We all approached 2021 with a giant question mark looming over, well, everything. Gnarly athlete and professional mountain biker Blake Hansen felt the same, especially since she works as a freelancer. What transpired for Blake in 2021 was beyond what she imagined and what she now calls “a game-changer” of a year, and the first year since 2015 where she felt valued and happy with the direction her life was going.
In late July, Blake kicked off our four-part film series “Fuel for Life.” Blake’s “Fuel for Life” video was a collaborative effort from herself and co-director and friend, Katie Bennett. The seven-minute video just begins to tell her story of a life spent on a bicycle growing up transgender. The film touches on acceptance, a lack of representation in the industry, and overall showcases how badass of a mountain biker Blake is.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we talked with Blake and how life has been since the film launched and what she has in store for the future.
What was it like to tell your story through film?
It was an interesting and kind of scary story to tell for my first time breaking out into the public sphere. I've been racing mountain bikes for four years and it has been very much a personal endeavor on my own, quietly, and not really doing much marketing or storytelling of any sort. To have that switch has been interesting and scary, but also really cool.
The Gnarly Nutrition story had a lot to do with how things have started to shake out for this year and my career moving forward. So it was very nerve-wracking and very bold for us to tell a story like that right off the bat, but it has been really good.
The film has been selected and shown at so many prestigious film festivals. What has that felt like?
The first public showing was at the Beta Film Festival in Sedona, Arizona. I was there the week before, so I wasn't actually there when the film was shown, but I had a lot of close friends there and from what I hear, I think it was really well received. I think it was eye opening for a lot of people to see a story like that be told in mountain biking because it really hasn't been. This kind of story hasn't really been told in our space, so I think a lot of people got excited about that. From what I hear, it was super well received and it excites me to see this new idea of LGBTQ inclusivity and someone like me being able to open up about it. And, in turn, have that create more conversations in other corners of the industry where I am not physically standing.
Overall, what kind of feedback have you received since sharing your story with the world?
People have reached out so much on social media. They often say they watched the film and were left thinking about what it might be like, for people in the community that are wondering if they belong there.
We only had seven minutes to tell a story that hadn't been touched on before. So it was kind of like starting the very beginning with not a whole lot of time to do it. So while we weren’t able to really get deep, it made an impact. To have all kinds of people and LGBT community members and mountain bikers reach out and say this is so refreshing to see this kind of story be told is really what I was looking for in terms of positive feedback.
It's really cool to see the general industry and people in the companies who control where I go, where bikes go, where money goes - it was cool to see their positive reactions, but it was way cooler to see community members reach out and say they enjoyed it. That was really affirming for me to see.
It must have been incredibly hard to produce a seven-minute film about your life. What kind of challenges did that present?
It's such a small, simple film and I really didn't even get to go into details on much of anything. When I watch it and talk about it, to me, it feels like I really didn't get to do much yet. There’s just so much more I want to talk about and give to the world, and that I hope that I can.
This is just the tip; I want to do so much more than this. Taking the “Fuel for Life” project over to my other sponsors that are really helping, like Specialized, my bike manufacturer, has definitely meant I get to share more this year, get more funding and be able to dive deeper. I definitely would not have been able to get this momentum that I have without the Gnarly Nutrition film.
In terms of your career as a filmmaker, how has “Fuel for Life” impacted your trajectory?
As a filmmaker, prior to taking bikes to a pro level, this was one of my first opportunities to really take a story and put it on to the screen from beginning to end and be a part of the entire process. I've worked in film and marketing for eight years now, and I've always been a piece of the pie, but I've never really gotten to do the whole thing because there was always someone bigger and better and cooler and more knowledgeable. When Gnarly reached out saying, “We would love to see this happen and here's some money. Do you want to do it?” And then made sure I had the resources in order to succeed at the task, that was a really, really huge and affirming thing for me. As a storyteller, to be able to actually do it, and then see it come to life, is pretty neat.
Aside from the film festivals, what kind of traction has the film received?
I wouldn't call it a huge thing that is blowing up and getting hundreds of thousands of views or anything, but I think it was a really good project that came out really well and was well received by everyone who’s watched it.
For the first time in my life, Gnarly gave me opportunity to direct the story and to tell it how I want to with the help of my co-director and one of my best friends Katie who is also a woman and a gay woman.
It gave me the confidence that the industry and the community has never really given me before - that I am capable of seeing a project to the finish. For the company to have the idea to tell these larger stories and the opportunity that's given me as a storyteller and an athlete, honestly, it’s been kind of life-changing in so many ways.
Any parting thoughts about how the film has shaped you?
It’s been huge for me as a developing human to be able to take the pieces of the skills I have and put them together and do something beginning to end. When you have created freedom like that, some pretty awesome things can happen.