University City

Women hit the trail on mountain bikes

During the week, Kellie Muddiman works as a cardiac specialist, fixing people who have had heart attacks.

During the weekends she tries hard not to give her husband one.

"Scrapes, cuts, broken fingers, broken thumbs," said the 35 year-old Dilworth Chase resident, who laughed as she rattled off the badges of honor she's earned since joining Dirt Divas, Charlotte's only all-female mountain biking club.

"My husband said he was going to take my bike away from me," she said. "I'm a terror on the bike."

Every week, and sometimes more often, Muddiman meets up with some of the other women who share a passion for trail riding.

For many, like Muddiman, who stays cooped up inside a sterile hospital setting during the week, mountain biking offers a much-needed break.

"It's the freedom of being outside in the woods, being with nature, seeing the seasons changing," she said. "Just being out and confronting what I can do and what I can't do."

Dirt Divas began as the brainchild of seven local women who enjoyed taking to the trails together. The men's mountain biking clubs they tried were fun, but different.

Many of the 60 women who have joined Dirt Divas said the pace of men's clubs is sometimes harder, and the encouragement between riders can be sparse.

"I thought, 'Where's the cheering section?' " said Muddiman.

Heather Burns, 37, an IT consultant, said the encouragement among the women keeps her coming back. Burns, who lives off Meadow Knoll Drive, first took up trail riding with her brother a few years back. The experiences were not always confidence boosters.

When they would approach a steep hill or a rocky path, "He would say, 'C'mon, you can do that. It's all in your head,' " said Burns. "He tried really hard to help and guide me, but it never came out right."

With Dirt Divas, it was different, she said: "To see another woman do it - 'If she can do it, I can do it.' "

Dirt Divas works to build that kind of confidence in children, as well. Twice a year, the group has Trips for Kids, an event that takes children in need out on local trails. "It's one of my favorite things to do," said Burns. "Most of them don't even own a bike. We usually space out between the kids (on trails) to provide guidance, tips to pass along and encouragement."

The club also donates four to six bikes, or the equivalent in biking equipment, to area children in need each year.

The club's typical trail rides last anywhere from three to 12 miles, and members break off into five skill levels: beginner, casual, intermediate, advanced and race-pace.

All riders need just a bike, a helmet and water.

Burns said mountain biking is just the diversion many of today's women need.

"With mountain biking, you have to focus on what's in front of you or you're going to crash," she said. "Every time I'm out on my bike, it's a mix of fear and adrenaline, but I absolutely love it."