Corazon Racing!

TSH met with Corazón Racing in early January and besides hosting us in the Rio Grande Valley, they offered us a tour of La Sal Del Rey, a 530 acre salt lake and National Wildlife Refuge. It turned out to be a perfect location for a team photo shoot. TSH Co-Founder Luke asked Team Director, Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson some questions over email about how the team came together and what it means to to be the first latina women’s racing team in south Texas!

Interview with Corazón Racing Team Director Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Ph.D.

TSH

Tell us about yourself? and How did you get involved in cycling?

Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Ph.D.

Team Director for Corazón Racing

I am 40 year old mixed-heritage Chicana or Mexican American from San Antonio, Texas, and third generation Tejana (my great grand-parents were undocumented immigrants from northern Mexico). I have been racing road since I was about 23 and am currently a (somewhat retired) category Pro 1. I am also a college professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley where I am the Co-Director of Gender & Women’s Studies and also teach in Mexican American Studies as well as Literature & Cultural Studies.

When I was in college at UT-Austin back in the late 90s/early 2000s I played women’s rugby, and toward the end of college my rugby friends got interested in triathlons. I tried a few with them and really could not get into the sport. I detest running and swimmingm but I really liked and excelled at the cycling part. Around the same time, I dated a guy who was on the UT cycling team. He took me to a bike race to see his friend race, but, alas, we got there too late, but we did get there just in time to see the women’s race. It was love at first sight. I was like, “Hell yeah. I can do this.” So I did a few months later. At this point, I was fresh out of college and broke, and had just moved back to San Antonio. I started out with a red steel Giordana bike with converted downtube shifting. I tried a bike race a few months later and I won. I ended up dumping the guy (still good friends) but I’ve been in a committed relationship with cycling ever since. We are very happy together.

TSH

How did Corazón Racing come about? Tell us about the name? You are the first women’s team in the RGV…What was it like approaching the community to build the roster?

Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Ph.D.

Team Director for Corazón Racing

Before moving to the Río Grande Valley for my professor job, I had taken a break from bike racing to focus on finishing my dissertation and finding a job. I started cycling and racing again when I moved down here not only because I love the sport but also it was a great way to meet people. I immediately noticed that not many women or folks more generally raced bikes in the area, and whenever I attended the fast group ride at the time, I’d be the only woman.

Consequently, for the first two years I lived here I raced with a domestic elite team, River City Market Hit Squad, based out of Austin–5 hours north. Toward the end of the second year, though, I was exhausted from traveling, and I noticed another woman from down here, Jennifer Miller, starting to show up to some beginner races in Austin. I was ecstatic to see another woman from the valley racing, and we got to know each other better. I was ready to move on from my current team due to the strains of travelling and to develop something local. Also, as a cat 1 and having raced in Texas for so many years, I was in a good place to mentor and take advantage of my cycling social networks in Texas. I asked Jen if she wanted to start a team with me and she was down. We both then schemed up ideas of how to meet and attract women to the team and bike racing. We started a weekly summer series called Mujeres Mondays that was (still is) a supported women only ride out of our local bike shop and now title sponsor, Bicycle World. We conducted various clinics out of Bicycle World. Through these and other events–as well as directly asking various women–we eventually put together a team of 8. It happened pretty quickly and was pretty magical, actually. And, yes, we are proud to say that we are the first women’s bike racing team in this area!

When coming up with the team name, we all agreed on the importance of the name needing to reflect our Mexican and Mexican American ethnicity and culture, all of which are vastly underrepresented in bike racing. We settled on “Corazón Racing” because while “corazón” means “heart” and can be used as a term of endearment, it also connotes strength and courage, strong will and fortitude–in short, badassery, being what we call a “chingona.” Think of the lotería (Mexican bingo) card with “el corazón”–it’s intense, muscular, and bloody! We feel the name is empowering on multiple levels.

TSH

Carolina and I both come from a shared and similar Mexican-American background and to be honest it was a bit emotional for us to connect with you all. How important is the latinx identity to the team? Do you see your Corazón Racing as role models?

Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Ph.D.

Team Director for Corazón Racing

Yes, and to be honest, we were thrilled to find out that you all are also Latinx! Our Latina identities, being bilingual and from the U.S.-Mexico border are absolutely significant to us. Representation really does matter.

Last year, as we walked up to registration at Tulsa Tough, our first national race, I remember one of our younger members Stephanie Treviño commenting to her mom Sylvia (also on our team!) how they were the only brown folks around. She was giggling and being funny, but it was painfully true. Later that same day I lined up for the women’s pro race I looked around to find myself once again in a sea of white. As a forty-year old veteran of the sport, I was heartbroken. While we’ve made some strides in women’s bike racing, we sorely lack diversity, the inclusion of Latinas and other women of color. In fact, to my knowledge, there are zero (or very few) US-born Latinas in women’s professional cycling.

