Not long ago, Jennifer Hillerberg couldn’t see herself in a cycling club or at the start line of a bike race.
After doing both on Zwift, she found the confidence to do them in real life.
“Zwift has been so good for me mentally,” Hillerberg says. “It took a while before joining a club, and then LGBTQ Zwifters was there.”
Her journey hasn’t been an easy one. She changed sports multiple times. She has been injured twice, undergone surgery, and battled depression. Throughout it all, she kept coming back to the bicycle, but it wasn’t until recently that it started to feel like home.
A Bumpy Road
Hillerberg started cycling back in 2014, intending to compete in triathlons. When fall and winter came, she didn’t have a good option to keep riding indoors. She continued using a treadmill, putting down the bike to become a runner instead of a triathlete.
In 2018, she picked the bike back up to participate in The Swedish Classic. This includes not just one epic event but four of them: 90 km of cross-country skiing, 315 km of cycling, 3 km of swimming, and 30 km of cross-country running. Sometime during the 4,000 kilometers of preparation she did for the cycling event, Vätternrundan, she fell in love with bikes again.
Unfortunately, during the running event, Lidingöloppet, she injured the meniscus in her right leg and needed surgery. Just as she was finishing rehabilitation for that knee, she hurt her left knee and had to start over again.
Hillerberg was also facing depression, and combined with her injury, it resulted in a lot of weight gain. In 2022, she realized she needed to be more active to help lose that weight, but running put too much strain on her knees. It was time to go back to the bike.
This time, she got a simple indoor trainer and kept riding inside when she couldn’t outdoors.
Building Strength and Confidence
Hillerberg says it was a “lucky coincidence” when she found Zwift. Her trainer stopped working in late August 2022, so she got a new smart trainer that came with a free trial of Zwift.
She was fascinated by “the realism of it, how my avatar responded to what I did sitting on my bike in my living room. The game factor got me hooked.” A self-described “gamer at heart,” Hillerberg loved that the more she rode, the more bikes and wheels and clothes she could earn. That gave her some motivation when it was hard to find.
Then she started connecting to others and heard about LGBTQ Zwifters. She hadn’t joined a cycling club before, but this one seemed supportive and welcoming, so she tried it out.
“Being introverted and generally shy, I kept in the shadows for a while,” Hillerberg says. “I felt that it was a good place, and I got that team feeling and started doing races.”
In March 2023, with her teammates’ encouragement, she joined the Flamme Rouge Racing series – something she “would never dream of doing” when first starting out. She rode all the stages and claimed the green jersey! After that, Hillerberg started to wonder how she would fare in an outdoor race.
“That experience brought me to find a club IRL (in real life), too,” she says. “Being a transwoman, I thought they would not accept me, but I was so wrong. The club president has been so good to me, and the rest too.”
Both her outdoor club and her Zwift racing team inspired Hillerberg to sign up for her first real bike race – a time trial. She hadn’t competed athletically since before her transition, when she was focused on running.
“I was terrified at race day,” Hillerberg says. “‘What will they say when I show up?’ I was incredibly happy when the race was over and seeing that I got beat by all women but one…I never thought I’d be in that spot ever in my life again, in competition. That’s why a second-to-last placement was so empowering and joyful.”
Now she’s looking forward to competing again!
Hillerberg’s outdoor club, called CK Falken, encouraged her to buy a time trial bike so she could join a race of theirs. She got the bike but hasn’t joined their race just yet. In the meantime, she’ll be training for a massive 360-km ride around Sweden’s largest island. And she isn’t planning on stopping there!
Jennifer's TT rig
She says training on Zwift has helped her not only build confidence but power as well. Cycling has also helped her lose weight and has “helped loads” to fight depression. On average, she rides about 300 kilometers per week – sometimes outdoors and sometimes on Zwift.
“I mostly still do solo stuff IRL, but I join club rides once or twice a week,” says Hillerberg. “On Zwift, I do pacer rides often or workouts. The last 20 rides or so were workouts on hilly routes. I wanted the Tron so bad! Now I have it in my stable.”
For other LGBTQ+ riders who are feeling unsure of themselves, Hillerberg recommends joining the LGBTQ Zwifters club.
“(It’s a) safe place with all the types represented,” she says. “I got some new contacts I would never have gotten if it wasn’t for Zwift and the LGBTQ club. Many transwomen from all over the world gathered at the same place, with similar journeys but so many different stories.”