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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We are now a 501(c)(3)

We have exciting news! After many months of hard work, we have attained 501(c)(3) non-profit status. Our mission is to support and develop amateur competitive women bike racers of all skill levels while engaging our members in cycling-related community service and other charitable community causes. Thank you to everyone for all of the support and encouragement, and we are looking forward to increased growth and participation by women in bike racing in our community.

 

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Gran Fondo Ellensburg

Editor’s Note: Team member Mary Brown recently completed the 2019 Gran Fondo Ellensburg. After surviving 90 miles of mostly unpaved gravel roads with over 7000′ of elevation gain, Mary shared a wonderful race report, re-posted here for all to enjoy.

I just got back from the Ride Vicious Gran Fondo – Ellensburg edition. It was Type…2.75 Fun. As always, Jake and Karen put on a bitchin’ event. Snack game was strong. Where to begin… the ride started at Mt. Stuart Elementary where the wind was blowing! I think NOAA had it at 16-18 with gusts of 26 when I checked this morning. The first…27 miles were headwind city. Just crushing headwind through rolling countryside. I ran into my Gran Fondo bud Sara and we found ourselves in a paceline with some other dudes. For some reason, I was taking monster pulls because I was feeling pretty strong…and wanted to shame the patriarchy. My generosity (and hubris) would later come back to haunt me around mile 60…

After headwind city, it was CLIMB city starting at around mile 29. It was a beast. It was the white whale to my Captain Ahab. Just when I thought I was at the top, sunscreen melting in my stinging eyes in the 88 degree heat, there was another switchback. My Moby Dick, National Forest Road 4510 slipping through my sweaty grasp. According to the Stravs, that hill was 10.7 miles, 2,989’ and I was climbing it for 1:41:33. Brutal. Also, what purgatory might feel like…if I believed in purgatory.

Many years later, I arrived at the top. Stunning views of the Stuart Range. Wildflowers galore. Improbable rollers. Why were there rollers up there? After some lovely ridge line riding, it was time to go down. It was time to go down the gravel descent of doom. Some call it “washboard city”. Some call it certain death. One guy legit broke his collarbone on that descent today. A terrifying hour to say the least…

After barely surviving the descent, I rolled into the fully stocked aid station at mile 56. Watermelon. Homemade cookies. Chips. Such bounty. Surely, nothing could go wrong after such a snack attack. Then it was time for another climb. A mere 3.7 miles and 1,137’ of gain. It was hotter and the cookies started to seem like a bad idea. many years later, I arrived at the top of this other hill. Then it was time for ANOTHER GRAVEL DESCENT OF DOOM. There were also dirt bikers roaming around Mad Max style. Apparently another rider ran into one and royally messed up his bike (but not person). I survived that descent – also barely. Then it was time for 25-30 miles of sweet sweet pavement to finish. There were rollers (of course) and we finished on the last 3 miles of the Iron Horse trail. There was a taco truck back at the start (bitchin’) and many cold drinks. After a vegetarian taco quesadilla mash-up, I felt 15% restored.

I’d argue this ride was about 20% harder than the Cascadia Super G if only because the climbs were SO long and the descents SO sketchy. The headwind also added a grade.

Will I do this ride next year? Totally. You should too. It’s super pretty and fun in a very painful and also scary sort of way. But first, another beer and a nap. My Garmin Fenix advised 4 days of recovery and Season 3 of True Detective.

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File Photo: Stottlemeyer 2019

Editor’s Note: Mary is planning to finish off her 2019 gran fondo season with the penultimate GF Winthrop this fall. We know she will do well!

Return to the 24-Hour Round-and-Round MTB relay race

Five years ago (in 2014), Spokeswomen Racing fielded a 5-person all-female team for the 24-hour Round-and-Round mountain bike relay held annually in Spokane.  Link to 2014 blog post.

With the 2019 race being advertised as the final year for this classic race, Spokeswomen Racing rallied to field not one, but TWO teams!  It was decided to try to set up our two teams as even as possible to make the competition more fun.

