Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Women Involved Series: Veda Gerasimek (Pt.1)

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!

When did you first start riding and what inspired you to start mountain biking?
            I started out competing in kids’ triathlons when I was 7. It wasn’t long before I confessed to my parents, “I don’t even like the running and the swimming. Can I do a race with just the bike part?!” Being the ambitious person that I am, I made it clear that I did NOT want to do a kiddie race. My parents were faced the challenge of finding a race director that would allow a 7 year-old to complete in an adult distance race. We finally found a local road race that I could participate in if my parents rode with me. I completed the whole 20 miles, marking my very first bike race! I was a roadie for about 3 years until I did my first mountain bike race when I was 10. 
My dad always rode mountain bikes with his friends recreationally, so he introduced it to me when he felt I was ready to tackle technical riding. I raced road, mountain, and cyclocross for another 3 years until I declared that I only wanted to race mountain bikes at the age of 13.

Why do you love competing in events and what would be your favorite competitive event?
            I’m the type of person who wants to be the best at everything I do. It just so happens that I’ve decided to put all of my effort into one goal: Going as far as I can with mountain biking. I love how every course brings a new challenge; for each one is different and requires a unique approach and plan to succeed. My favorite event would have to be the Windham World Cup in New York. The course is well-rounded; a great mix of climbing, technical sections, and fast downhill segments.

You encountered some struggles as a young competitor, how did that make you feel and how did you overcome?
            In life, there will always be obstacles. The ones in our past build character, the ones in the present test our strength, and, as an athlete, you have to expect some in the future. In the past, I experienced bullying from adults because I was becoming a contender in their territory. It was discouraging and I considered quitting racing all together. I ended up surrounding myself with a more welcoming crowd, reigniting the new found passion that I discovered after experiencing what it was like to be at the front of a race. I am so grateful for the people that welcomed me with open arms and allowed me to continue improving myself in a positive and encouraging atmosphere. Immersing yourself in the right crowd is key to being a happy bike racer.

            A common obstacle that you have to be prepared for is injury. I had one pop up only a few weeks before Nationals. It was not an ideal time to be sidelined for two whole weeks. Oddly enough, I was the most positive I’ve ever been at my lowest point. I just kept thinking of the months that I spent to prepare for the most important race of the year. I wouldn’t let the thought of not competing enter my mind. Even when I was told to face reality when things didn’t improve, I kept repeating, “I’m racing at Nationals.” Long story short, I was healed just in time to race and I am convinced that my persistent positivity played a factor. I knew I wasn’t at my best like I planned to be, but I decided to go in with an “all or nothing” mentality. I could race, and that’s all that mattered.

Do you have suggestions for other young women who may want to compete? 
            If you need a bigger challenge, don’t be afraid to race against men or boys. Honestly, no one will judge you and the competition will probably push you to perform way better than you thought you would. And if you go too hard and fail, you shouldn’t be embarrassed. Most people applaud the courage it takes to push your own limits, whether you finished first or last. You have to test your limits before you know your boundaries. You’ll never know what you’re capable of if you’re too afraid of making mistakes.

Tell us about your goal to become a professional rider. What are you doing now to set things up to achieve that? Why is it important to you?
            Every year when I see photos of Team USA at the World Cups, I know that I want to be there. I just picture myself receiving one of those coveted kits and thinking, “I did it.” To achieve this lofty goal, I have to do more than just train and become physically capable. I need to show appreciation for the people that stand behind me; the people that I genuinely need to help me reach my goals. They would be, first and foremost, my parents. The older I get, the more I realize the weight of the sacrifices that they make just for me. I also have to promote my team and its sponsors to prove that I couldn’t be racing at this level without them. It takes an army for an individual to move up the ranks, so it is necessary that I acknowledge that I’m not doing this alone. 

