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Power of Determination with Marion Clignet



Marion Clignet is a cycling, health, fitness and nutritional coach and public speaker. At the age of 22, Marion discovered that she had epilepsy and would have to take medication for the rest of her life. So she made a promise to herself that she would never let anything get in the way of her achieving what she set her mind to. During her 27 years as a track cyclist, she earned 12 national titles, six World Championship titles, two Olympic silver medals and one world record.


Listen to the full episode here.


IN THIS EPISODE

[01:10] Marion Clignet on what she is most passionate about

[03:44] Marion Clignet on the issues faced by female athletes internationally

[05:02] Marion Clignet on her childhood

[07:56] Marion Clignet on her beginnings in cycling

[17:44] Marion Clignet on her experience in the Olympics

[20:46] Marion Clignet on breaking the world record

[21:42] Marion Clignet on the pressure of the Olympics

[23:02] Marion Clignet on the qualities that have helped her succeed

[24:21] Marion Clignet on her decision to stop cycling competitively

[26:58] Marion Clignet on her transition out of competitive cycling

[34:07] Marion Clignet on her new tour

[38:50] Marion Clignet on her annual ride for epilepsy

[40:35] Marion Clignet on her definition of success

[41:40] Marion Clignet on how to overcome lack of motivation

[45:24] Marion Clignet on her mantra

[45:52] Marion Clignet on her advice to young women

[47:22] Kylee Stone on the power of transformation


LINKS:

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project Podcast, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories. On every episode, we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success, and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.


Today, we're talking with Marion Clignet, a cycling, health, fitness, and nutritional coach and public speaker. At the age of 22, Marion discovered that she had epilepsy and would have to take medication for the rest of her life. So she made a promise to herself that she would never let anything get in the way of her achieving what she set her mind to.


During her 27 years as a track cyclist, she earned 12 national titles, six World Championship titles, two Olympic silver medals, and one world record.


So please welcome to the show, Marion Clignet.


Marion: Hello. Thank you.


Passionistas: Hello. We're so excited to have you here today and to find out about your fascinating journey. So, to start, we always like to ask, what's the one thing you're most passionate about?


Marion: Equality. You know, you mentioned when you introduced me that I was a professional athlete, and yes, I trained like a professional athlete, but I wasn't paid as a professional athlete. It was pretty much all volunteer. And granted, I did find my own sponsorship, my own gigs and contracts, which essentially led me to stop because I got tired of always having to do several jobs at once.


But today, one of my passions is really ensuring that all women's sports are considered as a profession and that women aren't fired for—in France, there were a few women who were let go of club teams for what they call a “faute grave,” which would be a, I'm trying to find the translation in English. Oh, it would be like a grave error in your job, because they got pregnant. And so, as a woman athlete, you're not allowed to get pregnant. So we've connected with a national federation of associations and syndicates for sports, and they've really stepped up to the plate to help us defend women and make sure that the Minister of Sports recognizes all women athletes as professional athletes. So it's a difficult period to transition to, but it took us eight months to negotiate with the French Cycling Federation so that they would recognize their own athletes as professional if they had a contract to race on a pro team. I mean, they had the contract, so they were obviously racing as a professional athlete, but the Federation still wrote “amateur” on their license. And it makes such a huge difference to know that your own federation recognizes you as a legitimate and credible professional athlete. And if they don't write that on your license, I mean, you know, at the end of the day, does it really make a difference? Yeah. When you go and ask for a loan and you show that you're a professional athlete, they know you've got checks coming in every month and, but it, it also just in terms of your own federation, believing in what you're doing and believing that women represent, you know, the country. So, that has been my passion for the last, I guess, yeah, last 30, 35 years. I mean, as long as I raced, it was something I always, tried to fight for.


Passionistas: Amazing. And is that, you're obviously in France, but is that still an issue internationally for female athletes?


Marion: It's, yeah, it varies across the board. There are today nine teams that are considered professional. The first teams went professional in 2020, so they're called Women's World Tour. So there are nine teams recognized by the International Cycling Union, and they have to follow a strict guideline that allows them to be world tours. So they have, you know, they have a huge deposit that they have to put down, a bank guarantee. They have to abide by certain rules that are usually followed up by the International Cycling Federation to make sure that everything is followed strictly, and the women are required to get a minimum salary. Two of the teams in the world tour teams stepped up to the plate and said, “Hey, we don't see a difference between the training our women do and our men's team. So we're gonna pay the women the same that we pay the men.” So that was Trek-Segafredo and Team BikeExchange from Australia. So hopefully, all the other teams that have a men's team as well will step up to the plate and do the same.


Passionistas: Let's take a step back. Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like? And talk about the dual identity of being a French and American and how that impacted you.


