Catalina Soto: Coming from Child

Hello, I’m Cata Soto Campos from Chile! A very thin and long country that funnily enough, looks like a chilli. I love my country. I might be biased here, but I believe we have the greatest mountains, beaches, watermelons, wine and beer… it’s an endless list. Unfortunately, though, we don’t have the greatest sports culture, and being an athlete, let alone a professional athlete, is really really hard. Unless you are a soccer player.

I never thought I would be a professional bike rider, I remember I wanted to be a firefighter or a tourist guide when I was young. I always did a lot of sports and somehow my bike was always involved. With my mum we would ride everywhere. Once we went to a wedding by riding our bikes.

One time, we rode to the outdoor track in the middle of Santiago and all I saw was some thin bikes with some large men riding in circles. We walked down to the middle where they were drinking some beers, and there was definitely more chatting than bike riding happening. To my luck, I found the best group of riders to start riding on the track, we called it ‘TEAM URBANOS’, which translates to ‘the urban team’. I was too young to realise at the time the importance of this club and the impact it had. But for me, it was a place of joy and fun and I loved it because I would get free cookies after the sessions!

The guys decided one day to race track nationals in Curicó, the heart of Chilean cycling. So off we went, and that’s when I saw – for the first time – women and young girls like me racing the same skinny bikes that the men were. Why did no one ever tell me this? I thought I was only able to ride my city bike until I was old enough to get a nice bike like my mum’s before actually racing! So for Christmas all I wanted was a track bike and on Christmas day, there it was. 

I did lots of racing with that bike, I won nationals, I did a few fixie crits and rode it everywhere – to school, in the mountains, to the shops, to parties. I loved it. 

In 2015, my mum had the greatest idea in the world. Let’s move to Australia! (By the way I hated the idea) 

So I was 13 years old in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language. I missed home so much and my bike was the only thing that felt familiar. My mum and her partner did their best to find a cycling club and again, I found an amazing club. The Brunswick Cycling Club. Until this day I cannot be thankful enough for all the support they gave me on and off the bike. We went to a lot of races in Australia, which to my surprise had more than 10 girls participating! It was fantastic, although I was being beaten, and that was hard because in Chile I was the best in my age group. I learned my way and trained a bit more and I started getting podium results, but the most important thing to me is that, at that moment, cycling gave me a sense of home in a different country. Amazing. 

I’ll skip a big part of the story and fast forward to when I received my invitation to the World Cycling Centre (WCC). I raced the South American Games in Santiago in 2017. I raced on the track, where I won two gold medals and to my luck there was a coach from the WCC there watching. He invited me to a talent identification camp in Argentina and I must have done well, because after a few weeks I received my invitation to Switzerland.

 

Photo: @catasotocampos Instagram

 

So Europe was calling. The big Europe. The place I had only seen on movies and TV shows. I was nervous but also determined to enjoy the journey and learn. I was 16, a first year junior. So no pressure, ok, maybe a little.

And Switzerland, what a beautiful place! The WCC, what an amazing infrastructure. I made so many friends in the WCC and I learned so much from the different coaches. I learned so much about cycling, and especially women’s cycling. I knew of some women who raced internationally but I did not know what it was, what it looked like, and what they actually did.  

So after the 2017 season as a first year junior in Europe with some success, I officially changed my mind. Instead of being a firefighter or a tourist guide, I wanted to become a professional bike rider. 

That was a hard decision. Because being a professional bike rider can be hard at times, especially if your home is on the other side of the world. It has been a very bumpy road since I made that decision but I still love riding and racing my bike. And I’ve had really low lows and incredible highs. 

 

Photo: @catasotocampos Instagram

This is my first year racing elite. I never raced an u23 race, but during my four years as an u23 rider I had an incredible time. I didn’t only have to learn about the racing, but also had to change my way of training, finish school and travel a lot. 

I also had to learn to be away from home, to make friends overseas outside of the cycling world, adapt and find a familiar culture to live in, and stand up for myself and teammates through injustices. I learned about other women and their journey, other riders that fought and fight the gender gap in cycling, and found inspiration. 

I’ve been lucky too, because I have been able to share my experiences with other riders who are living away from home and I’ve had awesome teammates who have become friends and are always there to lend me a hand.

I’m grateful for my journey, and with all its ups and downs. For me it has been worth it. That 16-year-old Chilean girl who left for Europe with a new dream, is today a professional bike rider.

 

Until next time,

Cata

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