To date, it seems like most of the women who have been profiled in Velocity are Type A in all facets of life. Not only are these women (Lindsay Felker, Jennifer Wheeler, Jocelyn Setter, Rosalyn Zylkowski, and…Sarah Carroll who hasn’t been profiled YET) fast, they are all academically ambitious and have or are pursuing advanced degrees in technical domains. Another interesting trend is that most of them discovered cycling after college or even well into their professional careers.
Add to this elite list Spokane native, structural engineer, and PhD student Megan Gray who, for lack of adequate local competition, has been trekking to races on the west side and Oregon to test herself against the fastest women in the region.
Hometown: Spokane, WA
I worked as a structural engineer for several years at a local consulting firm before applying for graduate school this past spring. I’d been having this kind of nagging feeling that I wasn’t quite in the right place professionally. I decided that what was missing for me was the chance to interact with people in a real way. I think most of us would like the opportunity to have a positive impact on others and for me I felt that obtaining a PhD in the hopes of someday teaching would give me the chance to do just that.
You know, the best instructors I had in school ended up teaching me a lot more about life than they ever did about math or physics or engineering. That is something that impacted me far beyond my years as a student, and I can only hope that I am given the chance to be that for someone else.
How did you discover cycling?
Before this year I don’t think I knew what it meant to be a cyclist. I think there is a point when you go from ‘just riding your bike’ to being a cyclist. It kind of snuck up on me. Suddenly owning eight bikes seemed completely normal and my ever-expanding lycra ensemble was starting to raise more than a few eyebrows. But all kidding aside, cycling is a thing that is close to my heart. There’s something special that happens to a person when they are on their bike: it’s like they are closer to the person they truly are. When I’m out on my bike I feel like I did when I was a kid: no destination, no expectations, just a sense that everything is just as it should be. My bike reminds me of all the things I too often forget are most important. I wouldn’t trade the experiences or the people that my bike has brought me to for anything. It’s a part of who I am: ‘Megan the Cyclist.’ I’ve been called a lot worse.
How did you get into racing bikes?
I bought my first bike six years ago with money from my tax return. I remember thinking that $600 was an obscene amount to spend on a bicycle…those were the days. I suppose at first cycling was an escape for me. It helped me deal with some challenging times. Last year I was encouraged to give racing a try by a local rider (and now good friend) Lynn Stryker who had seen me out in the morning before work riding my bike. Without her encouragement and belief in me I’m not sure I’d have ever gotten up the courage to go out and race my bike. Now a season and a half later, I can’t imagine having had missed out on all the amazing adventures and incredible people racing has brought me to.
You’ve progressed quickly to a category 2 racer. How did that progression come about?
Part of the process was to set up a cycling team of one (me), called Eddie’s Cycling. The inspiration for Eddie’s Cycling came from my sister Lindsay and her Boston terrier the one and only Eddie Murphy. My sister and I are pretty different: she has as many purses as I do cycling socks but that never seems to matter to her. I can’t say she ‘gets’ the whole cycling thing but she knows how much it means to me and so it means something to her now too. She and Eddie traveled as my ‘race support crew’ to my very first race in Walla Walla and they’ve been behind me ever since. So I suppose my team name was as much homage to my sister and her support, as it was to Eddie and his adorable mug.
Going from a CAT 4 to a CAT 2 racer has been a bit of a trial by fire. I’ve learned that you should research what a Criterium is before drinking copious amounts of wine the night before your very first one scheduled for 7:30 in the morning. I learned they don’t make sunglasses big enough to hide the consequences of that decision. I learned that the time for realizing you can’t wear a sleeveless jersey is not two minutes prior the start of your very first TT. They do however accept a dazzling gold glittered short sleeve number my sister was nice enough to trade me out for. I’ve learned that drafting is perhaps the best thing ever and maybe there’s something to this whole ‘tactics’ thing. If anyone was ever wondering what the hell I was doing they shouldn’t feel bad- I had no idea what in the world I was doing most of the time.
Getting to race and ride with the women in the regional peloton has been one of my favorite parts of this past season. In the beginning I don’t think any of them knew quite what to make of the slightly strange flip-cap wearing gal from Spokane. Despite my complete lack of fashion sense along with, well let’s call it my unique ‘charm’, all of the women have been incredibly friendly, encouraging, and welcoming. Having the opportunity to know all of them, both on and off the bike serves as a constant reminder of why I am so fortunate to have discovered this amazing community of people.
What has it been like to race in the male-dominated Spokane peloton?