Marion: My father is a professor of sociology, and my sister was born in France. And as a sociologist, he couldn't find any work in France, and he was offered a job as a professor at the University of Chicago. So, my family moved to Chicago in ’63. And then my father got a job at the University of Northwestern, where he taught for 25 years. And I was born in Chicago, and then we moved to Evanston. And I grew up in a cozy little suburb, kind of on the border of Evanston and Skokie. A very interesting mixed neighborhood. There was, you know, on one end a synagogue, the other end, the Catholic church. Lots of Irish Catholic families with 16 kids and, you know, the O'Malleys, the O'Briens, McLaughlins. And there was a park right down the street where they used to flood the park in the winter, and we'd all go ice skating, and people would ring cowbells at 6:00 PM to get all their kids to come home for dinner. So I was always left that extra hour, ‘cause we didn't eat till 7:00, ‘cause that was the French dinner time. So, yeah, it was, I mean, it was a really cool place to grow up. I was definitely a tomboy, spent more time climbing trees and running around than, you know, doing other things, and had a really mixed group of friends, very eclectic. So, that was nice. I was convinced I was adopted, because my sister was born in France and I was born in the States. So, I just thought that, yeah, I must not have been part of the family. And kind of always, yeah, felt like I didn't fit in. So that’s…And what else? Yeah, when I was 14, I went to high school. It was kind of on the suburb of Evanston in Chicago. And just started tampering, as you do with that age, with pot and mushrooms and all kinds of things. And my parents freaked out, and my father took a job at University of Maryland thinking that the change would be good for me and that, yeah, I think they were really worried about what I was doing. So lo and behold, when we moved there, probably got a little bit worse before it got better. And then I realized that sports was really my thing, and that is not at all my parents thing. So, they were sort of left with another question mark on, “Okay, now what? Now what do we do with this kid?” You know, so, yeah, I mean, I just, I found my own way, pretty much, and continued pursuing what I felt was a pull for me to go toward.


Passionistas: When did you first get interested in cycling, and when did it become, like, a really serious endeavor for you?


Marion: Well, I, you know, I started my first sport, well, I was passionate about horses as a kid, so I did a lot of, you know, horseback riding and worked as a groom to pay for my horse shows. And then I played ultimate Frisbee—that was one of my big sports—and organized the East Coast National High School Championships, which was kind of a big deal, and that was good fun. And then, when I was 22, I was in a store in Washington, I think, and I had a first ever grand mal seizure. So I was taken, well, the people asked me my name and I knew I knew it, but I couldn't answer them. It was kind of one of those things on the tip of my tongue. And I, you know, I knew that, I mean, I was like, “God, what a stupid question. Of course I know my name, it’s—” and it wouldn't come out. And then they asked where I lived, and I was like, “Well, yeah, I know where I live, you know, just gimme a second. It'll come to me.” And then when they asked me who the president, I was absolutely certain it was Nixon. And Nixon had been impeached 15 years prior. I think at the time it was Reagan. And so they shipped me off to the Washington Hospital Center, and I spent, I think I spent two days there. And at the end of the two days, a woman walked in, a small Argentine woman, who said, “Okay, hi, I'm your neurologist. So, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is you don't have a brain tumor, so that's not what provoked the seizure. The bad news is you have a condition called epilepsy, and you shouldn't talk about it to anyone because it's considered taboo. Some people consider it a little bit, you know, mystical and whatever, but definitely keep it to yourself. Don't go out alone. Don't join any sports, and you're gonna have to take medication for the rest of your life. And your driver's license is suspended for one year, starting today.” Pretty much so they could find out if I would react to a treatment and what, you know, the best treatment would be.


