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On Biking: MIT cycling club is the latest Fab Five

Posted by Your Town  May 16, 2011 08:57 AM

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On Wednesday, May 4, Martha Buckley, a doctoral student in oceanography at MIT, handed in her dissertation. That night she flew out to Wisconsin with four of her team-mates for the collegiate national cycling championships. With their help, Martha rode to victory in the Women’s Division 2 road race.

Her team-mates did pretty well, too: Laura Ralston finished second, Katie Quinn finished third, Yuri Matsumoto finished fifth, and Christina Birch came in eighteenth.

On Saturday, May 7th, Martha, Laura, Katie, Yuri and Christina won the Division 2 team time trial, crushing the second place squad by almost four minutes.

But wait, there’s more. On Sunday, May 8th, Laura won the won the Criterium (a 60-minute lap race), thanks to a strong lead out by Martha.

With the Celtics out of the playoffs, it looks like there’s a new Fab Five in town.

So exactly how do you become a top collegiate cyclist? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. No matter how talented you may be (and the Fab Five are very talented), you have to put in a serious number of miles if you want good results. Starting around October, riders will routinely train 10-20 hours per week for a season that begins in March.

Athletes at MIT don’t get a free pass, even if they are on a championship sports team. They are held to the same high standards as their classmates. Between coursework, teaching, research and lab work (collectively known as school), Martha and Katie routinely work 50-80 hours each week.

Between riding and writing, we’re talking about an exceptionally long week. But rather than add to the stress, Katie describes her cycling as, “A great balance for the stresses of the [academic] work. It helps you get out and think of something different. One of the reasons we [the MIT women’s team] do well at cycling is that it relies on similar characteristics. You have to work hard. If you apply yourself to cycling training you get results. Just like in school.”

Martha is a runner (she was on the MIT track team as an undergraduate) who decided to become a triathlete. But when she went out for a ride with the MIT women’s cycling team she found herself hooked on biking: “I liked being outside and exploring the area.”

Katie, the team captain and a second year doctoral student in chemical engineering, was a competitive college rower and triathlete before she focused on bicycling. She describes cycling as: “A test of yourself. It measures how well you can prepare yourself for something and how much you can push yourself. I like the excitement of the racing, the adrenaline and the pain. It reduces what you’re thinking about. It’s pure and raw. It’s back to basics.”

Even though it’s one person, one bike, Martha says it’s all about the team: “You draft off of each other and you’re no faster than your weakest rider. In the championship [road] race I went off of the front. My teammates could have gone faster but they didn’t. That’s how I won.” May all of us be so gracious in victory.

Although the Fab Five are national champions, all students are encouraged to join the cycling club. There are no tryouts or cuts. This means if you show up to ride you’re on the team.

It’s hard to imagine many collegiate sports teams (champions or not) allowing anyone who’s interested to participate. The MIT women’s cycling team’s success may be because of, rather than in spite of, their willingness to create a community of athletes in which everyone can ride and compete at their own level.

Here’s hoping that the next generation of MIT athletes and students can have as much success on the bike, in the classroom, and most importantly, in that game of life, as Martha, Katie, Laura, Yuri and Christina.

Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.

The MIT women’s cycling team is a club sport. This means that though they get assistance from the university, they must raise most of the money needed to support their team. To learn more about the MIT women’s team (or to make a donation to support their club), check out their web site.

Looking to race? Check out USA Cycling or BikeReg.com. And don’t forget the Tuesday Night Women’s Ride, which starts at Lexington Center at 6pm. If you want to try your hand at a time trial, check out Blue Hills Cycling Club’s monthly time trial on Sunday, May 22nd, at 8am. To register for this ride send an e-mail to: jls.bhcc@jls.cx

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