The first Belize Women’s Cross Country Cycling Classic was held in 1990, and Belizean cycling athlete, Camille Solis, won it in grand style. Though there were only three Belizean female cyclists that answered the call from Belizean cycling mentor and coach, Stans Bowman, to be a part of the first female Cross Country, Solis’s victory broke the gender barrier in Belize in the male-dominated Holy Saturday Cross Country since 1928.
Camille Solis came straight out of St John’s College Junior College (Sixth Form) at the age of 18 years to become Belize’s first Woman Cross Country cycling champion. She said that she had always loved to ride, and that a bicycle her parents gave her, as a means of transport to school, was where it all started. When the cycling scout Bowman saw her ride at the former National Stadium (now Marion Jones Sporting Complex), he immediately asked her to participate in his pioneering efforts to make the Belize Women Cross Country a reality.
The athletic and hard-driven Solis began training with some of the most dominant Belizean male cyclists of the 1990s, like the Lewis brothers (Charlie and Michael), as well as cyclist Deon Gentle on the road.
But before her cycling career had begun, Solis played softball at the high school level in Belize and had loved the game for its athleticism and competition. If cycling didn’t come along, she would have become an outstanding Belizean softball player. She remarked that she felt like she came out of the womb with a softball mitt in her hands, an admittance that expressed the deep passion she had for the sport and the will to compete and win.
Camille Solis went on to win the 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and the 1999 Belize Women’s Cross Country Cycling Classic, though there was much competition between her and the other two dynamic Belizean cyclists, Hazel Morrison and Leticia Westby, who joined the pioneering efforts of Stans Bowman’s call to the first Belize Women Cross Country. (There was no race in 1995.)
She remembered how she responded, that because there were only three of them that were riding the Belize Women Cross Country for the years she won, that there was not much of a competition. “There is a myth that I rode alone and had no challenge,” said Solis. “Not at all, I always had a challenge from the others like Hazel Morrison who had only ridden two of the Women’s Cross Country.”
The first Belize Women’s Cross Country started at Mile 25 on the former Western Highway (now George Price Highway) so as to give the women a jump ahead of the male Belize Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic. It was 115 miles in all going and coming back from Belize’s Cayo District for the ladies. And that’s when Solis won the grueling race that was believed to have been only made for Belizean male cyclists since its proud origin in 1928 that saw the legendary Elston Kerr conquer the rough terrain on a coaster bike. For the first Belizean woman, Camille Solis, to have ridden the acclaimed Belizean cycling classic all the way to El Cayo and back in her first race is a remarkable accomplishment for a Belizean female athlete.
But in 1996, the race changed to a one-way course, and the Belize Women’s Cross Country Cycling Classic started in Belize’s Cayo District and finished in Belize City. And since Solis was recovering from a traffic accident in which she was knocked down, she did not defend her title in the 1996 Belize Women’s Cross Country. After recovery, Solis continued training and became the only Belizean cyclist to be qualified to represent Belize at the 1996 Olympics. Before that she had also represented Belize in the 1992 Olympics.
These again were historic achievements for Belizean women since before that, no Belizean woman had ever qualified to represent Belize in cycling. She also represented Belize in the 1994 Commonwealth Games in cycling. Solis was also the only female cyclist, along with four Belizean male cyclists, to represent Belize in the 1995 Pan American Games where she placed 16th in the women cycling road race. None of the Belizean male cyclists had finished in their races.
The year 1997 found Camille Solis staying out of the Belize Women’s Cross Country Cycling Classic. But in 1998 she rode again and came in second to an American cyclist who had entered the Belize Women’s Cross Country. Belizean female cyclist, Fiona Humes, placed third.
Incredibly, in 1999 Camille Solis won the Belize Women’s Cross Country again, with Fiona Humes placing second. It became the seal to her fascinating cycling career before her temporary but long absence from competing.
At this time, the cadre of Belizean female cyclists to ride the Belize Women’s Cross Country had been increasing after Solis’s historic ride and breaking the Belize gender line. Her six Women’s Cross Country Cycling Classic victories had set the standard that would be followed by other Belizean female cyclists who were inspired by her accomplishments in the sport.
Solis did not ride the Belize Women’s Cross Country for seven years following her historic wins in the 1990s. During a long departure abroad, her absence was deeply felt in the Belize Women’s Cross Country from 2000-2007.
On her return to Belize, Bowman told her it would have taken her three years to prepare herself to return to competitive form after such a long absence. However, due to family obligations, her comeback attempt was cut short after just two years, after which she decided to permanently retire from competitive cycling. She remembered recalling Bowman’s advice and realizing that it takes a lot to prepare and train for the Cross Country.
The exemplary record that the Belizean phenomenal cyclist, Camille Solis, established as a mark of excellence for those aspiring Belizean female cyclists is astonishing. She paved the way for many who came after her to win the Belize Women’s Cross Country Cycling Classic through her national cycling victories as well as the international cycling competitions in which she represented Belize.
She said that she had found it very inspiring to compete against the internationally recognized Cubans and Americans in world-class cycling at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, and Pan American Games across the world. She thanked her first sponsor, Stans Bowman, for seeing the cycling athlete in her as well as her other sponsors — Abel Rodriguez, Belize Dry Cleaners, and Belchi Cycling Club.
As a massage therapist today, Camille Solis has given back to the sport of cycling by helping Belizean male and female cyclists through her sports medicine skills. She is always willing to help any Belizean cyclist in the best way she can. Above all, her amazing sense of humility is the reason why we honor her as the greatest Belizean female cyclist today.
(Photo through the courtesy of Camille Solis)