Growing up in one of the most dangerous public housing projects in Richmond, Va., Monte Cosby did not dream of being the subject of a Patagonia documentary. But getting into cycling in high school paved the path to just that.
A senior majoring in outdoor leadership, Cosby is a member of Warren Wilson College’s nationally ranked cycling team. He is also the subject of Patagonia’s new film, Monte: Can’t stop. Won’t stop, which premiered at the college on April 29. Patagonia is touring the country screening the documentary.
Cosby discovered biking through the founders of Richmond Cycling Corps Legacy Academy, a group that uses bicycles to give young people a path out of that city’s housing projects. The academy and Warren Wilson College work together to identify young people who might thrive at the small, liberal arts college. Academy founder Craig Dodson was especially key in getting Cosby to cycle.
“He kept coming around, even when I did not want to ride,” Cosby tells Xpress. But ride he did, and the sport quickly served as a bridge to new opportunities. Cosby enrolled as a student in the academy, which led to him earning a full scholarship to Warren Wilson.
“I started from nowhere. I started from the bottom, the worst projects in Virginia, where homicide rate is the highest, drug rate is the highest, drop-out rate is the highest. That’s the neighborhood I grew up in,” Cosby says in a press release. “These people are really dedicated to being something great; it’s just hard for them to be great when there’s nothing around them that’s great.”
“Growing up was like any other public housing — repeatedly seeing drug deals, prostitution, violence,” Cosby says. “My friends would get locked up. There were gunshots all the time. But my family was strong together. Worked together. Loved each other. Kept a tight circle. Took part in family cookouts.”
Cosby’s dream after college is to return home to give back to his community by getting more young people on bikes. He also wants to work on breaking down racial barriers within the sport.
This interview has been condensed for length and edited for clarity.
Xpress: Who got you on a bike? How old were you? Were you a natural from the start?
Cosby: Matt Kuhn and Craig Dodson, the founders of Richmond Cycling Corps, got me on a bike when I was 12. I was not a natural from the start. Craig and Matt pushed me hard in practice. I felt like Craig was pushing us further than I ever had been pushed. He made us do morning and afternoon workouts and rides consistently.
When did you realize that you wanted to become a cyclist? Tell us about the moment you went from riding bikes for fun to training as a competitive sport.
Honestly, I did not want to be a competitive cyclist. All the training and expectations by my coaches pushed me to race. I always raced to make a difference, to prove I could do it. So, I guess there was not really a moment. It happened because my life was going down a path I did not want it to go down. I had a choice to choose racing or the streets. Racing was more beneficial mentally and physically. Matt and Craig really were there coaching us even when I did not want to race. And after the race, I always felt good. Like I accomplished a lot. I did something that was so different.
Tell us some challenges you face as a cyclist.
One challenge I faced as a cyclist is being one of the only Black people at races. It makes me feel a lot of pressure, like expectations might be higher on me. I feel self-conscious a lot. Also, I tore my ACL [knee ligament].
What do you love most about cycling?
What I love most about cycling is the community. Some of my best friends are cyclists. What I love about being on the bike is how I feel. When I am on a bike, I feel free. I feel fast. I feel strong.
You say in the media release about the people you grew up with, “These people are really dedicated to being something great; it’s just hard for them to be great when there’s nothing around them that’s great.” Do you feel your success has alienated you from others back home who didn’t get the opportunity that you did? Or do you see a lot of support?
I see a lot of support, especially from my neighborhood. My friends uplift me. They encourage me. They brag to other people.
How did you feel when Patagonia contacted you about this film?
I was hyped when Patagonia contacted me about this opportunity. It felt like a dream. It felt like I was being heard. It felt like my story is important.
When did you start saying “can’t stop, won’t stop?”
Ha. Day one. When I joined RCC. It is painted on the side of the bike trailer.
Besides that mantra, what advice do you have for anyone who finds themselves “stuck” in what seems like a hopeless situation?
It is OK to feel how you are feeling. I say also go out and look for opportunities. And take them.