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2019 24-hr Spokane MTB Relay teams!

The race started at noon on Saturday with dry and fast conditions.  Mary Weir and Kamila volunteered for the LeMans-style scramble leg start duties to lead out their respective teams.

For the first several hours, our two teams stay fairly close, separated by at most a few minutes.   As each rider finished, her name and time was logged into a group team text so the other members could track and plan for the following transition.  The sun was out and the course was dry, and folks were still full of energy. However, conditions would soon change…

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As daylight dimmed on Saturday night, lights were dutifully switched on. Darkness eventually fell.  And then the rain started around 11pm…. light at first, but eventually picking up to a steady rainfall by the wee hours of the morning.  Jess, Tara, Becca, and Joy rode through probably the worst of it, returning absolutely filthy and covered in mud after their legs between about 1 and 3am. Transition mistakes were made and some time was lost.  Rain combined with chilly overnight temps pummeled rider motivations, but the team members soldiered on, attempting to seek some sleep between their legs.

After every team member had completed 3 legs, morning began to dawn. The rain thankfully also stopped. With the light came a much appreciated rise in temperature and the course quickly started to dry out. But motivation was at its lowest. Much groans were heard as our team members pulled on damp kit and wet shoes for their 4th legs.  But everyone successfully completed their 4th leg.

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Both teams needed one person to ride a 5th a final lap.  Fortunately, Mary W. and Becca rose to the challenge.

Amazingly, after 24 hours and multiple lead changes, our two teams finished less than 20 minutes apart after completing 21 laps of a ~13 mile loop. It was only during the last few legs on Sunday morning that team Wake and Bike pulled slightly ahead of Cyclonettes.   Out of a total of 10 women’s teams, our two teams placed 4th and 5th place.

Overall, team members responded enthusiastically to the 24-hour race format, and several are already scheming/planning our future 24-hour relay race entries!

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Thank you to Lucas Arnold Photography for some of the photos shown here.

 

Ready for 2019

We are excited for 2019! New kits have been distributed, a team photo was taken, and cycling goals for the new year were shared.

When Spokeswomen Racing was founded in 2011, our members’ primary discipline was generally road racing. In the years since 2011, mountain biking and cyclocross have blossomed in popularity both in our region and on our team. As we enter 2019, our team is now most definitely a healthy mix of dirt, cyclocross, gravel, and road.

Despite these changes, our mission remains unchanged: to promote women’s competitive cycling while giving back to our community.

Here’s to a fabulous 2019.

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2019 team photo

Rider Spotlight: Linda Nalis

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2016 Magnuson Park CX

When you first meet Linda, you will be impressed by her statuesque height and infectiously positive attitude. Subsequently, Linda’s avid love of good coffee will quickly become apparent. But watch a little more closely, and you will notice Linda’s skill at flipping her water bottle while cycling at speed — a seemingly small, but very challenging skill that belies a hint of her colorful and multi-talented background not as a cyclist… but as a professional basketball player who escaped a war torn country.

For this Rider Spotlight, we sat down with Linda Nalis to learn a bit more about her. Linda was born and raised in Bosnia and subsequently emigrated to the United States. The following responses were lightly edited for clarity.

Q: When and how did you take up cycling?  Did you ride much as a kid growing up in Bosnia?

I started riding when I was 5-6 years old. I rode a bike a lot as a kid growing up.

It was how we transported ourselves everywhere in town – to the gym, lake, stadium, and to goof around. I rode with my boyfriend while holding hands in third grade.  Also, I was on a bike police patrol, and we practiced going around the cones, jumping curbs, and of course stopping at the stop light. I even got into some big trouble when I rode with my friends to another town about 12 miles away and far away from home, and that was a BIG no. Riding on narrow streets with heavy two-way traffic was not very safe.  There were no official bike mechanics in town so an older friend would fix bikes for all of us on the block. One time we welded a steering wheel in the place of handlebars and had a blast riding through town. It was a hit.

