Tucson Home Helps Elite Women Athletes Level Playing Field

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — For the past five years, the Tucson nonprofit Homestretch Foundation has provided housing to more than 70 female athletes from 17 countries.

The “Stretchies” pursue careers in endurance sports, including cycling, triathlon, swimming or running, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

Homestretch typically houses six to eight athletes at a time.

Founder Kathryn Bertine got the idea for Homestretch through her own struggles as a professional cyclist.

In 2015, a year before she retired from cycling, Bertine found herself going through a divorce and struggling without a base salary.

“If I’d had a base salary for my job, I’d be OK. But I couldn’t work two jobs and be a pro cyclist,” Bertine, 45, told the Star. “I kept thinking: ‘If I were a man, this wouldn’t be an issue.’”

Bertine, who a few years before had helped women push their way into the Tour de France, initially wanted to fight for the Union Cycliste Internationale to allocate base salaries for their female pro cyclists like men are paid.

Knowing that could take years, she decided to help women in the interim.

She linked up with Tom Bailey, and in November 2016, they launched the Homestretch Foundation.

In addition to room and board, Homestretch offers its residents assistance with contract and salary negotiations, mentorship, job-search assistance and discounted or free services, including coaching, training, medical care, physical therapists and rehabilitation professionals.

There are benefits to the community as well.

Before the coronavirus, residents led weekly rides called “Spin with the Stretchies” that departed down the street from the house, at Homestretch sponsor Le Buzz Cafe.

The ride’s slow pace allowed residents to have conversations with local riders, which Bertine said both the “Stretchies” and amateur cyclists thoroughly enjoyed.

The UCI guarantees their male pros at the World Tour level a minimum annual base salary of 40,000 Euros, or roughly $48,000.

Men at the Pro Continental level, or minor leagues of professional cycling, earn 30,000 Euros, or $36,000, in salary.

Salary for women pros will be fully equal in 2023. But for now, the average salary is approximately $24,000 for women at the World Tour level. Women who compete at the Pro Continental level have no base salary and often receive less than $10,000 a year.

Two-time Olympic mountain biker Lea Davison discovered the foundation after competing in the 2016 Summer Games, her second Olympics.

Her coach at the time grew up in Tucson and always raved about the weather and the riding.

Davison, 37, hails from Sunderland, Vermont. She was training in Tucson in 2018 and while she knew about Homestretch through some friends in the cycling community, was staying somewhere else.

Davison eventually reached out to Bertine, who didn’t have any space at Homestretch but was able to link Davison up with a host family for the remainder of her stay.

After spending three winters in row training in Vermont, Davison said her year in Tucson was a “whole different scene.”

She returned the next year to a room in the Homestretch house, and finally got the full experience.

“It’s like college for pro cycling,” Davison told the Star. “I’m 100% an extrovert, so it’s a really great community to be a part of. It’s super fun to be around likeminded women who get it, who completely understand what we’re trying to do.”

Davison said that the ability to save money on housing costs while training in Tucson is a game-changer for many athletes.