“What am I doing here? My body's not acting the way I want it to act. I can’t keep going,” these thoughts race through Anne Riesling’s head as tears roll down her cheeks. She is pedalling uphill on the fourth day of her ride on one of the Cent Cols Compact Challenges.
Anne is no stranger to sports and perseverance. The Vancouver native’s life has been a thrilling rollercoaster of athleticism and self-discovery. With a heavy dose of globally competitive horseback riding from a young age, "I learned so many pivotal lessons in life and about myself,” Anne explains.
As Anne approached adulthood a significant moment of decision-making loomed. The question of whether to pursue a traditional degree or chart an unconventional course in sports weighed heavily on her mind. She eventually decided to dip her toes into studying sciences, ventured into diverse job roles in fields like hospitality and medicine, and later dived into the complex world of finance.
However, it was during this tumultuous journey of self-discovery and self-validation that Anne experienced a seismic shift. A profound realisation dawned on her around 2020 – fear had held her back for far too long. “I basically realised that for my whole life, one, I'd been scared, and two, there were a lot of things that I had put to the side because I wasn't ready, because I wasn't good enough, I lacked the confidence, or I didn't have enough money,” she recounts.
"I felt very lost...I was focusing more on external validation versus internal and focusing on what's impressive versus what truly lights me up," Anne reflects on her transformative moment.
External pressures and self-doubt had stymied her dreams. Determined to rewrite her story, she embarked on a mission to confront her fears head-on and wrote down her bucket list dreams.
One of Anne's bucket list dreams was as audacious as they come – the Cent Cols Challenge. This awe-inspiring amateur cycling adventure had beckoned her for over a decade. A pretty serious endeavour, a Cent Cols Compact Challenge – as the name might suggest – involves climbing one hundred cols (the lowest point on a mountain ridge between two peaks), over ten stages, with each stage around 180 - 200km long and including from 3,000 to over 5,000m of climbing. Mercifully, there is a rest day in the middle, and it is not a race. About eight of these events take place every year, in different locations around Europe.
Alongside these exhilarating 10-day Cent Cols Challenges lie their younger siblings: the Cent Cols Compact Challenges. These events take on roughly the same format as their formidable counterparts, except they are distilled over six days. They still span up to 1200km and take cyclists up tens of thousands of metres of elevation gain, making them a true test of grit and determination. Anne took on one of these epic journeys, adding her name to the list of intrepid souls who dare take on one of these extraordinary feats.
What struck a chord with Anne and what spurred her to take part in the Cent Cols Challenge was a video featuring the challenge's founder, who described the intoxicating thrill of reaching a mountaintop and gazing at the world below “with the guys.” Yet, one thing puzzled her – “where were all the women?”. This omission "really sparked a fire in me 10 years ago," Anne recounts, compelling her to take on this extraordinary journey.
Preparing for the Cent Cols Compact Challenge was no easy feat. Six months of rigorous training and some courageous sacrifices, like selling her car to acquire her dream bike, underscored Anne's determination. This was about more than just conquering mountains; it was a fierce battle against her deepest fears, a relentless pursuit of true passion, and pushing for diversity in the cycling space. It was an integral change from seeking external validation to nurturing her inner journey and those of other women.
"I asked myself, what would my life look like if I no longer let fear get in the way of anything I wanted to do?" Anne explains.
I want to create environments or things that I can do from my platform to elevate other women to feel the way that I felt, but also just have that confidence to go after their dreams.
September 2021 marked the beginning of Anne's audacious adventure and training, and the Cent Cols Compact Challenge in July 2022 did not disappoint in its brutality. Six gruelling days, punctuated by a single rest day, saw her conquer over 1150 kilometres and a staggering 30,720 meters of elevation gain. But on the fourth day, she reached a breaking point, seriously contemplating throwing in the towel.
Yet, three factors conspired to keep her going. First, Anne's insatiable curiosity drove her to see how she would feel after completing this Herculean feat. Second, she yearned to prove to herself that she could triumph over the mountains, both physical and mental. And third, an unexpected encounter with a stranger on the mountainside provided a surge of motivation that defied explanation.
Anne's triumphant completion of the Cent Cols Compact Challenge transformed her perception of fear. She emerged from this epic journey with a renewed belief in her abilities, debunking the myth that external pressures should dictate her dreams.
"I just have to believe that I can do it and just go for it," Anne reflects on the lessons learned.
“In the span of 15 years, the Cent Cols Challenge has probably only seen fewer than five women complete it,” Anne points out. Now, she is leveraging her platform to inspire women everywhere to break free from the shackles of fear and unapologetically chase their aspirations. She plans to create spaces and opportunities for women to cultivate confidence and fulfil their dreams, much like her own remarkable cycling odyssey.
One of these spaces is her upcoming documentary: Why She Rides. In it, Anne describes her unforgettable Cent Cols Compact Challenge. And she won’t stop there. Her eponymous brand name will promote a wide range of topics, from vlogs about her adventures to conversations with women making true impact in the sport to highlighting some of the most epic cols and mountains all over the world.
"I want to create environments or things that I can do from my platform to elevate other women to feel the way that I felt, but also just have that confidence to go after their dreams," Anne asserts.
Anne aspires to foster inclusivity within the cycling community, transforming it into a realm that embraces cyclists of all proficiency levels. Her passion lies in empowering individuals, enabling them to reach their fullest potential, and subsequently, make a significant impact on the world. Through her cycling journey, Anne has experienced a multitude of advantages, including enhanced physical fitness, fortified mental resilience, and the ability to forge profound and meaningful relationships within the sporting world.
Anne's story is a testament to the power of determination, self-belief, and the courage to confront fear head-on. Her remarkable journey serves as a clarion call for others to ascend the summits in their lives with unwavering resolve and unbridled passion.