Bike Fort Collins first launched You Know Me. I Ride a Bike. back in 2009, where we featured local residents, for whom riding bikes is big part of their life in a broader awareness campaign. Beginning in 2021, we are excited to reintroduce this bio-series, where we feature one new Fort Collins resident each month here on our news-blog/website, as well as through The Pedal Post eNewsletter and our social channels, highlighting their love for bikes and for riding them. Please join us and read on, as we hear their stories and learn more about these remarkable folks who live and ride right here in our community.
July 2021: Alisha Zellner
….by Jennifer Hoover, BFC Board Member
There are many sides of Alisha Zellners story, but a single thread connects them all together. Zellner is a passionate person, her voice lifts above the little diner where we are meeting and it is strong and unwavering. She has the polish of a politician but scoffs and shakes her head when I tease about a future presidency. Nope. She is as visible and outspoken as she needs to be to achieve what she wants, and Alisha wants justice and equality.
Raised in Colorado Springs she casually mentions playing for the High School football team. “Whoa, whoa…” I slow her down, “tell me about that.” A frustrated comment about being able to play better than some of the players on the team began a crusade to earn a spot on the team. She can’t put her finger on exactly when she became an activist and leader but this was certainly a milestone moment. While she faced some criticism and negativity she felt overwhelmingly supported. She succeeded in walking onto the varsity team and by the time a knee injury sidelined her, the team had turned around and was winning more than they were losing. She was a rising star, the kind of heart forward, head held high, gender stereotype smashing daughter so many of us aspire to raise.
Alisha describes herself as a runner at heart but when her races were canceled during COVID she picked up a bicycle and found an additional passion, one that she would ultimately combine with her crusade to bring awareness to the lack of equality for black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and athletes. When Alisha Zellner became a police officer after the murder of Michael Brown it was a direct response to the need for communities of color to be represented by a police force that reflected them, understood them and came from the same experiences and streets they did. She became at once, activist and role model, a uniformed officer with the lived experience of a black woman.
Alisha immediately realized that cycling was NOT an inclusive sport and recounts the pain of reading comments in response to her cover on USA Triathlon. Many comments posted on Instagram conveyed the feeling that Alisha’s cover was a token nod to a moment in time when it was popular to feature black athletes following the murder of George Floyd. Many of those comments alluded to the discomfort seeing a “white sport” getting mixed up in activism or racial justice. “They just wanted life to go back to normal, they just wanted to talk about triathlon and not think about how there are very few black triathletes, there are very few companies in cycling that make inclusive clothing. Cycling is our way to escape anything that is happening in the world, so we don’t really want to talk about what is happening in the world.” Bike Ride for Black Lives, which Alisha created, elevates the concept that activism, policing and racial justice are goals that can be aligned within communities and are not mutually exclusive.
For the second year in a row, Alisha completed over 400 miles in July to bring attention to the 400 years people of color have been fighting for equality. If you visit her Instagram you can read her progress through the month with her 400 miles culminating atop the damns at Horsetooth Reservoir. In each photograph she is smiling and radiant. She is triumphant in each of her endeavors. This year she rode to raise money for the Black Mental Health Alliance, noting that racial justice work takes its toll and often feels exhausting. She also supported Ride for Racial Justice and the CSU Black/African American Cultural Center in her fundraising campaign. But Alisha is frustrated with the continuation of support which she has seen wane since last year. “It’s amazing how so many can feel that after a little bit of work or a little bit of donating or a little bit of reading and then hang up the hat and walk away from it. So many of us can’t walk away from the color of our skin––we have to live it everyday.” Last year, she says, there was a ton of media coverage and this year that publicity has faded.
Alisha alternates between a 1000 watt smile and a look of serious concentration, two sides that she constantly navigates between. She says she doesn’t agree with cancel culture which leaves too much left unsaid and allows companies and individuals to go silent instead of stepping up to amend and move forward with action or policy to undue harm. Alisha is about rolling up her sleeves and getting the work done and encouraging others to do the same. Now in a Masters program at Metro State University for Social Work, Alisha sees the next phase of her career addressing the mental health and social issues that underly criminal justice work and ultimately policing. She also believes in reducing the barriers that exist for BIPOC riders and creating opportunities for them to enter what can be a very expensive sport. She credits Trek for helping her enter and gear up for cycling but without sponsorship many potential BIPOC athletes face financial and structural barriers that prevent them from entering and advancing in the sport of cycling.
