Daphne Karagianis on the Homestretch Foundation (Part 2)
Beyond our shared love of cycling, one thing that The Meteor/Intelligentsia rider Daphne Karagianis and I hold close to our hearts is the Homestretch Foundation. After an engaging discussion of the Chicago cycling scene, the Intelligentsia Cup, and Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling (see Part 1), we took some time to dive a little deeper into the Homestretch. Here are the highlights from our conversation.
Nathan (N): There’s so much going on in women’s cycling right now, maybe you’d even call it a renaissance. The US, in particular, seems to have some of the best female cyclists outside of the World Tour. In fact, if things keep going the way they have been, the number of American riders racing in the Women’s World Tour is going to begin to swell over the next couple of years and they’ll become as dominate as the Dutch women.
Daphne Karagianis (DK): Right, you can see it when the riders from the US are racing in World Tour races. Even though I can count the number of American riders racing in the World Tour on one hand, they’re winning and on the podium. That’s where it starts. We just need to keep growing it because you’re right, there is a huge amount of talent here and it just needs to be nurtured. There are a lot of junior programs on the men’s side and if we could get more junior programs developing women, then we would be seeing even greater strides forward.
N: The level of support that women’s cycling is receiving in the US has begun to change over the last couple of years (e.g., equal prize money at many races, more attention given to USA Cycling’s women’s programs). But, considering that female cyclists haven’t historically had the same level of support as their male counterparts (and, realistically still don’t), what do you contribute American women’s recent success on the world stage to?
DK: I think that one secret to the US women being so competitive when they reach the World Tour is that the women’s peloton in the United States is so diverse right now. We have riders from all over the world racing in the US. I was just racing at Tour of America’s Dairyland (ToAD) in Wisconsin and the Japanese Cycling Federation was there, and there were riders from Italy, and Australia, and Columbia; riders came from all over the world to race. It’s really exciting that all of these talented racers with incredible resumes are in these American cities and neighborhoods. It makes the racing really fun for the cyclists and spectators. And, of course, it expedites our development.
N: You don’t see this much diversity in your average sport. It’s almost like the North American peloton is a mini-World Tour.
N: Another thing that I want to talk to you about is my family’s favorite cycling charity, the Homestretch Foundation. I know that you’ve spent time there as a resident (i.e., a Stretchie) over the last couple of years.
DK: First of all, thank you. Thank you for supporting the Homestretch Foundation; and thank you for knowing about it and spreading the word. That’s really great. The reason that the Homestretch Foundation was started is that women’s cycling doesn’t have a base salary, which means that teams don’t have to pay female athletes. The Homestretch tries to bridge that pay gap in women’s cycling by providing free housing to female athletes during the off season. The Homestretch Foundation is located in Tucson at the base of Mt. Lemon – the big 26-mile climb on the edge of the city – which makes it the perfect training destination for any athlete. When it comes to training as a female athlete, it’s hard because we all have fulltime jobs. It makes it harder to keep up with bills and race at the highest level possible. By offering free housing, the Homestretch Foundation alleviates some of that financial stress.
N: Wow, it must make the dream of becoming a pro cyclist so much more achievable.
DK: And on top of that, there are so many more opportunities from staying in that house and environment. You get to live among some of the sport’s top professional racers and learn from them firsthand. You also get a number of amenities from the house. There are private motor pacing sessions with The Sufferfest and free CLIF Bar nutrition available to the house’s residents. These kinds of sponsors really elevate your training. We athletes are all so grateful for the opportunity that Homestretch is giving us.
N: But it’s not all about training is it?
DK: Very true. All residents are required to give back to the local Tucson community. For example, I’ve worked with the El Groupo to help their junior athletes with training and I teach them about cycling and how to get into the sport. I’m a designer on the side so I’ve also helped produce a video for the Homestretch and have done different design work to help promote the Homestretch.
N: I really hope that there will be more and more financial support for it. I’ve heard Kathryn Bertine (Ed. Pro cyclist and founder of the Homestretch Foundation) talk about exciting and ambitious plans to grow the Homestretch to even better serve and support female athletes. Hopefully it keeps getting bigger and bigger and helping change that culture of women’s cycling. It seems like so many of the women who’ve stayed there have had big strides in their performance during the following season. I can just imagine what it would be like spending your winter biking up and down Mt. Lemon. It would change your physical abilities so dramatically.
DK: Yeah, the reality is, if I want to compete at the highest level of the sport with people that are World Tour riders, I can’t necessarily stay in Chicago for the winter. Chicago is a hard place to train in the winter and there isn’t very much elevation either. There aren’t mountains. To be able to go to Tucson and to be able to concentrate on training because of the financial lift that the house provides is huge. I’m able to give everything towards training. It changes my season, it changes what I’m able to do on the bike, and it makes me a better rider. And then there are the connections that you make throughout the season. Stretchies will live at the Homestretch Foundation and then not see each other for months and then meet up at a race. Even though we’re on different teams, we know each other, and we’ve created a special bond. I really wish that more and more people can experience that. The Homestretch is already changing the sport and making an impact; I can only imagine what it can do if it keeps growing and takes everything to the next level!
N: Hopefully articles like this will help boost the Homestretch Foundation’s popularity amongst both donors and riders.
To learn more about the Homestretch Foundation, visit their website at: homestretchfoundation.org/. You can also give a tax-deductible donation here. Riders interested in applying to live at the Homestretch Foundation during the off season can apply here.