We had the privilege of meeting up with Ashleigh Moolman Pasio at our training camp in January. As a friend of our team, we are inspired by the incredible work she is doing. She provided us with this insight into her life, as part of our celebration of International Women’s Day.
What has given you the most joy as a cyclist?
It’s obviously very special to win races or to finish on the podium of big WorldTour races. That confirms that the things you are doing are right, in terms of training and preparation. But, if I have to be honest, what gives me the most joy as a cyclist is the people’s lives that I have managed to touch along the way.
So, what brings me the most motivation, when I am going for the win, and what helps me get through the tough times, in particular, is thinking of the people I can inspire through my achievements. That also filters to the stories I tell around my struggles or what it has taken to come from injury or to achieve a victory. For me, that is the most important thing in my career, to inspire others to become the best versions of themselves, not necessarily to inspire others to become bike riders but to inspire others to be fit and to be the best versions of themselves.
What has given you the most joy in personal life?
The journey I have experienced as a person through my cycling career and how it has formed me in character is what has brought me the most joy. I got into cycling quite late in life, I only discovered my talent for cycling at university, I had completed my chemical engineering degree, and then came over to Europe to pursue a career in cycling.
I learnt a lot, very fast, so I really changed and grew as a person along the way. I was ambitions and hardworking person before I started cycling, but I definitely lacked self-belief and confidence. Through perusing a career in cycling and having the right people around me who believed in me and gave me the opportunity, it helped me to believe more in myself and to take my ideas and convictions and feel like they mattered in the world. When I was younger, I had these ideas and thoughts but did not really think they really mattered. So that is what brought me the most joy, the growth I’ve experienced and then the confidence I’ve built, not only on the bike but also to express my opinions which might have a positive impact on other people’s lives.
What is the toughest obstacle you have faced s as a cyclist?
There have many obstacles, but they have changed in form as time has gone by. In the beginning, it was just coming from the Southern hemisphere and making a life and career for myself in a foreign country and finding my way as a cyclist and getting to the top of my sport.
Along the way, there were other obstacles, and injury has always been one of them. That is probably one of the toughest things in cycling as a sport. You put a lot of hard work and dedication into the sport, and you could be in the form of your life in a build-up to a race and be one of the strongest riders on the start line, but there are so many things that can go wrong from the moment that you start the race.
Those things can stop you from achieving your best result, and it is the ability to keep your eye on the bigger picture and pick yourself up after those disappoints time and time again so that eventually you can have that breakthrough moment and that victory you have been working so hard for. Sometimes it is just a puncture or a crash, or reading tactics wrong, but other times, it’s crashes which result in injury and you have to come back from that injury. I have had a fair amount of collarbone breaks and I fractured the liliums in my pelvis, so I have had serious injuries, and those have been the toughest obstacles. But it is always so much joy when you overcome it and find success again.
What has been the toughest obstacle as a female cyclist?
I guess it is just the frustration that you feel that you are constantly hitting your head on a wall. For me, it was quite frustrating having come from an upbringing where I never felt undermined as women or felt that I was disrespected as a woman in my family environment. I was always encouraged and respected and always felt equal to my male cousins. I then went on to study a male-dominated degree, engineering, and even though I was in the minority, it was a pleasant experience and I had very good relationships with my male colleagues and we used to work very well together. I never felt that my male colleagues thought of me as less important or less capable.
Coming from that to cycling as a career was frustrating, where the feeling of being undermined or lack of equality was there and so visible, and still is today. It has spanned throughout the ten years of my career. Sometimes, it is a hard pill to swallow when you know that you are just as good as a male cyclist of your equivalent ability, but they are earning 10 times the amount of money you are earning. It’s not only about the amount of money, but it’s all those obstacles you face along the way. Not getting the right TV coverage or exposure, and the feeling that you are constantly fighting for something that I do not believe we should be fighting for.
In the beginning years, it was super frustrating for me, and it created a negative energy and a feeling that it was unfair; I was hitting my head against a wall. I made a conscious decision not to be a victim but to do my best to influence change through my actions. I started putting that victim mentality to the side and I started to go out doing my job the best I can and saying positive things and actions which influence others to believe that there should be change. That has helped a lot in the past years.
You are the current SA Champion, what has that meant to you?
I’m the current South African Road and Time Trial champion. I’ve been the SA Road champion six times, and it’s always such an honour to win the national title and to wear the South African flag as I race in Europe. I do spend most of my time in Europe, so it is special to have the South African flag on your chest, that constant connection and a reminder of where you come from. It helps to bring extra motivation and pride. It is always an honour to represent my country all around the world.