The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo

The Girl With The Cowbell Tattoo, created by Tim Shay.

by Molly Hurford

I’m sitting in my room at a wonderful host house in Athens, Georgia, while I’m writing this. I’m down here for the month, training. That’s the major bonus of working from home: the ability to, well, work from home. The amazing family I’m staying with has been called the first family of cycling in Georgia, and this room has seen more pros and amateur racers pass through it than probably any other house in the state. I’m staying with another couple, a cycling photojournalism team, and they’re a blast to hang out with. Ashley, in particular, being another woman who’s my age, has been awesome to chat with about the crazy lifestyle we lead, doing what we love.

But what’s amazing to me is that this is what I love, and that I’m actually doing it.

I was chatting with my sister the other day and we were thumbing through some old magazines in our basement. I had almost forgotten about my “other life” until she tossed me a magazine opened to a page I recognized pretty well: “Knitting and Feminism,” by Molly Hurford. The magazine? ElleGirl. As in, the teen version of the well-known fashion magazine, Elle. Sometimes, I forget that when I first got into journalism, I wrote about fashion.

From the fashion magazine days... Alyson Aliano

From the fashion magazine days... © Alyson Aliano

Six years ago, I started working and writing for ElleGirl, and was probably one of the only college freshman who skipped out on orientation to head into the city for an industry party at MTV Studios. It was an awesome job, between stuff like that, the makeup closet at the Hachette-Filipachi building, the crazy cool women I worked with, the photo shoots at Coney Island (see right), and the list goes on. The magazine folded after a year of me working there, much to my dismay. I wrote for the website for a while, but generally dropped out of the fashion world after the magazine went out of print.

If the magazine had stayed in business, the odds are good I’d still be there, writing articles on the top 10 new looks for Spring, or the art of crafting a cool headband out of chicken wire (or something). When I started writing for them, the idea of racing my bike had never, ever crossed my mind.

Looking back, it’s actually a little scary to realize just how much that magazine closing down impacted my life. What I looked at as a tragedy then has turned into the best possible thing that could have happened to me. I got into cycling later in that year, because thanks to the fashion magazine, I had packed on a few pounds during the first year of college. Never one for just working out for the sake of working out, when my RA in my dorm mentioned that he was a triathlete, I recalled that my dad had been one back in the eighties as well. I decided to start training for my first triathlon.

I won’t bore you (or scare you) with the details of that, but a year after that, I found myself showing up to a group ride with the Rutgers University Cycling Team. Sure, I almost got hypothermia (leggings and a sweatshirt for 20 degree weather is kind of a ‘no-no’), but I knew it was the key to me improving the bike leg of my triathlons. So, I suffered my way through an agonizing road season, terrified of criteriums, slow in road races, and with no sprint to speak of. Still, I was enjoying my newfound friends.

The Rutgers Cyclocross Team, circa 2010. © Molly Hurford

The Rutgers Cyclocross Team, circa 2010. © David Wilson

Then, September rolled around and someone suggested that I do just one cyclocross race. Our team needed the points a female could score, and frankly, I thought the black skinsuits looked badass. I did a couple of pathetic races that season and had the time of my life. I fell in love with the sport and with my amazing team.

Before I knew it, cyclocross had started to take over my life. From getting the cowbell tattoo with my teammates to spending weekends (and weeks) away from home for racing to spending mornings jumping over barriers in the park with friends, I had a passion unlike one I’ve ever had before. All the while, I was finishing a degree in journalism and wondering what the hell I was going to do with it.

It was a science journalism class that changed my life. In order to pass the class, we had to try to get published somewhere. I aimed high and managed to score an article in Triathlete Magazine, and suddenly I realized that I had loved writing about sports. Fast-forward another year, and when Cyclocross Magazine advertised that they were looking for an editor, I sent an email that may or may not have been the equivalent of begging for the job.

Obviously, it’s been working out pretty well. In the past season, I managed to score my cat 2 upgrade, even if I missed snagging any UCI points (two 11th places, come on!). I even signed a lease on a new place up in New England, to live with racers and be closer to more races. And I think that as a whole, we at Cyclocross Magazine did a pretty stellar job of covering all of the races, even if it came at the expense of some sleep and sanity for all of us! It’s been a blast, every minute of it.

To me, it still seems surreal: the bookworm, the fashion-writer, the one who once faked passing out to avoid running the mile in gym class and openly mocked the jocks in high school, is now a bike racer and sports writer, spending a month in Georgia for training. All thanks to two magazines: one for folding, and one for opening its arms to me.

Pretty crazy stuff, right?

If you want to read more about my training, racing and editing exploits, you can find the painfully full version of events on my Twitter page.