Actions may speak louder than words, but words are what get you there.

Alisha Zellner learned this growing up in Colorado Springs, where, among other accomplishments, she was the first female to make the varsity football team at Mitchell High School.

Alisha Zellner, football photo

Alisha Alisha Zellner was the first woman to make the varsity football team at Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs, though a season-ending knee injury during practice meant she never got to play a game. Zellner graduated in 2005 and is now a Colorado State University police corporal in Fort Collins.

“It kind of started out as a joke in the stands when we were losing … about how I could go out there and play better and harder,” said Zellner, who graduated in 2005. “I’d played other sports. I thought, I can do this … I should do this. I went out there to prove that women can make the team. It was about breaking gender barriers."

What started as a joke and a lark became a mission and confirmation of a passion — not necessarily for football, which she went on to play semi-professionally for the Independent Women’s Football League, but for being a potential agent of change.

Bike Ride for Black Lives

The month-long Bike Ride for Black Lives initiative was founded by Colorado State University police corporal Alisha Zellner, who grew up in Colorado Springs. Zellner was riding 12.9 miles a day toward her 400-mile goal for July, and thought, “What if we all came together one day and did our miles together?”

Now 33 and a police corporal at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Zellner continues to lead by example, hoping to encourage conversations and awareness through her words and her deeds. Most recently, she’s been doing it on two wheels, in the name of racial justice and Bike Ride for Black Lives.

During the month of July, Zellner pledged to ride 400 miles on her bike to honor “the 400 years that the Black and African American community has been fighting for social justice.” She set up a GoFundMe page with a fundraising goal of $10,000 earmarked for organizations actively aiding the movement and museums dedicated to Black history, including the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, and began ticking off the miles, in 12.9-mile daily increments.

Alisha Zellner, with bike

Alisha Zellner’s motto is “Live life E.P.I.C” — with excitement, passion, intensity and curiosity. The Colorado State University police corporal, who grew up in Colorado Springs, founded an awareness and fundraising campaign, Bike Ride for Black Lives, pledging to ride 400 miles in July. She did that and then some.

Her initiative drew so much support it turned into a real world community bike ride, July 12, that saw around 1,200 riders and volunteers cycling the streets of Fort Collins.

As of late last week, pledges were at almost $6,200, and local and national media, including People magazine, had covered the story.

“I think that because of the unique perspective of being a Black officer, and being a Black female officer, I think that has caught a lot of people’s attention,” Zellner said. "We’ve seen protests and we’ve seen marches, but I’ve never really seen a large amount of bikes get together. And bikes are a pretty big billboard."

Zellner arrived in Fort Collins as an undergrad at CSU, and when she completed her B.A. in 2009 planned to immediately get her master's in forensic psychology. A job working as a counselor at an adolescent mental health treatment facility changed her mind, though, and when she finally decided to pursue a higher degree, she headed to the University of Texas at San Antonio to study justice policy.

She’d just finished her master’s in the fall of 2014, when the killing of Michael Brown by police officers in Ferguson, Mo., led to nationwide rallies calling for racial justice.

“In their protests, they were calling for more people of color in uniform, more people who looked like them,” Zellner said. “Mahatma Gandhi always said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ I thought, this is my opportunity to jump into law enforcement, to be part of the criminal justice system."

Zellner will celebrate her sixth anniversary with the department, where she specializes in proactive and de-escalation tactics and community policing, in December.

Alisha Zellner

Colorado State University police corporal Alisha Zellner, who grew up in Colorado Springs, said she was inspired to join the force in 2014, after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, led to nationwide protests and calls for more diversity within police departments.

She said she was inspired to found Bike Ride for Black Lives after taking to her bike in May to raise money and awareness for the Police Unity Tour. The annual ride honoring law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty was canceled due to the pandemic, so Zellner completed the 250 miles, in three days, in Fort Collins.

“When George Floyd was killed and the protests started, I wanted to find a way to be part of the movement,” Zellner said. “And in the same way that I had honored law enforcement, I thought riding my bike would be a great way to be able to honor the Black community and my Black identity.”

Bike Ride for Black Lives

The month-long Bike Ride for Black Lives initiative was founded by Colorado State University police corporal Alisha Zellner, who grew up in Colorado Springs. Zellner was riding 12.9 miles a day toward her 400-mile goal for July, and thought, “What if we all came together one day and did our miles together?” More than 1,200 riders and volunteers turned out for the community ride in Fort Collins on July 12. The youngest to complete the 12.9-mile circuit, said Zellner, was just 8 years old.

Zellner finished the promised 400 miles a week ago, but was out there every day, for at least 12.9 miles, through July 31. She said she’s continuing to focus on the road ahead, on living out her message and finding unique ways to share it.

“I think for me the biggest message is that we have to make change together. The only way that the world is going to be a better place is if we do it together and we stop being so divided," she said. "It’s not cops versus Blacks, because clearly I’m a Black officer. It’s about wanting to make a difference."

Reporter

Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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