So, I was a bit taken aback, really, by all of these things that I wasn't supposed to do. And normally, when people tell me I can't do something, I do the opposite. So, I kind of did just that. I worked 30 kilometers from my house, and I just don't have the patience to wait for buses and trains and just feel like I lose time. So, I felt the most efficient thing to do would be to buy a bike, since I couldn't drive anymore, and then I could just ride 60k a day to work and back and, you know, make my own energy, and that would be that. So, I got to it the next day and found a, really, a hunk of junk green bike in the “Want” ads in the Washington Post, and bought myself my first steel frame. It was called a “Nord de France,” which I think is what inspired me because it was, it had a French name. So, I felt like my roots were fitting in there a little bit and started riding 60k a day pretty much the following week, and, you know, getting to work and back. And I told people at work what was going on just in case, you know, I had a seizure, what they should do, and that I didn't know much more about it than they would, so, you know, we were gonna have to figure it out as it went because I really had no more information to give them. And, yeah, off I went. And then couple of weeks or months into riding to work came back. I started playing with time. I kind of got bored just riding there and back, so I started leaving five minutes later every to see if I could still make it to work on time. So I was setting myself up doing these little time trials, and so I was getting to work more huffier and puffier every day and, and beet red and you know, sweaty and gross. And one of the guys I worked with, um, whose name was Steve, asked me what I was training for, and I burst out laughing and I said, “Well, you know, this is pretty much my car replacement. It's definitely not gonna help, you know, if I was to do anything else with it. And, he asked me if I wanted to try a bike race, and that there was a bike race for women on the University of Maryland campus. And I was sort of surprised, you know, that he came out with this question, and said, “Well, you know, I've never ridden with anyone other than my bicycle, so it could be dangerous for them and for me. I mean, you never know. It's, could be a risk involved.” And he said, “No, no, don't worry about it. It's open to all levels, so just give it a try.” And so we talked about it for a while, and he convinced me to go. So I turned up, and I knew the circuit, because it was around the stadium, the outside of the stadium at the University of Maryland College Park campus. And so I started riding laps, and of course, I showed up with underwear on under my cycling shorts because I didn't know anything about chafing, and that wasn't what you do. It just, you know, seemed normal to me. You would wear underwear under skin tight, like, shorts; bright orange wool socks, and tennis shoes with matching laces to my socks, of course; and a white t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. And so I'm doing laps and all this, and somehow I managed to touch a greasy chain on my calf. So I had what we call in cycling terms “a cat three chain mark,” which kind of, you know, means that you're sort of a wank. Anyway, so, I get to the starting line and put myself in the first row, because that way no one's gonna be in front of me, and I won't bother anyone. And I'm kind of waiting for the race to get going, and Steve was giving me a few tips, and then I heard this buzz behind me. It was like, “Oh my God, do you see that girl in the front row? Look, she's got a cat three chain mark on her calf. And look at her bike! Oh my God, it's full of grease, and she doesn't have bike shoes, and she's wearing underwear on under her chamois—” I mean, it's just all this, you know, was going on and on. So, it took me a while to realize that they were talking about me, and then started thinking, “You know, if, if anything goes wrong, if I make anybody fall, then it's not gonna go unnoticed. So I'm gonna have to be savvy, tactically. So, you know, when the Peloton goes by me, let me just hang on to the last wheel and really hang on for dear life.” So, I kind of snapped out of it when the gunshot went, the guy was telling us to go. And I just put it in the biggest gear I had, powered to the front, and then just stayed there. And every time someone would move up and try to pass me, I'd accelerate for their safety, really. ‘Cause I was afraid if we came side by side into a turn and I took somebody out, that it definitely wouldn't be an advantage to myself or to them. And so we're going, you know, around and around, and at one point, Steve screams out at me, you know, “Marion, get some cover, cover yourself!” And I'm looking up at the sky, and I’m like, “Some cover from what, what is this guy talking about?” Two laps later, he tells me, “Grab a wheel. Grab a wheel!” So I'm looking at, you know, my front wheel's fine, my rear wheel is still there, and no idea what he's talking about. So, the laps afterwards, I was going by the start finish line like this, so I wouldn't look at him and get distracted, and, you know, we're going on and on and I'm, by this time it's, I think we had one lap to go, and I was dead tired. I was really starting to feel the effects, but I think we averaged close to 40 kilometers an hour. And it was, the race was about 40k. And the last lap, three girls came around me. So I came in fourth, and I was absolutely elated. And I went to see the girl who won. I was like, “Oh wow.” You know, I was, the endorphins were all kicking in.


And I was like, “That was so cool. What could I do to get better, to improve and to race like you guys?” And, you know, it was kind of like a groupie. And so she took a step back and did one of these, gave me the once over, and said, “Change it all. The bike is too big for you, and definitely don't wear underwear under your chamois. When you go to take a pee, you'll understand why.” And, you know, just kind of went through all the things and, and never stay at the front in entire race. And, you know, and then she gave me some compliments too, said, “You obviously showed you have the power, but you know, you've gotta put in some finesse into your pedal stroke.” And Steve was really excited too. He was used to riding, so he took me under his wing, and we went from there, and I raced and trained with a group of guys and some girls that were coming up too in the Washington area.


And four years later, four or five years later, I won the National Cycling Championships, and then, and took a bronze and a silver, and was refused a spot on the national team for the World Championships that were in Japan that year, because in their eyes, having epilepsy would make me a risk to the team. So my answer to that was pretty much, “Well, fuck you. Watch me.” And since I had dual citizenship, and the French women had been over racing with us in the U.S. a few weeks earlier, they had told me, you know, “If you wanna come and race with us in France, you know, we've got a bunch of races in Brittany and, you know, give us a shout.” So I called them up and I said, “Look, I'm coming.”


And so I finished that season in August in Brittany and it was, it was a different style of racing. In the U.S., There's a lot of criterions, a lot of short course, fast money type races, which are great, but there weren't as many road races and, you know, hills and stuff like that. And tactically, it was a little bit different as well. So I did all these races in Brittany, and then started racing with the men and then won a men's race. And the national, the French National Team director offered me a spot on the team. And I was like, “Yeah, you know, let me just go home, get my stuff.” And I went back to the U.S., got my stuff, and then moved into a really small town in nowhere, Brittany, ‘cause that's where the most cyclists lived, and started my life over again.


Passionistas: You eventually went on to win two silver medals at the Olympics. So tell us about those experiences.


Marion: My first year in France, so at the end of that summer, yeah, I moved in. And the following year I won the French nationals, won my first World Cup and French nationals on the track, which, the track was very unique because you have no breaks, and I had never ridden the track, and it scared the absolute shit out of me. But it was also, you know, another serious endorphin boost, and I was winning all the time trials and prologues and the road races. So the track coach, you know, asked me to start training with them for the Olympics as well. The first Olympics I raced were Barcelona, and I should have been selected on the track, but there was a big political scam and I didn't get chosen. I did the road race and, yeah, there was just a road race. Had a, we were training in altitude in Toluca Mexico, and six weeks before, I crashed, broke four ribs, and punctured a lung. So, the fact that we stayed in altitude ‘cause I couldn't take the plane with my lung as soon after gave me a bit of, you know, a positive edge coming back so soon. But I was still, came up a little bit short for Barcelona.


