Since joining Galashiels Academy as a design and technology teacher, keen cyclist Caroline McKaig saw that there was a lack of female students attending the school's bike club. Determined to close the gender gap and get more girls riding, she launched a girls' cycling club, giving young women the opportunity to get involved in outdoor sports and boosting their confidence.
Together with the Adventure Syndicate and Go-Where Scotland, Caroline took a group of students on a bikepacking adventure helping them to challenge what they thought they were capable of, building their confidence and independence. The girls learnt mountain-biking and bikepacking skills and stayed overnight in a bothy. After the pandemic the school is planning more girls' cycling trips.
Caroline McKaig said…
“I have cycled since I was much younger, getting my first hardtail for my 14th birthday. At the time, my sporting focus was hockey, and because I didn’t have any family or friends who cycled, biking was just for fun. But now, as a mum of two, cycling is an essential part of my life.
“I am a teacher of design and technology at Galashiels Academy. On joining the academy in 2017, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer in the school’s extracurricular bike club.
“Immediately, I was struck by the lack of female students attending, so I suggested that we trial a session for girls. After that initial trial, I launched a satellite club so that girls would have the opportunity that I didn’t have at that similar age.
“Since then, we have grown from just two regular attendees to 17, with even more keen to sign up.
“Our bike club is inclusive; we have a supply of bikes, jackets, helmets, and gloves to make sure that everyone can take part. In the beginning there was a bit of resistance to having a satellite girls' club, and although I would love for this not to be needed, I think the rise in numbers of girls speaks for itself.
“This experience was transformative for the girls, building their confidence and helping them to inspire others. Indeed, they have sparked such enthusiasm in the school, I had organised another girls’ bothy trip for this summer, but sadly this has been postponed because of Covid-19.
Cycling is an essential part of my life and I am proud to be a role model for girls at my school, and in my local community; I hope that they experience the same joy from cycling that I do
“I also have to admit, as a result of this project, I have caught the bikepacking bug myself and can’t wait to explore more places on two wheels.
“Outside of school, I am the co-founder of a group that we have established to encourage more girls to cycle and experience adventure in the Scottish Borders. Sadly, our first event has also been postponed, but I am sure that this is the start of something exciting!
“Volunteering with the school bike club has also provided me with an opportunity to develop my own skills and knowledge by becoming a level 2 mountain bike leader.
“I am currently in the process of becoming a level 2 coach, and once qualified, I plan to become a level 2 MTB coach. Indeed, now my children are a little older, I have more freedom and riding my bike has become my chosen exercise for fitness and to keep a clear head.
“I ride as often as I can, it keeps me calm and level when work and/or home life get a little too busy.
“Cycling is an essential part of my life and I am proud to be a role model for girls at my school, and in my local community; I hope that they experience the same joy from cycling that I do.”
Caroline was nominated for the 100 Women in Cycling by her wife, Clare Taylor, who said:
“Caroline has worked tirelessly to inspire girls at Galashiels Academy high school to get involved in the bike club. In the face of the school's male-led and male-dominated bike club, Caroline has had to overcome various barriers to set up the girls' group so that girls can feel confident to ride in a supportive environment.
Caroline has also inspired other local Borders groups to recognise the need for girls-only activities and this has seen the number of women-only opportunities increase in the Tweed Valley.
“Caroline has also inspired other local Borders groups to recognise the need for girls-only activities and this has seen the number of women-only opportunities increase in the Tweed Valley.
“The remarkable thing about all of this is that none of this is Caroline's day job. Although she is a teacher at Gala Academy, she is a teacher of design and manufacturing. All of the biking work is extracurricular and done in her own time.
“Caroline has undertaken training, to be a leader and more recently to be a coach and has done it all off her own bat.
“She has made amazing progress in building the girls' bike club and was building momentum that was having an impact both inside and outside of the school.
Caroline believes that girls should have the same opportunities as boys to enjoy biking. But she recognises that the only way to make sure there are opportunities, is to actually make them happen.
“If she was doing this as her job, this would be impressive enough but the fact that this is all unpaid, extracurricular work she does on top of a full-time job – to me it truly is inspiring.
“And all because Caroline believes that girls should have the same opportunities as boys to enjoy biking. But she recognises that the only way to make sure there are opportunities is to actually make them happen."