Motivational Monday is an on going series highlighting stories of women like you and me. We feature racers, commuters, car-free mommas, and everything in between. Want to be featured? Let us know!

Neela Fleckenstein is a 33 year-old engineer from Greenville, South Carolina. She started cycling in 2011.

What initially motivated you to race bikes?

Joining a women’s cycling team helped get me into road racing. I became interested in racing cyclocross after seeing my husband do a few races, and watching a few episodes of Behind the Barriers. I had to join the fun!

What were (if any) your concerns/fears with bike racing?

My concerns with racing road were mainly crashing. In ‘cross, I think my main fear is making a fool of myself. I finally decided that wasn’t a good enough excuse and just put myself out there.

When did you start racing and what discipline?

Started racing road in 2013. Started racing ‘cross in Fall of 2014. I like both disciplines, but I think my favorite is CYCLOCROSS!

What went through your mind during your first race?

Road racing was really exhilarating. Once the race started, the competitor inside of me turned on. I felt alive. It was glorious. ‘Cross is the same way, but there are more mental challenges for me because of the technical stuff.

Who/what influenced you the most when you started? Why?

With road racing, definitely my teammates and others I met through cycling. With ‘cross, it was attending the Cycle-Smart ‘cross camp last year. I literally got a ‘cross bike just so I could attend camp that weekend. I learned so much at camp, and got a good base of knowledge I could take with me. I still have a lot to learn, and barriers are still a challenge, but I know with time I’ll get there. Most of all, I fell in love with the cross community.

How does bike racing influence your life?

Bike racing is one of the only activities I can completely focus on without thinking about all the other stressors life. It makes me feel alive to challenge myself like that.

What are your race-related goals?

My goals this year are a bit different, because I plan on going back to school. So mostly, I’ll be trying to maintain some fitness and get some races in here and there. In the future, I’d like to be more competitive in cyclocross and move up to cat 3.

What are the biggest struggles we face as female racers, and how do you think we can promote women’s cycling to beginners?

There are several struggles for female racers. I think a lot of us just need to build more confidence by practicing our skills in a safe environment. We need support from one another. That’s one thing about cyclocross vs. road–you have a lot more encouragement out there as a new racer. I think more opportunities for women’s specific racing camps would also help encourage women to get out there!

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