Silver metal in Atlanta. So, my final was against an Italian Antonella Bellutti, who is using what we call the “Superman position,” where you're, you were flat out on the bike, and you had three point pressure points, pretty much your hands. It was like a force opposition. You were pushing with your hands in front of you and your feet behind you, and you would get yourself in such an aerodynamic position that you could only go faster. And I had asked the federation if they would put that position on my bike as well, and they said, “No,” that it was too short and that I'd already beaten her without it. And I, you know, I think I got a little bit overwhelmed because it was the Olympics and it was, you know, the first ones that I had a real chance at, and I kind of let that get to me. Ended up getting second, which isn't bad, but I lost the finals. So it's, it was a difficult thing to lose, especially that I had always beaten Antonella before. And then three weeks later, we had the World Championships, and I used that position and broke the world record and Antonella in the finals. So it, you know, it was, the Olympics were always a difficult one for me to get my head around. But I raced every event in Atlanta. I raced the road, the time trial and the track. And the road as well, I could have done something and just mentally kind of went around it instead of attacking it head on. So, a great learning experience, but it was, yeah, definitely a mind fuck, if I can say that.


Passionistas: You absolutely can. What is, what is that feeling like though, when you break the world record?


Marion: It was so amazing because I had put everything together and put everything in place that needed to be put in place to perform there, and I knew that. So it was, I can't say it was easy, but it was, I just felt at peace. You know, the same when I won my first individual title at the Worlds in ’94. I was at peace, because I knew I had done all the preparation that needed to be done. There was no dot or t or, you know, anything uncrossed or unchecked. I mean, all the boxes were ticked, so nothing could go wrong. And it seemed, you know, I mean, certain world championships just flew. You know, they were really smooth, and they went the way they should have gone. And it just seems like it was only the Olympics where I couldn't get that to happen, really.


Passionistas: There must be so much pressure at an Olympics. I mean, I can't even imagine the pressure.


Marion: There were 10,000 people in the pin drop when we were on the starting line. And yeah, it is. I mean, and you know people are watching you. You don't wanna let people down. You're, you start thinking about, you know, everyone who's helped you get to where you're going and how many people you could impact, you know, if you did get it right, so to speak. So it’s, it is, and a lot of it is the people in your head, you know. I mean, it’s, that's really what it comes down to at the end of the day. But to answer your initial question of what it feels like to break the world record, it was just amazing. I mean, to look up and see the scoreboard and to see new world record, it was just, wow. You know? And the three of us had all broken the world record that same morning in the heats. So for the, to break it again in the final was pretty cool, ‘cause that, it’s hard to repeat as fast a ride in the afternoon as in the morning.


Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington, and you're listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Marion Clignet.

To learn more about her work as an advocate for the professionalization of women's sports, follow her on Twitter @ActionMarion. Now, here's more of our interview with Marion.

What quality do you think you possess that has helped you achieve so much in the sport?


Marion: You know, I think having epilepsy was a huge factor. I think it made me push myself harder. And I often do say that I'm not sure, if I didn't start riding because of epilepsy, I would've gone as far. Because I really think and believe that that's what pushed me to push myself harder. So, it was something, I mean, I had to prove to myself that it wasn't a handicap, and that it wasn't gonna change anything I set myself up to do. I also had to prove to my parents that the fact that I didn't finish college or, you know, wasn't as intellectual as my family members didn't make me useless. And, you know, that that was a big proving ground for me there. So, yeah, I mean, and I think I inherited my father's character, which is not always a plus, but that's something I've worked on for the years. So, you know, it's kind of being the CEO of your own destiny and taking things into your own hands. Your own hands and running it like your own little, you know, corporation or company and just, you know, you've got an objective, go for it. So, head down and go.


Passionistas: So, when and why did you finally stop cycling competitively?


Marion: I stopped at the international level with women for a, oh, well, a first time in 2000. It was after the World's in Manchester after the Sydney Olympics, which were just probably the best Olympics ever. It was really, you know, Atlanta was pretty much run by Coca-Cola for Coca-Cola. Sydney was run by passionate athletes for athletes. And it was, I think the difference too was that we lived in the Olympic Village, whereas in Atlanta, we were outside because it was easier. And that was really cool. It was, yeah, and you could just see that everything was centered around the games happening for the athletes and having an impact on the population as well. But after that, I just didn't have, felt like I didn't have the energy. I had already fought back from having inflammatory arthritis after Atlanta, and I took two years off and came back, won the Worlds in ’99, then in 2000, and then another Olympic medal. And I just didn't know what else I could do, and I was tired of always having to kind of—fight isn't really the word, but always having to find money, find finances. And I was training as hard as, if not more sometimes than, my male counterparts. And I was racing mostly with the men because that was the best preparation to race internationally with the women. So, you know, I was doing men's races locally, I won some men's races, but you know, they were all getting paid, and I wasn’t. So I just felt there was a lack of respect, and that I wanted to do something more.