Alisha loves the extensive bike trails in Fort Collins but sees opportunities for “connecting communities to the North where it tends to be more diverse.” She also thinks that drivers need more education about how vehicles and bikes can co-exist safely on the same road. Bikes can be a crucial mode of transportation to work and school, and streets should be safe for all kinds of transportation. It’s important to keep having these conversations with adults but believes that teaching new drivers to understand bike safety is the key to a better future where bikes are safer on our streets.
After our interview Alisha is heading south to listen to live music, another precious thing we took for granted pre-pandemic and a much-needed break from training. She is triumphant about her work with Ride for Racial Justice which will sponsor 25 BIPOC athletes at the start line of Steamboat Gravel where she herself will ride. She is looking forward to her internship in the fall, she hopes Bike Ride for Black Lives will continue to be an annual event and slowing down doesn’t seem like a thing she’s even considered. She is a natural and tireless leader, and for all she has seen and experienced the last two years as a black woman, and a black policewoman, Alisha beams hope for a better future. “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself and no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams,” she quotes from a favorite book.
She urges us all to not give up––keep working towards racial equity, support diversity in cycling and continue educating ourselves about our past and what an equitable future looks like. “I tackle everything,” she laughs with a slight edge of exhaustion. “Live life EPIC–– Excitement, passion, intensity, and curiosity. This is my life motto. “What keeps you going,” I ask? She answers without pause, “being fueled by making a difference, being fueled by the fear, being fueled by the fact that I know that if I die today everybody in my life will know that I love them and that I live my life to the fullest even if I don’t accomplish everything on my bucket list.” Alisha Zellner embodies integrity––her work is only just beginning and it’s already more than most of us could ever hope to accomplish.
Name and age Alisha Zellner, 34
What do you do for a living? Police Officer
How long have you lived in Fort Collins? On and off for 13 1/2 years
How long have you been riding? This is tricky. I learned as a kid, but didn’t have a bike that could grow with me (6 ft tall). Rented bikes while traveling in my twenties (like in Amsterdam). Rented bikes for my first sprint triathlon in 2014. Bought my first road bike in 2018 and have been going since. Seriously for one year.
What kind of riding do you do? I road bike, gravel bike, and indoor spin.
Do you commute via bike? If so, how far do you commute? I do not commute due to the equipment I need at work. However, I am now a certified Bike Cop and can ride at work.
Why do you ride? I ride because the bicycle equals freedom and during a time when I felt silenced, it gave me my voice back.
What kind(s) of bike(s) do you ride? I own a Trek Checkpoint SL7 and Specialized Diverge A1.
What would you like to tell someone who is thinking about starting to ride a bike? Go for it! It’ll be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.
What makes you smile when you’re on your bike? A light breeze, the butterfly that tracks along with you, the smiles from other cyclists, and the distance I can go. It’s incredible what the bike can do and the places I’ve seen.
What got you into riding your bike? Was there a specific moment/experience? I just remember that I learned to ride as a kid. It’s what everyone in the neighborhood was doing and I was not going to be left behind.
Where is your favorite place to ride? Amsterdam! But locally would be the Poudre and Spring Creek trails.
What are the biggest improvements you’ve seen for bicycling in Fort Collins? A lot of intentional infrastructure to help keep cyclists safe.
What gets you on your bike on a cold, rainy, crummy day? The feeling of life against my skin. It’s meditative and I’m at peace in nature.
How often do you ride your bike (vs. drive)? I ride multiple times a week, but I don’t commute as often as I should. Bikes are expensive and I’ve see first hand how quick a theft can happen. Im afraid to lock my bike up anywhere outside.
Did you enjoy reading about Alisha Zellner? Read about other inspiration individuals just like her who ride bikes here.