Linda1Q: Tell me about your background as an Olympic-caliber basketball player.

I played basketball professionally since my junior year in high school and throughout the college, practicing twice a day and attending classes in between. I was born in and grew up in Bosnia and played for, at the time, the well-known ‘Bosna’ team in Sarajevo.  After the war in Bosnia broke out in 1992, I moved to Croatia and continued to play with a team called ‘Split’ in the city of Split. We won two National Championships in a row, and I had a pretty good time playing and living in Split. That’s where I met my husband, Zlatko.

When Bosnia was fighting for independence in 1992, their women’s basketball team was able to compete at the Olympic games as a separate nation. I was selected to be part of that team. The war in Bosnia was in full swing at the time so to practice all the players had to get out of the war zone. Luckily, I was out of Sarajevo before the war turned into a madhouse, but most of my friends were still in the city. With the help of the Bosnian army and the Olympic committee, we (the players) and the coaches were able to get out of Sarajevo, and we were stationed in Italy.

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Italy was quite a treat after previously living in the dark, with no electricity, no heat, very little food, and in constant danger of being shot.  Now we had warm croissants in the morning, played basketball all day, swam in a pool, ate lots of pasta, fish, and delicious pizzas, and drank coca-cola, a luxury drink back in the war zone. But it was a slow transition back to a sane world. We all would duck or jerk when someone would close the door too loudly, and we would hit the ground at the sound of a loud bang or celebratory fireworks. Throughout, we would laugh at ourselves and try to move on.

The 1992 Olympic Games were held in Spain, but when the departure time approached to head to the Games, I decided not to go. This is the greatest regret of mine. Why did I decide not to go? The war again. By this time, the war was raging; there were great battles and ethnic “cleansings” happening between Muslims and Croats.  I was a Croat from Bosnia, but now the new Bosnia was a Muslim country. How could I go to the Games and play for a Muslim nation when I had lived and played in Croatia? My family felt that I would be in danger or that they would be in danger too if I went to the Olympics with the Bosnia team. We had already had a bomb set up at our house in Bosnia. But that is another story.

Anyway, at the last minute, I pulled out of the Olympic Team and the chance to experience the Olympics.

37493648314_b29217db39_kQ: Tell me about your work as a Physical Education (P.E.) teacher.

Fast forward 20 years and I am a PE teacher at a Jewish elementary school. Being a PE teacher is super fun for me. I love teaching sports and being active with the kids. The work environment is very dynamic, and I find working with kids more fun than working with the adults. So far so good.

Q: Is cycling popular in your home country?

Not so much.

Q: What attracted you to join Spokeswomen Racing?

Smaller team and service opportunity with Jubilee.

Q: How do you fit cycling into your life?

Cycling is a significant part of my everyday life. I commute and run errands on my bike.

Q: How do you balance cycling with being a mom?

As a PE teacher, my days are not long like those of most people, and I have plenty of time. Having one child makes a difference. Now my daughter is almost 18.

Q: What are your preferred cycling disciplines and why?

I enjoy cyclocross the most.  I love the variety of skills needed but not the mud as much. I also like road cycling because I like to challenge myself and compete with others.  However, there is a whole lot of tactics that I am just beginning to understand. But I know I enjoy long, hard, and brutal workouts, which pretty much represents road cycling.

Q: What are your current cycling goals?

Heal my foot tendonitis:)

Get back in shape for the cyclocross season.

Q: Do you have any other interesting facts?

I love to play guitar as my downtime.  And make bike jewelry 🙂

Editor’s Note: Linda is known to carry a mug of coffee on long bike rides in lieu of water. Oh, and she appreciates beer hand-ups at the cyclocross races. Just please don’t hand her Gatorade or some other electrolyte drink, or she might throw it back at you in disappointment. Many thanks to Linda for sharing so much about herself.

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