So I took a little bit of time off and then thought that the only thing I knew how to do, you know, was ride my bike. So I wanted to make a comeback for Athens, but it wasn't in my heart. It was more, “This is what I have to do to survive.” It just, it wasn't a good, it wasn't a good decision. But I really, I didn't know how to transition, get myself out of what I had gotten myself into. And I had moved to France to become a, you know, a bike racer. And I didn't know what else to do after that. So it made things quite difficult. It was a big challenge, and, yeah. Transitioning is a really big challenge for athletes, as it is for other professions. But it's kind of hard to step down from that high, if you will.


Passionistas: So, what did you do when you transitioned?


Marion: First, I had a contract as an elite athlete working for the post office, and they offered me, you know, a job running a local post office. Just, nope. Can't see myself doing that. And it just, they, yeah, I mean, it didn't raise one arm hair on my arm. But there was something that interested me in what they were doing, which was they had, I think they had 19 athletes that they were helping. So I called the director of comms in Paris. I said, “Look, can I work with you on the communications and how you're working with the athletes on the post office? I think there's things we could do to make this work better for you and the athletes.” And the person I spoke to didn't even know who the athletes were, and I said, “Oh, well let me tell you.” You know, I had the entire list, and they weren't interested. And that really, that was really painful. Because they couldn't explain what they were doing. They were just sort of going with the flow. And I think there was also a deal where they were getting money from the Minister of Sports to hire athletes. So it wasn't a loss for them. They were making, they were getting some communications out of it, but they could have made it a little bit more beneficial for themselves and for the athletes.


So, I sort of rode that wave as long as I could, meaning I kind of took advantage of the situation, since I was still known from Sydney and Atlanta. I didn't really have to go to work. I was still getting a paycheck. And I started doing a speaking tour to try to encourage neurologists, to encourage people with epilepsy to do sports, and to use sports as an outlet and as maybe a way to integrate. And also to get people to connect with their bodies, so maybe they could tell when a seizure was coming on, ‘cause a lot of people have no idea. So, I did kind of a worldwide speaking tour. Did a lot of talk shows and a lot of public speaking, and it was all good fun. It went really well. I had some fantastic training from some of the companies actually who make medication and who aren’t—I mean, there's one company in particular that wasn’t an evil pharmaceutical company. So that was reassuring. And then I took classes on coaching, sports coaching, you know, to be, to coach in cycling, and to work as a directeur sportif, and got asked to coach a men’s team to help them develop into the pro ranks.


So I started coaching men and working as directeur sportif. And things happened kind of quickly for a certain amount of years. There was, the New Zealand national team had a base not far from my house. So I worked with them. I worked with the men’s team, then I got asked to work for a pro men's team who was racing the Tour de France. So I was probably one of, if not the first, woman coach of a pro men's team. And that was good fun. I mean, it was interesting. It was, yeah, it was a kind of a revolutionary period in my life, and probably for theirs as well.


What I find quite strange is that the majority of coaches in all sports are men. And they have no clue about cycles and periods and menopause and how all of that works into a system nutritionally or physiologically, and they're not coached on it. So just now there are some men who are informing themselves and using applications to track cycles so the girls know when they're getting their periods, and readjusting their training. So I did, I took a lot of courses in nutrition as well to form myself on that, and things kind of snowballed, and to really doing as much research as I could to find out all the little innovations, all the peaks and the perks and different things. And what's ironic is, the most research I did was after I worked as a coach. I stepped back from that, and then Airbus asked me to put together a program to help women who had the potential to be top managers build their resilience. So that's when BAM was founded. And that went really well for about five years, and then it stopped with the COVID.


And I have always had a love affair with the mountains. I could see them from my house in Toulouse, and I finally just said, “Fuck it, I'm gonna move to the mountains. I mean, I've just had enough of living right outside of Toulouse,” and there was not much I could do there. Not more there than anywhere else. So I found a fixer upper house at the foot of the Hautacam, which is one of the mythic tour climbs, and spent about a year fixing it up. And I live on the top floor, and my balcony looks out over the Hautacam. It's pitch dark right now, so otherwise I would take you for a tour on the balcony, but you won't see anything. And then I rent the two, there's two apartments underneath. So, the house was, it's kind of an art deco looking type house, and it was already separated into three apartments. So I rent out the two bottom apartments. I just started renting 'em in August and for the season, for summer, and then the ski season—we’ll see if there's any snow. But it went really well. So I'll see how it goes for next season.


And that is helping me kind of transition into my next step. And I kind of say, I mean, I still feel like I'm in transition and constantly thinking of “What am I gonna do when I grow up?” So I'm not sure it's something you ever grow out of or get out of. So, and in terms, you asked about passion, I mean, a couple, something else I'm passionate about is getting, educating people who have epilepsy on how to step out of their comfort zone and feel good about themselves, and sharing the tools I learned and the things I was able to pick up with them so they can get more confident and not feel like they're not one of the crowd just because they have epilepsy. I mean, it's still something that's very, very unknown. A lot of people still freak out if they see me have a seizure, and they don't know what to do or what to say. And, you know, and I know more and more kids who seem to be having, you know, epilepsy. So, and they all, I mean, today's generation is a little bit different. The last generation seemed to have suffered more from it. But it's, yeah, for some reason it's not really picked up as a major condition that should be taught about in schools.


Passionistas: You mentioned before we started the interview that you are starting a new tour. So, tell us about that.


