forward to 2023 now. While we’re at it, we’re taking time to pause, align schedules, and find what works best for my workload at Eliel, Nomadic Adventure, and my life at home. I prepare it by taking it by quarters.
I hope to run the 50km in March in the mid-south and then ride the 50m the next day. I’m turning 50 the next year and this somehow seemed appropriate. I would also like to ride Best last tripAnd the SBT GRVLand the Round split path. I am also going to spirit world 100 Next year though, no matter what!
At the end of the day, cycling is my way to be the real me. There’s no hiding behind the facades on a 100-mile journey. Filters come and reality begins. For me, those days are the best ever. Life gets easy – all you have to do is eat, drink, and pedal. You left out any of those three and you DNF. Simply.
I’m grateful that cycling gave me a way to spend quality time with our boys growing up, and made me a better mother. It gave me an outlet to let my mind go, but I was still able to spend time with the kids.
Cycling also gives me time with my husband. We’ve taken cycling trips all over the US, met friends we wouldn’t have met any other way, and spent time in places a car can’t go. Waking up with your husband in Canyonlands National Park and the bikes parked outside the tent is a real feeling to me.
Cycling is freedom for me. Freedom to pound the hill out of laughter, freedom to ride in the rain and blast, and freedom to walk slowly. Cycling also helped me lose weight. I struggled to maintain less weight, and through cycling I found fitness. Yes, I doubt it on the occasions when I’m the biggest girl in the pictures, but I know I’m working hard to improve myself!
My advice is to do what you feel comfortable with. If you’re at an event and do the shortest run, don’t say, “I’m just doing an x distance.” you do that! Don’t underestimate your efforts.
Sometimes success lies in the journey, sometimes it lies in preparation, sometimes it lies in the moment. I’ve found success in all three places. I have completely reinvented myself ever since I found cycling. She has gone from a very successful photography career to an equally successful career in the cycling world. You are not a tree. If you don’t like where you are, change it.
These three tips made my cycling journey a success:
1. Focus on you
Don’t listen to what the world says you can or can’t do.
2. Practicing positive self-talk
Do Not Talk to yourself any way you wouldn’t talk to your best friend.
3. keep going
When you think your gas tank is empty, you still have 40% of it. You are enough and stronger than you know!
Crystal gear must be purchased
→ Warbird salsa: This is my favorite all-day gravel bike. My Warbird was with me from Utah to Africa. We explored the thorny gravel and the monorail together. The bike is more capable than I am now, but still a lot of fun.
→ Shimano GRX العجلات Wheel Set: These wheels are amazing! Light, smart and quick to share. I’ve had these wheels in some pretty shallow places and they performed flawlessly.
→ Lazer Strada Kineticore Helmet: Everyone needs to keep their heads secure. My Kineticore helmet is light, breathes well, and is five star rated!
→ Eliel El Capitan bib shorts: I rode across Kenya without a single saddle getting hurt. This pair of bibs have the perfect compression – and you forget you’re wearing them and they look great!
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Emily Schaeffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.
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