Veda Gerasimek, most commonly known by her nickname Darth Veda, is a 15 year-old competitive mountain biker currently racing for the Whole Athlete / Specialized Team.
She is passionate about combining her love of the sport with writing to share her perspective and inspire others.
Follow her "off-road" to success by visiting her blog:theycallmedarthveda.weebly.com
You can find Veda on Twitter as well!
How did you get involved with Specialized and their riding team?
I have been riding a Specialized since the very beginning. I still remember my little 24 inch grip-shift mountain bike! It only made sense for me to join a team with the same brand that has been with me (and never let me down) all these years.
What has it been like being involved with such a well-known name/brand in cycling?
I feel incredibly privileged to have a spot on the Whole Athlete / Specialized Team. We have accomplished what no other US development program has: 60 wins a year, on average for the past five years, twelve US Junior National Championship titles, 15 riders named to the World Championships, fourteen top-10 finishes in World Cup races, and the first US Junior Woman ever to win a World Cup. It’s been such a positive experience. I look up to so many of my teammates because a lot of them have already accomplished what I am aspiring to do. The team has superior leadership and I completely trust that they will guide me through every step of the process to accomplish my goals. I learn something new whenever I’m with the team because we spend so much time together during the race season.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with maneuvering through technical sections. But mountain biking isn’t always about riding through rock gardens. Sometimes it just feels good to be submersed in nature and take in the fresh smells and scenery.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have a Specialized S-Works Carbon Fiber 29er Hard Tail and it’s so reliable. I especially like all the SRAM components like the 1 x 11 drivetrain. It’s almost impossible to drop your chain with only one chain ring in the front! The eleven rings in the back provides a great range of gears and you have the ability to change the front ring as needed. I have never had a mechanical on this bike… I love it!
What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
If you aren’t wearing a DNA Cycling kit, you are totally missing out. They are made in Italy with quality, comfort, and style in mind. I have worn practically every brand and nothing even comes close. Their bibs are heavenly (no more “sausage legs!”) I also can’t live without my Oakleys. I have a small, narrow face and they are the only glasses that actually fit comfortably and look pro. Their casual eyewear is also super stylish! I love my Frogskins.
Why is it important for you to be a role model and source of inspiration for young women? What made you want to be that for the future women riders?
I will never forget why I started mountain biking and I want to ignite that same spark in other kids. All it takes is a simple pre-race pep talk or post-race congratulations to make someone excited about what they’re doing. As a kid, I always looked up to women that were personable and approachable, not always the ones that won or got on the podium. My results are very important to me, but carrying on the legacy of the people who inspired me is just as important and necessary to develop the next generation of female racers / riders.
What are you hoping to accomplish riding-wise in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, I would definitely like to gain some international racing under my belt. My utmost goal is to represent USA Cycling at World Cups if I am granted the opportunity to do so. I get goose bumps when I think of myself wearing “USA” in faraway places. It’s an unbelievable, yet realistic goal that I want to reach.
What are you hoping to accomplish advocacy wise in the next 5 years?
I strongly believe that exposing up and coming juniors to the world circuit will better prepare them to tackle the real World Cups in the future. That being said, I am very disappointed that the Junior World Cups no longer exist. Racing at a Junior World Cup was a main goal of mine. I’m not sure what the transition from racing nationally to overseas will be without these races. I feel the Junior World Cups are integral in developing young talent to be competitive at the world level. I’m hoping that I, along with many others, can advocate this concern and bring back the opportunities that juniors once had.
I’m also pushing for appropriate age categories for the girls’ short track event at nationals. Short track wasn’t even offered to junior girls until this year and the age categories were not reasonable. The boys have had conventional categories all along. The girls; however, were mushed into one big category (11-16.) The youngest in this category were robbed of any chance of finishing on the lead lap and the oldest felt embarrassed to be racing kids nearly half their age. It doesn’t matter if the fields are small; all that matters is that the girls are given the opportunity to have appropriate competition.
What do you feel deters women (of any age) from riding in the off-road scene? What do you feel could be done to encourage more women riders?
I think a lot of women believe mountain biking is a hardcore activity that only reckless guys have the guts to do. Very few realize that it has evolved into an activity that all different kinds of people can join. Nowadays, there are more trails that cater to every ability, making the learning curve a lot less risky. To encourage more women to ride, they need to be given the opportunity to ride with people that can guide them and teach them the most basic skills. That way, they won’t feel pressured to ride beyond their capabilities. I would recommend attending a women-only clinic or two. I’ve been to a couple and they all had fun, non-competitive atmospheres.
What advice or encouragement would you give to someone who is curious to try out the mountain bike scene?
If someone was thinking about trying mountain biking, I would suggest that they make sure they have the proper gear. As nice as it would be to just hop on a bike that was sitting in their garage for years, it will most likely result in a negative intro to mountain biking. If they have no knowledge about bikes, I would go to a bike shop and talk to an employee about which bike to get (as well as getting properly fitted.) Not having the right equipment steers so many “newbies” in the wrong direction. Once they’re set-up, shred some dirt but be patient about learning skills. Just try to enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a bike.
What is one random thing about you that people may or may not know?
I can ride one wheel! I have a couple unicycles that I love to ride around at venues. I can do a few tricks too!