Marion: In 2019, myself, another retired French champion, and a few women who are still racing actively on the circuit decided we'd had enough, and that we had to take matters into our own hands and create what would be actually considered a syndicate, except that since women aren't considered professional in France, we can only call it an association. So we created the French Association of Women Cyclists, and our first objective was to get the women racing on the world tour recognized as professional cyclists. So that box is ticked. Now, we’re trying to get them recognized by the league. The National League of Cycling is who gives the men their professional license. So we put a woman on the board of directors to sit through all the meetings and see how they're run, and see if she can coerce them into having a woman's section. And so far we're on the right track there.


And our other objective was to start, to create an international women's tour of the Pyrenees, because, you know, women's, when we raced in the 90s and, yeah, all through the 90s there, there was always a huge block of racing in France for all the international Peloton. So we'd have, you know, for three to six weeks we'd have the Dutch, the Americans, the Australians, the English, the Germans all over here racing. And then all of a sudden everything stopped, and there's hardly any more stage races in France anymore. In 2014 or ’15, I started going to see the director of the men's tour, and with a group of women, we went to see him together to kind of beg, scream, or plead, whichever work the best to get them to reorganize a woman's tour. And we had three meetings in three or four months, and we were hoping to get a week, and we ended up getting a day, which was called “La Course by La Tour.” So that went on for five years. And last year and the year before, I kept going back to see the director and say, “Look, you know what, what is the worst that can happen if you organize a women's tour?”


And finally, this year, they announced that they're gonna relaunch the Women's Tour de France. And they don't wanna do a one-off or a two off or a three off. They want it to last, you know, for 300 years if I quote what he said. So, while they were getting that going, we had taken matters into our own hands and decided that because we both live in the Pyrenees, my co-president and I said, “Look, let's do an international women's tour of the Pyrenees and have mountaintop finishes, which no other race does.” And it's really rare that women have mountaintop finishes. And also, the more important thing to us, after seeing the prize list at Paris-Roubaix, where the first woman won 1,500 franks and the first man—not franks, euros—and the first man won 30,000 euros, we said, yeah, we said, “Well, we're gonna do the prize money a little bit differently.” So what I've suggested several times is that they—the International Cycling Union—puts a cap on the prize money, so that men and women are paid the same per kilometer raced. So the men will race 200k, they'll get more, but that's because they've raced longer. And women, you know, if they only race 100K, then they'll make the same as a guy would if he raced a 100k. So, and I think that that's fair, but you know, they have yet to implement that.


But anyway, the first ever women's tour of the Pyrenees will be happening August 5th through 7th. And we're super excited about it. We’ve spent endless hours meeting with local towns and mayors and all the politicians and, you know, getting into a whole different spectrum than we're used to. But we've also been really helped a lot by a woman who’s—here, she's called a deputy, so I guess it would be equivalent to Congress, a member of Congress in the U.S.—and she's helped to get us into the right companies, seeing the right people, and, you know, taken us to see everyone. So we've gotten some good sponsorship on board. And tomorrow, in fact, we've been invited to a meeting on the advancements of technology and sports for women that's put on by one of the companies that's sponsoring us. So that’s, it's cool. I mean, it's opening a lot of different doors, and a new adventure begins.


Passionistas: We read that you hosted the annual Marion Clignet Ride for Epilepsy.


Marion: Yep.


Passionistas: Can you tell us about that?


Marion: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That started 13 years ago. And the idea in the beginning was, there's a local school, there's two schools in France that are dedicated to kids who have epilepsy. So one is in Brittany, and one is in Léguevin, which was right near my house in Toulouse. And I was—the French would say godmother, but there must be another word for that in English—kind of the mentor, I guess, of the kids at the school. So I went and spent some time with them, went mountain biking with them on campus and stuff like that. And the idea was to get a ride going to raise money to build a gym for the school, because they don't have a gym. So in the first, the idea was to get money to find a cure for epilepsy. So we had, for four years, sponsored research on a particular molecule. And then from the fifth year till now, we've been able to raise enough money to build a gym. So the gym will be, they'll start building in the spring of 2023, and hopefully the gym will open in 2023. So, yeah, so, and I hate trophies. So the trophies are made by the local chocolate factory out of chocolate, and they're absolutely delicious. So, yeah, and that will be happening in 2022 in, on the 28th of May in a town in the Gers called Mauvezin. So it's, yeah, it's gonna be even hillier than it was before, but, yeah, it's a fun ride. The idea is really to have a good ambience. There's a local beer company that, you know, sponsors the beer at the finish. And yeah, it's just good fun.


Passionistas: What’s your definition of success?


Marion: Happiness and peace. You know, peacefulness. I mean, you know, right now waking up to the Hautacam when I sit on my balcony in the morning, it's, I just, I feel really good about being here. You know, it's, I'm not really into the success that people are into of, you know, it's by your paycheck or by making X amount of money. It's really just, it's finding that place where I feel good and, about myself and what I'm doing. And then there's little, little, miniature successes, you know, like getting this international race off the ground will be a huge success for us and for women to come and, you know, hoping to leave some sort of footprint that other women can follow, and make it easier for them. You know, opening doors and, and kicking down doors if we have to at times, but, yeah.


