From Business at Leeds 2022 | Full issue
“The bicycle has done more for women than any one thing in the world—it gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat,” civil rights activist Susan B. Anthony said in 1896.
Today, women still ride bikes for the physical and psychological benefits, which can sometimes be life-changing. But not as many as one would think.
Brett Donelsen and his wife see the opportunity to change that every day. Inspired to help young women, they launched The Cycle Effect, in 2013, an Eagle County nonprofit that emboldens underprivileged girls to develop self-esteem and healthy lifestyles through biking.
“We had no business experience, but just kept saying ‘yes’ to opportunities instead of focusing on the 99 ‘no’s’ we got,” Donelsen said.
The program provides girls with bikes, training—and an escape from the stresses of high school. As they learn to ride and compete as a team, they not only improve their overall wellness, but they learn to work together and overcome obstacles.
None of them start with any prior mountain biking experience—but all of them end up becoming passionate about it. “We’re not super-focused on competition. We’re a bike team, but really a mentorship program that uses the bike as a tool,” he said. “I’ve never been part of a sport where you learn so many lessons that are metaphorical for life,” like the struggle to get up a hill, the freedom of letting go and the confidence to plunge ahead without fear.
Many of those same lessons also apply to him as he builds his nonprofit. A few years after its launch, he attended two Demystifying Entrepreneurship workshops in Vail.
“The workshops reassured me that I’m not completely lost. I could ask questions and realize I’m not crazy,” he said.
“The best things I got were confidence and networking; sitting in a room with like-minded people was so valuable. I had thought partners—I wasn’t alone.”
These days, he’s focused on developing outreach programs and expanding to new locations across Colorado. Ten years from now, his goal is to be working with thousands of kids.
“I love what I’m doing. I love learning about starting things—and now that I’ve done it once, the second and third time would be a lot easier,” he said.