Tidal Nine Events leads the pack to give women road racers opportunities, fair award monies

Melissa Werkman is the first to say she doesn't promote just women's cycling events. But she has a passion to create opportunities for women racers to race at their athletic level, and, just as important, to win award monies equal to those offered in men's races.

So Werkman, the executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan by day, started Tidal Nine Events -- a racing events consultancy that organizes cycle races and running marathons, and helps race organizers put every detail in place. Her experience stems from a five-year stint with Gazelle Sports as community programmer, running their sporting events, and assisting with other events such as The Fifth Third Riverbank Run and the Reeds Lake Triathlon.

For cycling events, Werkman acts as liaison between the event and USA Cycling, the governing body for race certification.

"There is a big movement nationwide to start calling professional races on the opportunities for women cyclists," says Werkman, a former triathlete and road racer who now races mountain bikes. "There have been cycling events regionally, and if there was a women's race, there wasn't sponsorship (no prize money), because they were small. So the women racers weren't coming to the event because there wasn't any money and very little recognition. I'm working to bring some parity to the involvement and to the payout."

Tidal Nine Events works with events before the start and long after the finish, beginning sometimes 10 months before the event. Werkman can handle any or all of the details, including consulting; procuring equipment such as fencing, barricades, staging, podiums, tents, portable toilets; finding sponsors; finding timers; creating an exciting experience for spectators; establishing safety protocols for weather and other emergencies, and medical response for riders; planning the race route, getting the city or county on board, getting all permits and licenses, and marking the route; making sure racers have their after-race needs met, such as food; and more.

Werkman is busy with the Tulip Time King's Day Criterium: nine men's races and two women's. In 2013, the race, then called the Queen's Day Criterium, was one of the first races in Michigan to offer an equivalent cash payout for women and men, says Werkman.

She has worked with Fisk Knob Time Trial and Miller Energy Criterium. This year, she's also helping coordinate Kalamazoo's state road race championship Race for Wishes, and a brand new runner's marathon, The Holland Haven Marathon.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Tidal Nine Events
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