Passionistas: So, it doesn't seem like you have a problem with motivation, but we all do. So, do you ever feel unmotivated, and what secrets do you have to get you back on track?


Marion: I had a recent bout with lack of motivation. October, October was, really, I had a rough spot because a lot of what I do is volunteer. I haven't, I don't get a regular paycheck, so once again, I still have to go out and find my own funding, and I just had had enough and, for some reason, October was pretty intense. I had just moved here, so I was still unpacking and finishing things in the house. And October, October 4th, I had a huge seizure. I still have about one a year, but I felt it coming on, so I knew it was gonna happen. But it was, it was, it was, I mean, I say it was a big one because, well, I woke up and I had three scratches on my face. So I don't have a cat, so I'm guessing that I scratched myself during the seizure. And then I slept 14 hours. So, I think I obviously needed to rest and just give my body and my mind a break, and that, I hadn't been doing because I was constantly trying to figure out how I was gonna make things work, make the next thing happen, and get whatever objective to happen happen, so.


You know, sometimes when things don't but the pieces don't fit into the puzzle, the best thing to do is just put the puzzle away and just stop and just not—not not do anything, but just give yourself a break and let your mind in peace. And I probably took the longest break I've taken in a long time. For seven straight days, I didn't do any sports other than walk the dog, and even walking the dog seemed like a huge mission. I mean, I had to drag myself down two flights of stairs, out the door, and I ended up that whole, that week after the seizure, sleeping two, two and a half hours more every night. And then, I'll have to add that three days after that seizure, I ended up having a bone graft because, after having so many seizures over the years, when you seize, you end up, your teeth, you know, they clack really hard when you convulse, and I ended up breaking all of these teeth here and the molars right below the roots, so that I had to have implants done. So these two got done last year. I was toothless for a while in my front teeth last year, and that was really sexy. And I didn't have enough bone on one of the side teeth, so they had to do a bone graft three days after the seizure. And that put me out completely. I was, couldn't get outta my own way for a good week.


And then mentally, that played with me a little bit. I, you know, felt like I was, you know, I knew, I always know the motivation will come back, but I was kind of getting depressed about everything at the same time. And, yeah, I don't know. I don't know how it always turns itself around, but it always does. I think I just managed to get enough rest and just let things work themselves out. And then finally, you know, about 10 days afterwards, I managed to get myself out and get on the bike. And that always helps too, is just to go and do something intense, get the endorphins back again. I definitely am an endorphin junkie, and endorphins really are what helped me function. I mean, you know, some people it's heroin or alcohol. For me it's endorphins. And once I get my endorphin kick again, I'm back kind of on my cycle, if you will. And that really helps me get going again.


Passionistas: Do you have a mantra you live by?


Marion: I had one when I was racing, that helped me suppress pain. I was sort of separating my body from, you know, the physical and the mental. It was almost more like a self-hypnosis. But I'd say my mantra that I live by really is, “Where there's a will, there's a way.” You know, it's, you know, if you want something bad enough, then you'll figure out how to get it.

Passionistas: What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to be a competitive athlete?


Marion: To do her homework. You know, to train, to do her homework, to be humble, to be grateful for the competitors she's up against and not, you know, have the, they “kill my competitor attitude,” but, you know, play with them, have fun, because they're what's making you stronger. And if you didn't have them, then, you know, you wouldn't be able to be as strong or stronger than you are. So, yeah, to put your head down and go. And smile. It could creates more endorphins when, if you smile while you're competing, you definitely produce more endorphins.


Passionistas: Thanks for listening to our interview with Marion Clignet. We wanted to give you a special treat this week. Each year, we host the Power of Passionistas Women's Equality Summit, and we ask women, many of them from marginalized communities to share stories on topics that are most important to them.


One of our speakers was Kylee Stone, a descendant of the Karendali, Wakka Wakka, and Kalluli First Nations in Australia, with 25 years in the business of storytelling, and an intrinsic talent in the power of personal stories to create meaningful connections. Certified in the neuroscience of resilience, Kylie's mission is to disrupt the status quo on the traditional view of leadership, and enable people with the courage to take action in direct accordance with their vision, values, passion, and purpose.


Here's Kylee's story on the power of transformation.


Kylee: Being a leader is not easy. COVID has had a massive impact on women in particular. You know, here I am in Sydney, Australia, we’ve had another round of lockdowns, and I'm juggling three children, homeschooling, while trying to run a business and try and get this talk to you. It has not been easy. In terms of leadership, I got my first role as a leader when I was 27. I took the traditional path that most Westerners take. You know, go to school, get a good education, go to college to get a good job, you know, work hard and get a pay rise. Go to university and get a promotion until you get a seat at the table and you become a leader.


On the 11th of April, 2011, I walked back into the office after having three children in three years. And for the first time in my life I thought, “I can't see how to make this work.” I wanted part-time, but my boss wanted full-time. I negotiated splitting the role, but within months, I was frustrated. After 12 years of climbing the ladder, I felt like Baby Houseman in “Dirty Dancing,” sitting in the corner, isolated and ostracized. So I went back to university, I got a coach, a mentor, I stockpiled my bedside table with Robin Sharma’s “How to Lead without a Title,” “Google Search Inside Yourself,” “The Great Work of your life,” and Sheryl Sandberg's “Lean In.” And I discovered one universal challenge: Our view of leadership.


