Rider Spotlight: Kamila Gwiazda

Editor’s Note:  Kamila joined our team in fall 2017 while she was still recovering from wrist surgery and beginning to ride again. Even though she could not race yet, she still came out to support our team at the Woodland Park cyclocross race, eagerly cheering on members who still didn’t quite know who she was and were wondering who this stranger was! Needless to say, Kamila quickly found a home within our community within a short period of time, and is now one of our most active members, generously offering to take newbies all over her favorite trails in town (Tiger Mountain, of course!).

For this Rider Spotlight, Kamila kindly answered a few questions to help us get to know her better. The following responses were lightly edited for clarity.

Q: When and how did you take up cycling? 

I started riding in my early 20’s right before I graduated from college.  I wanted to try triathlons, since I have a background in swimming, and they looked like fun.  I trained on my old commuter bike and bought a new road bike a week before my first race.  After running a few marathons, I realized that Ironman Triathlons just weren’t that attractive anymore, but I had fallen in love with bike riding.  I did a bunch of touring (down the Pacific coast, across the mountain west, etc.) and after that all I wanted to do was ride my bike.

I attended the University of Washington (UW) for grad school where I discovered the UW Cycling team (Lisa was the women’s team captain!), and the rest was history.  Collegiate road racing was some of the best times I’ve ever had on two wheels.

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Q: Tell me about your experience riding and racing collegiately for the UW Huskies.

I joined the UW cycling team the week after I moved to Seattle for grad school.  The first person I met and connected with in the city was Lisa, who is the same person who introduced me to Spokeswomen Racing a few years later.  I loved getting to know the city from my bike, and connecting with other students that loved riding was a great way to make new friends.

Collegiate racing was boatloads of fun.  We had races all over the northwest for 8 weeks in the spring, and every collegiate race is run as an omnium: a road race, a crit, and a team time trial.  We would load up in vans or cars and drive down to whatever race was happening that weekend on a Friday afternoon, race Saturday and Sunday, then drive back in the evening.  The drive to the Montana races was the longest (8-9 hours), but getting to spend that much time with your favorite cycling teammates was like a sleepover party every weekend.

The races themselves were also really chill and friendly, but maintained a great competitive focus.  Some folks were Cat 1/2 racers, but they were always there to support and cheer for their beginner teammates.

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Transitioning from collegiate racing to teams like Spokeswomen Racing has been interesting.  It’s much like graduating from school:  entering the ‘real world,’ not living with your best friends and spending every weekend around a big group of people, and suddenly having a lot more independence.  It’s fitting, but also a little sad and nostalgic.  I will always have wonderful memories of my five years on the UW cycling team (as well as five years worth of kit), and it has forever shaped the way I relate to my bike and bike racing – for the better.

Q: You raced road in college, but now you primarily ride mountain?  Why the switch from road?

1377975_10151906006485376_1748582402_nI loved road racing while I was racing for the Huskies, but when I tried a couple USA Cycling races, I realized the scene just wasn’t for me.  This was also a few years ago, before mountain bike racing really took off in the Pacific northwest.  I had purchased a mountain bike a couple years after getting a road bike, but it was sitting in the garage and not getting much use while I was focusing on road.

After crashing a few times on the road, I realized that I felt much safer and much more at peace on the trail.  Training for mountain biking is a lot more fun too – getting to spend all day in the forest and learning new skills for descending has been something I’ve really, really enjoyed.  While I do most of my training on my trainer indoors (especially during the rainy winter season), I have found that spending time in the mountains is my joy right now.

Q: What is your day job? I hear you have a PhD in a medical science field. Tell me more.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_93cYup, I have my doctorate in molecular and cellular biology.  I moved to the US from Vancouver, Canada to go to graduate school at UW, and fell in love with both Seattle as well as America.  My graduate school work was in genetic engineering (primarily to treat specific autoimmune diseases), and I also worked on the basic biology of how DNA works in human cells.  I now work on treatments for pediatric cancer using genetic engineering tools to program cancer-fighting cells to be better at finding and killing tumors.  The cancer I’m particularly focused on is GBM (glioblastoma multiforme), which is a particularly nasty type of cancer that is almost uniformly fatal.  I love my work and feel incredibly privileged to be able to do it.

Q: How many languages do you speak?

I was born in Poland and grew up speaking Polish at home.  My family immigrated to Canada when I was 4, and I learned English watching Sesame Street.  When I moved to the States a decade ago, I learned to speak American and lost my Canadian accent (eh!).

Editor’s end note: Kamila also loves taking her beloved dog Bella on her mountain bike and hiking excursions. Many thanks to Kamila for sharing so much about herself.

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