In the Spokane area we don’t have quite the numbers needed to warrant a separate women’s field so we are almost always grouped with the men. The majority of the men in our local peloton have been out there both encouraging and pushing me to be a better racer. I kind of laugh because those last 2km it starts to come down to 30 men doing everything they can not to be beat by a chick, and one chick doing every thing she can to make sure they do. I’m not sure which one of us is worse, but it is always in good fun.
How does racing in Spokane compare to connecting with women racers from the Seattle area?
After spending the majority of my first season racing with the men I decided to make a real effort to get more experience racing in the women’s peloton. Of course that meant a lot of traveling over to west side, but I found that all I needed was some gas and a few crazy-awesome mix-tapes and soon the four-hour trip seemed like no big deal. But I suppose more than my self-proclaimed amazing taste in music-it was really the women racers that made the drive worth it. Teams like SCAA/Starbucks and Team Group Health always made me feel like I was part of a team despite the fact that I never was. Riders like Jadine Riley, Marsa Daniel, Sarah Carroll, Laura Dodd, and Anne-Marije Rook inspired me not just because of how they rode their bikes but because of the people they are both on the bike and off. They lead by example and I can only hope to do the same.
What have you learned in the transition from an unaffiliated racer to riding as part of a team?
Riding as a part of the SCAA/Starbucks team at the Cascade Cycling Classic this year was an amazing experience. It was my first time being a member of a team and I’m pretty sure there will never be any going back. Having people to root for, to believe in, and to depend on was a pretty incredible thing. You really learn a lot about people when you participate in a race that is so physically and mentally challenging. Every one of us had our days to triumph and our days to fail, but I got to see the fight and the heart that each of them had and that’s something pretty darn special. So I went and I raced my bike, but ten years from now I won’t remember how fast I rode or where I placed. I will remember how lucky I was to make eight pretty amazing friends and what it really means to be a part of a team.
The Cascade Criterium was probably the best crit I’ve raced to date as I’m still learning the best way to race those. I stayed with the pack and didn’t get pulled, which was a victory in my book.
So, now you are thinking about joining a team. What criteria are you considering as you deliberate which one to join?
Trying to decide what team to join for 2014 has been akin to being forced to choose my favorite Chex-Mix flavor: i.e. pure torture. Fortunately no matter which team I join I really cannot go wrong. Each of the Seattle teams has a good mix of chemistry and competitiveness. I just need to figure out where my strengths as a rider fit best.
Where does cyclocross fit in your cycling program?
I am a naturally-occurring cycling disaster when it comes to cross. I tend to tip over a lot, drink more than justifiable, and have been known to let out a girly shriek or two. I always tell people that if you are looking for a little retribution for all those hills I love dragging you up during road season–just wait until September and cyclocross season. Your revenge is just a few barriers and one sand pit away.
As far as cyclocross goals, my main goal is to have fun. It also affords me the opportunity to stay out on my bike and get some harder efforts in during the off-season. I would love to upgrade eventually to CAT 2 in cross but that may require much fewer hand-ups and the ability to jump over stuff-neither of which I am completely confident I can make happen.
What sports do you enjoy outside of cycling?
In the off-season I love to snowboard and skate ski. Both give me the chance to stay active during the winter and get me away from the dreaded trainer…where cyclist’s souls go to die.
What are your cycling and racing objectives for 2014?
I think my goals for 2014 are kind of two fold. On one hand, like a lot of the CAT 1/2 women, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to ride for a professional women’s team, but in the end I think I’m just going to go out there and ride my bike. If I ever make it to that level that’d be awesome, but other things like advocating for the sport and encouraging others are more important to me than just riding my bike really fast.
Do you have any advice for women getting into cycling or thinking about racing?
I guess my only advice would be to stop thinking about it and go do it! If you are a little bit intimidated or nervous about racing your bike that’s ok-I was totally the same way. Find a friend who races, go to a meet the team ride, heck call me and we can go out and play bikes together. I just want more women out there riding and racing their bikes. After all what’s better than one woman beating 30 men in the final 2km? Two women beating them.
Megan gets this praise from Anne Marije Rook:
Megan is one of my favorite women in the local peloton-not only because she’s a very strong rider but rather because of her enthusiasm for the sport and the community behind it. She’s usually the first to congratulate you on a race. Whether you finished on top of the podium or dead last, if you rode with heart, she will have noticed and give you an encouraging word or two.
There may have been moments while racing that people weren’t so fond of her-mainly because the moment the road goes uphill she attacks and drops half the people around her-but there hasn’t been a race where she didn’t become friends with everyone around her. She is a great athlete and a wonderful person.