We identify leaders with the title. We think great leaders make extraordinary sacrifices, and we think leadership is for someone who has a seat at the table with a long list of credentials. But this view of leadership is an illusion, and it's preventing us from realizing our potential as leaders. It's stifling our opportunities to advance as leaders. It's stifling our effectiveness as leaders. And it's also stifling our opinions about those who are leaders. But there is another way. I call it “The A Game.” Four practices that have helped me and others in realizing our potential as leaders, no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we do.


Now, I come from a long line of women who fought against discrimination. In fact, we talk about leadership as people who mobilize others towards a vision. When we talk about mobilizing ourselves, it starts with having the courage to tell the truth about what's not working. So the first practice is acknowledgement. So, I took my CV, which was a listicle of 20 things I'd done in my 20s, and I rewrote it to focus on my strengths and my accomplishments. And I'm standing in line waiting for coffee, when a colleague asked, “How are you?” I was like, “Pissed off. I've been sidelined as a leader just because I'm part-time.” She says, “Same here.” That's when I realized I was not alone.


I started a group for women who, like myself, were struggling with how to advance as a leader while taking care of kids and dealing with a lack of equality in leadership. I was shocked. Diverse group of women, all senior and ostracized, every one of us working hard on valuing everyone else while not valuing ourselves. You know, it's easy to blame the company or society or the government, and in some cases even blame ourselves. But this is our life, not someone else's. So the second practice is accountability. You know, being accountable is an opportunity to carve out a new future. It's an opportunity to let go of blaming ourselves and to look at, “What do I need? How can I move forward instead of waiting for the role of the dice to see what somebody else is going to do?”


I'm in a leadership program. My peers nominated me to be a leader. Next thing I know, I'm standing at the front of the room waiting for objections, and the leader calls out, “Being a leader is a bad idea.” I wonder, “Is it work-life balance? Do I have the right skills? Is it the imposter syndrome, or is it discrimination?” You know, I'm an Aboriginal woman, a descendant of the stolen generations of the Wakka Wakka and Kalluli nations, a generation of Aboriginal people who were forcibly removed from their families. My great-grandmother was two, my grandmother was three, and my mother was five. Despite being only 16 when I was born, my mother fought against forced adoption, making me the first woman in four generations to not be forcibly taken from my family. Now, I've overcome a lot of adversity: abuse, infidelity, postnatal depression, discrimination, autoimmune condition, but none worse than my own judgment that I don't belong, that what I have to say doesn't matter. But when we can authentically own that we are accountable for how life turns out, we have enormous power. So, creating things like future-based statements, like a vision and purpose, are incredibly powerful, but in my experience, they mostly just end up on a wall or in a document. You know, a famous psychotherapist once said that, “We’re our best when we have clarity about our goals, when we are taking actions in pursuit of those goals, when we are seeing results in line with those goals, and when our thoughts and actions do not conflict.” Now that is a lot easier said than done. So the third practice is alignment.


So, it was the 5th of March, 2014. I got an email that a colleague had taken his life. It was my son's seventh birthday. I walked in the door, I sat down, and my husband starts crying. The business is going into administration. We're gonna lose the home. We were two weeks away from launching our very first event for the women's mentoring group, and I stopped. I rang and told them everything. I said, “We need to stop it.” And they said, “No, take whatever you need.” So I took the time off to take care. I realized at that time, there was nothing more important than taking care of my family and my own wellbeing.

So the final practice is action, and it sounds simple because it is. And yet, how many of us get stuck for days, weeks, months, years, sometimes forever, not taking action on the things that are truly important to us? See, when we take action, despite what we think, we realize that we are much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. In fact, not taking action is what leads to the downward spiral of doubt.


In 2015, I did it. I took a leap. I started my own business. And in 2018, I was acknowledged by our office for women for my contribution to advancing women in leadership. And last year, I was acknowledged by LinkedIn's top as a top 20 voices. After 28 years of being in the business of storytelling, I discovered that the real power of storytelling lies in our own stories. You know, telling my own story has been one of the bravest things that I've ever done. So taking action despite what we think is not some magic spell. It is about taking action despite the challenges, and on our own views to see what is and isn’t possible.

Being a leader is not easy, but it is simple. It's not anything to do with having a title. It's got nothing to do with self sacrifice or having a long list of credentials. Being a leader is about having a passion for something that's much bigger than ourselves. So to anyone else who thinks being a leader is a bad idea, I invite you to join me in what I'm officially declaring a new paradigm of leadership. An opportunity to carve out a new future and take action in direct alignment with our vision, our values, and our purpose. You know, Margaret Mead once said, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”


Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Marion Clignet. To learn more about her work as an advocate for the professionalization of women’s sports, follow her on Twitter @ActionMarion.


And be sure to visit ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list, find all the ways you can follow us on social media, and join our worldwide community of women working together to level the playing field for us all.


We'll be back next week with another Passionista who is defining success on her own terms and breaking down the barriers for herself and women everywhere.


Until then, stay well and stay passionate.


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