An interview with Vera Ngosi-Sambrook
To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we caught up with Vera Ngosi-Sambrook – the winner of last year’s Chwarae Teg’s Womenspire Women in Sport Award – to find out more about her work to increase the representation of diverse communities in cycling and hear what she thinks sport can do to be more inclusive.
Vera, who is originally from Malawi, became hooked on cycling five years ago when she moved to Cardiff for a job where she was encouraged to cycle to work and get involved in charity rides. Vera tells the story: “I got into cycling through a tandem ride with a colleague, it was great because there was someone to help me pull my weight and a good way of meeting new people.”
Vera continues, “In the beginning, I was cycling for leisure and joining local group rides but I was the only black woman in a group of middle-aged men. When the pandemic hit in 2021, group rides had to stop, but in pursuit of my newfound passion for cycling I applied for the Ultra Distance Scholarship, aimed at black and ethnic minorities, which gave me an incredible opportunity to train for a gruelling 2000km race with a custom-built bike, training coach and all the kit I would need. I wanted to share my experiences and document my journey to becoming a solo long-distance cyclist, so I started an Instagram account to connect with other women who looked like me. I found this has been a good way to bring the issue of diversity to light, but also in many other ways, raise awareness amongst under-represented groups that this is something that they can do – I’m a big believer that if you can see it, you can be it.”
Some of Vera’s most impactful work within cycling is done by actively engaging with organisations that aim to increase cycling opportunities for people from diverse and ethnic backgrounds. While training for the Ultra Distance race, Vera fundraised money for The Women of Colour Cycling Collective which was set up in 2020 to bring under-represented minority cyclists together in a safe space, challenging the stereotype of what a cyclist looks like. Vera says: “The Women of Cycling Collective reinvest their money to provide more sponsorships and scholarships, reducing the barriers to cycling and supporting people who want to get involved. It’s a great way to encourage people to get stuck in by coaching them to push their boundaries and make new connections.”
“A friend of mine recently set up Cycle Together which celebrates the vibrant diversity that exists in cycling. They have resources that aren’t so intimidating and are beginner friendly, ranging from bike mechanics to cycling techniques to help people feel empowered and confident when they first start cycling. With an index of clubs and communities across the UK hosted on their website, it’s a great way to meet new people and get together to ride.
“I also assist in leading some rides in partnership with the School of Rocks, a community-based program designed to empower everyone to enjoy off-road cycling. They set up six-week programs among different schools across the UK to build confidence and skills for riding off-road. I enjoy providing a space for those who don’t feel represented, particularly the LGBTQIA+ community, different races, ethnicities, backgrounds and abilities. Being able to upskill riders and enable them to grow in a supportive environment is what motivates me to keep doing the work I do.”