Changing the Culture of Cycling

by Justin Williams

May 19, 2021

There’s something big happening now in our community. And, in our world. Change is coming.

Black Lives Matter is bringing change. Together, we are fighting for our freedom, liberation, and justice. It’s about equal opportunity. Some people will get it. Some won’t.

There are currently very few Black pro cyclists in the United States. It’s not because we are not capable. It’s not because it’s expensive. It’s because there is no interest. It’s about the culture.

Justin Williams

People perpetuate this cycle of people of color not wanting to show up because they’ll make you feel a certain way or not belong. It’s not inviting.

So, I thought, no problem, I’ll do it myself.

My brother, Cory Williams, and I started our own cycling team, L39ION of Los Angeles. It’s a team we put together from nothing. It began with an idea, ambition, and love for the sport. We sacrificed everything — time, money, family — to bring this sport to others who don’t have this opportunity.

This is the vision I have in my head that will change the way people look at cycling. We are trying to be that voice of change by setting an example.

When I told Cory, we are starting a team; he laughed at me. But, I started taking steps. Everything in life is about taking actions and being consistent about what you want to do, the direction you want to go in. As long as you have that clear vision of what that end goal is, you’ll get there.

We put together a roster of people that we felt deserved the opportunity to race the national circuit. We want to give them a second chance, a second look, at what they want to be.

It’s something that’s never been done.

Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

I am grateful enough to realize this years ago. I went to college. I did the 9-5 job at a clothing boutique. It wasn’t for me. I never wanted a real job. When I was 15 years old, I was racing on the weekends making $200 a day. My first paycheck at the clothing boutique was $78.

Growing up as a Black kid in South-Central Los Angeles, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for me. There weren’t a lot of successful Black men to look up to, except for my dad. My father, Calman, gave my brother and me a different mentality. He gave us the mental strength to make something of ourselves. He ingrained in us that if we put in the work and changed our perspective, we could set the world ablaze.

That motivation has stayed with me. When I was 17, I turned pro. In the beginning, it was tough. There was a lot of struggle of not having a personal life or not having time for myself. And, with other teams I joined, I felt like I was replaceable, never good enough.

L39ION Cycling Team

Digging through that difficulty, I still prevailed. I won the 2018/2019 Road Race National Championships, Crit National Championships. I’m a 10x National Champion. I’ve won the 2018 UCI Cross Country Classic in Belize, the 2017 PRT Dana Point Grand Prix, 2017 B.C. Superweek Ladner Grand Prix. It wasn’t easy. It was a climb, into the cloud, then past them, with no end in sight.

My dad taught me always to be grateful for the joy of every win and the determination that came after every loss.

Now, if I want something, I go get it. I start working toward whatever I want to have. Even during quarantine, that’s kept me focused on L39ION. As I grow, the support grows. As the team elevates, I get elevated.

Losing is never an option for us. We know there are other people out there who want to beat us. There are people out there right now thinking about what I am doing, what Cory is doing, what L39ION is doing.

The truth is, we’re thinking about them too. There’s always someone putting in the work. There should always be a little fear in your chest that someone is coming to beat you every single day you ride.

That’s why I push myself outside my comfort zone. Recently, I did a 600-mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I brought Tums, underwear, a toothbrush, deodorant, and Medterra’s Cooling Cream in my bag.

At the end of every day, my shoulders and neck felt like an old man. The cooling cream helped me recover for the next day.

If I’m stressed, I use a drop of the CBD tincture to flatten those emotions and help me reset.

My advice for all athletes is to stay consistent. If you want to build something great, it’s all about consistency. You have to commit to the process. You’ll take a hit on the chin a few times, but you have to keep moving forward. Remember who you are. Most people have been working for years to get to where they are now. You can’t just give that away.  It may not be what people want us to be. We are what we are. The time is now. The future is now.

 

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