Yeah, I do see us as role models. I want other women in south Texas, Latinas and women of color, to see us at races or on social media with a big Spanish word emblazoned on our kits, to see themselves represented in us and to think “hell yeah, I can do this too.” But even more precisely, I see us as advocates and comadres. Black pro cyclist Ayesha McGowen once said that just existing as a black woman in this sport is its own form of advocacy. I think the same thing rings true for Latinas. So a big part of forming this team is not just being a role model but also actively creating space for women and Latinas, providing structure and systems of support.

TSH

When we visited you all, I believe you said the age range for the team was 16 to 61. How have the multigenerational aspects added to the team’s success?

Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Ph.D.

Team Director for Corazón Racing

Yes! Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? However, we recently (a few days after you departed actually) recruited a 14 year old! Our team is unique in that we are so diverse in age. As someone who began cycling and racing in her early 20s I really benefited from older mentors, men and women, and more generally having the opportunity to interact with folks outside of my age group. I personally have learned so much from older (and younger!) individuals–not only about cycling but also life. What is more, Corazón Racing is not about being the fastest. It is more about inclusivity, diversity, and mentorship. I love how we have a mother-daughter duo on the team! Our team shows how cycling and bike racing really is for every single body, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and other differences.

TSH

Any favorite stories from past seasons?

Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Ph.D.

Team Director for Corazón Racing

I have lots, but here are two that stand out in my mind right away–both about teamwork.

Two years ago we first attended the Texas State Road Championships. Just being there–having an all women’s team from south Texas–was an accomplishment itself. Most of our women were in the beginner cat 5 race, and all had varying fitness levels and abilities. I had been working intensely with the team for the previous year on team tactics, how to attack, bridge, control the pace, set up your teammie for a sprint. I had also been working with all the ladies on sprinting–which can really give an advantage to a beginner racer. I had been talking Stephanie’s ear off about how to play off other teams during a sprint and not going too early. As well, the entire year of racing before, my ladies had been playing defense in races. This time we had an offensive game, everyone had their role to play. By some miracle, it went off like clockwork (which NEVER happens, right?!). During the first quarter of the race, two of our women, Jen and Sylvia slayed themselves and launched some killer attacks, softening up the field. Erin and Jessica covered attacks and protected Stephanie, and Stephanie made the break at the end. My partner Chris and I stood at the finish line, holding our breath as we saw the front breakaway group approach. Two women went early, and there was Stephanie, right on their tails, and then BAM! 150 meters to go, Stephanie sprints around draft-side like a bat out of hell and wins! I was bawling! I was so excited for Stephanie but so proud of the entire team for being aggressive, sacrificing themselves, and working like a team. It still gives me all the feels.

The second story happened at our annual team bicycle camp January of last year. It was the final day, Sunday, after we had completed our last ride. We are exhausted. Everyone was showering, packing, and getting ready to go make a 4 hour drive back down to the valley. Jessica and I were downstairs, and Jessica decided to shower first. I was stretching in bed when I hear Jessica–who is normally a quiet person–shrieking and screaming out my name. I run into the bathroom to find her naked and wrapped in a plastic shower curtain, desperately using both hands to try to stop the deluge of water exploding out of the wall where the main faucet had broken off for no apparent reason. We both start laughing and screaming for the other ladies to come help. In our panic we all start futiley pushing against the site of the water explosion as the bathtub is getting fuller and fuller, on the cusp of overflowing. We frenetically take up pots and pans from the kitchen to shovel out water. We can’t get ahold of the airbnb owner to find the to the main waterline. Finally, the most sensible of us–Sylvia–finds the valve to the waterline outside and saves the day! #teamworkmakesthedreamwork

TSH

HAHA, amazing… So what are the biggest challenges in riding and training in south Texas? I say this because everyone we talked to mentioned the wind and the intense summer heat?

Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Ph.D.

Team Director for Corazón Racing

We live right on the US-Mexico border and are about an hour west of the Gulf of Mexico, so we’re at sea level and it’s very flat. Unfortunately, too, there are no USAC sanctioned races in south Texas and so we have to travel at least 4 hours north where the terrain is rolling with significant climbs. A common misconception about Texas is that the whole state is flat. We have a big disadvantage in the Texas road races.

It is also incredibly windy. The average windspeed down here is somewhere around 17 mph. In fact, the RGV is a major growth area for windfarms! But training outside can be demoralizing if not impossible due to high wind speeds at times. While south Texas is quite pleasant from around November till about March, the rest of the time it’s brutally hot. During the summer, it’s normal for temperatures to get up to around 103 degrees fahrenheit with a heat index upward of 112. For this reason, group rides often start a lot earlier than other places. We even have a ride that starts at 5:00 am during the week, which some of our women regularly attend.

Just two hours south of us is Monterrey, Mexico, where there are beautiful mountains and amazing terrain for training but cartel violence over the past decade has made it near impossible for us to travel there safely.

TSH

What are Corazon Racing’s dreams and goals for 2020?

Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, Ph.D.

Team Director for Corazón Racing

More generally, we would love to continue developing and growing our team. We would love to see our new junior women and new women compete at the Texas State Road Championship. We also hope to attend another USA Crit Series race. We will also continue to focus on outreach through camps, clinics, and women’s rides.

Team Portraits