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If you cant find a role model - be one!

Recently Aneela McKenna qualified as an MTB leadership tutor, doubling the number of female British Cycling qualified leadership tutors in Scotland! We sat down with her to find out what inspired her and what her ambitions for this role.

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I reached out to people from all across UK to find out that there were only two MTB leaders from ethnically diverse backgrounds - one of them was me. That shocked me!

Aneela McKenna

Many of you will know Aneela, based in the Scottish Borders, founder of Mòr Diversity, co-founder of The FNY Collective, MissAdventures and instrumental in so many more initiatives. She recently spent the weekend with Dan Cook, British Cycling, delivering, and being verified delivering, a Fundamentals of Mountain Bike Leadership Programme to 6 inspirational women. She passed, doubling the number of female Tutors in Scotland – happy days indeed.

This is part of a concerted effort by ourselves, along with British Cycling, to increase the diversity of our MTB Leadership pool with relatable role models. It is hoped that this will help break down perceptive barriers to MTB Leadership with authenticity and enthusiasm. Aneela will focus on programmes for underrepresented aspiring leaders, specifically supporting women's groups and people of colour into MTB Leadership.

We sat down with Aneela to find out what this means to her ... and much more!

What inspired you to go down the path to being an MTB leadership tutor?

I have been guiding for 7 years all around Scotland - opening up new experiences for everyone to enjoy the outdoors and share that buzz that mountain biking gives you.

As part of that journey, I was very aware of the lack of gender diversity and set up women only MTB trips, rides and events to create those safe spaces for women to build skill and confidence out on the trail and to have fun within a non competitive environment.

Fast forward a few years and it's wonderful to see how many women mountain biking groups/clubs and festivals are popping up all over Scotland and there are many incredible women taking the lead to change the face of mountain biking and widening participation in the sport.

In 2020 I started my MTB tutor journey. I became aware through my role as Chair of British Cycling's Diversity and Advisory Group that there is still a huge gender gap in MTB leadership (including the tutor pool and leaders) but also aware of the lack of ethnic minority leaders too - I then reached out to people from all across UK to find out that there were only two MTB leaders from ethnically diverse backgrounds - one of them was me. That shocked me - when we know 18% of the UK population represent people from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

So I decided to take the brave step to put myself forward into the tutor pool with Christine Fox from DMBinS as my mentor, supporting me along the way. I knew that if I could become a tutor, I could use this role to encourage more women and people from ethnically diverse backgrounds to see themselves as leaders - to be role models in their communities and inspire people like them to get out and ride.

Having greater diversity within the MTB tutor and leader pool can also help bring different perspectives and ideas into the leadership context. It helps to build a greater awareness and understanding of the barriers for underrepresented groups in mountain biking and how we can all play a part in enabling a more inclusive approach to leadership. I experienced this first hand on a MTB Leaders course that I attended recently. This was hosted by DMBinS and led by disabled people. Many of the participants on that course - tutors and leaders said they they had learned so much from hearing about disabled people's experiences and creating opportunities that include disabled people. Having different voices at a tutor/leader level can only enrich the experience for everyone.

What are your ambitions for this role? What’s the dream?

Simple! I want to see our MTB leadership reflect society. That's my ambition. I want to see the change in my lifetime, or even if we can set the pathway for the next generation!

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Have there been any moments during the process to becoming a tutor that have really had an impact on how you now lead/tutor?

Being surprised with how much knowledge I have as a leader. I have so many stories - on how to do it well and how not to do it. I have learnt from my mistakes along the way and that's made me a stronger leader and to know that its okay when something didn't go the way you anticipated it to.

We can only grow if we gives ourselves the room to learn from our mistakes. I have to be honest I have felt intimidated working in this space at times, particularly in my early days of guiding and this has helped me to understand how others might be feeling and any apprehension they might have about putting themselves forward.

These are the groups and individuals I want to work with and to share my own vulnerability will helps other to connect and find their own path towards acknowledging and recognising their own strengths in leadership.

Going on the tutor journey - it's taught me one thing that if you push yourself to do something, however uncomfortable that might be, it's amazing what you can discover about yourself and for me that’s been about being proud of my achievements and knowing how much I can now share with others - that if I can impart my knowledge onto others it can open up a whole new world of opportunities. I believe if you can give people the tools and resources, you never know what amazing things they will go on and do!

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What in your opinion still needs to be done to increase the diversity on our trails? What are the barriers remaining?

A lack of exposure to the outdoors and knowing that mountain biking is a welcoming and friendly sport - it might not look like that on the outside so we need to encourage and find ways of inviting people to experience it.

Language can be a barrier in itself to mountain biking - give the impression that it's hard, aggressive, technical and competitive which we know is clearly not the case.

Misperception of what mountain biking is - on the courses I have delivered I hear ’I don't like to call myself a mountain biker', 'it's seen as scary’, 'not everyone can afford the kit’. Mountain biking doesn't have to be so one dimensional.

We need to show that there are mountain bikers of all abilities like we see in other sports. I am optimistic that the Fundamental in MTB Leadership course will change this perception and create more leaders to support those at entry level into mountain biking.

This course is fairly new to the MTB leadership curriculum, and the intention behind it was for it be more welcoming to new riders. It doesn't always have to be techy or gnarly and if people can see there is an entry point to mountain biking they might be more inclined to want to be a part of it.

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What has been your proudest moment on this journey to date?

Delivering my first ever course with the support of Dan Cook. I have been all over the country observing different tutors with their own unique leadership styles and so to deliver my first course with my own approach to leadership was nerve-wracking but exhilarating - I loved every moment delivering the course and seeing my participants grow through the process and then to tell them they had passed was just the icing on the cake. It was a very proud moment for me and I have stayed in touch with all my participants and very excited to see what they do next with their new found skills!

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Aneela and Dan Cook, British Cycling (Now Forestry England)

What would you say to other women thinking of taking this step?

If you have the desire or even an inclination that this is the career path you want to take, talk about it with others, find someone that will mentor you.

You might not even realise that this is the path you want to take but sometimes when we surround ourselves with good people that tell us that we can do, this helps give us the permission to go on and do it. I was very lucky to have the support of many of the wonderful tutors out there, and Christine who has been my rock throughout this whole process.

So talk to others, be curious, go on a Ride2Leader programme, find out if this something for you - and soon enough you will have others saying - you would be a great mountain bike leader. That will confirm it for you. So take that step out of your comfort zone and make it happen. We need you!

We can only grow if we gives ourselves the room to learn from our mistakes.

Aneela Mckenna
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If you can, please consider donating to the Scottish MTB Heath Fund and help us run more Trail Therapy sessions across the country.