You mentioned two women in your article for Mountain Bike For Her- Emily Batty and Georgia Gould. Why have they been such an inspiration for you? Why do you feel it's important for the next generation of riders to find inspirational women to look up to?
            Emily Batty was the first professional I ever met and one of the most memorable. I was excited to see someone so young do something so adventurous AND be one of the best. Not only that, but she treated me like a friend, not a fan. She makes everyone feel special and that is why so many people gravitate towards her. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to be just like Emily. Then I met Georgia Gould a few months later. She was so approachable and, not to mention, hilarious. Even when she’s not at the top of her game, people absolutely adore her. Her charisma and friendliness gains her popularity everywhere she goes. Georgia taught me that I can be serious about my results, but have fun with my career to balance out the pressure. I try to embody the characteristics that made Emily and Georgia my idols. Looking back, I realize how big of an impact they had on my life. That motivates me to do the same for other young girls. I’ve been racing for many years around the US and I know there are not too many professional females that go out of their way to connect with the next generation of racers. That’s why I feel a responsibility to do so. I wouldn’t be involved in mountain biking if I wasn’t inspired six years ago. It’s incredibly rewarding and humbling when parents tell me how much their kids look up to me. I love interacting with young racers because they remind me of myself when I was their age.
Besides mountain, are there any other styles of cycling you enjoy?
            I am a huge fan of cyclocross; however, I don’t compete in that discipline as much as I used to. It interrupts my training leading into the mountain bike season.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
            I was very young, so I can’t recall many details! My first mountain bike ride was most likely on the homemade, four-mile trail on our property. I have fond memories of building “stunts” with my parents. We would build little teeter-totters, ramps, and rollers. They never told me I couldn’t ride anything; they just guided me through trial and error. As I got older, participating in cookie cutter school sports just didn’t appeal to me, so I continued to ride and race. I liked being the only girl my age doing something out of the ordinary.

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
            They key to controlling my nerves is confidence. I’ve found that the only way to have this confidence is to stick to a structured training plan and focus on executing one workout at a time. I was unusually calm and collected on the morning of Nationals because I did everything I was supposed to do leading up to that race. I didn’t doubt my capabilities. I knew that I would do the best that I possibility could because I put in the time and didn’t slack off.

Why do you feel it's good that you started mountain biking early in life vs. starting when you were older?
            After hearing things like, “I’m too old for that” or “I have to go to work tomorrow,” I can conclude that it’s beneficial to begin riding at an early age! I was able to develop crucial technical skills without even thinking twice. Kids see everything as a fun challenge, not a risky death trap that could result in unemployment! It takes most adults longer to develop confidence and get to the point where their bike doesn’t feel like a foreign object.

As a 15 year old who is adept at the sport, why do you feel more women, regardless of age, should try mountain biking?
            Mountain biking is such a diverse culture and I’m always amazed at how many different kinds of people are involved. I’ve met women of ALL ages and ALL levels who share the same passion for riding. I think more females should give it try because it makes you feel capable and strong, whether you are an expert or beginner rider. Mountain biking provides so many opportunities to accomplish goals because there is always something bigger and better to aspire to. The constant progression and improvement is a positive experience for girls. The key is to start on less technical trails and not take it too seriously at first. Mountain biking is hard but it’s extremely rewarding as you master new skills.

Did mountain biking come naturally to you or did you have some learning curves? What was the trickiest skill for you to learn?
            I have to admit that I had natural finesse, but I brought many challenges upon myself to become a better rider. One of the trickiest skills was learning how to do a track stand. It takes a lot of practice, but once it clicks, you won’t have to put your foot down at stop signs!
Here are my tips:
1.) Practice on a slight downslope if you’re just learning
1.) Always keep your pedals level
2.) Turn your front tire towards your front foot
3.) Keep your weight over the cranks
4.) Tap your brake to allow a little bit of movement if you aren’t solid yet

Do you use clipless pedals? If yes, what are some tips/suggestions for beginners that you would share? If no, are you thinking of trying it out at all?
            I have been using clipless pedals since I was 7 or 8. Since it allows you to put some power into the upstroke of the pedal revolution, I would tell beginners to focus on this. It’s easy to forget that you can pull up, not just push down like regular pedals. Being able to do this utilizes different muscles in the legs and produces a more effective pedal revolution. I would suggest focusing on creating a smooth rotation; like you are stepping over a beach ball and then scrapping mud off the bottom of your shoe. Thinking about this makes the new experience less nerve-wracking. Oh, and expect a few bruises because you will fall a few times! I recommend practicing on the grass.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
            I have had many, many wipeouts; some of which were hilarious and others not so much. I had two of my worst crashes in one race earlier this year. My foot clipped a rock and I landed at the bottom of a steep grade. My bike smacked the back of my legs so hard that they seized up, forcing me to sit on the trail for a good minute. I knew that getting back on my bike was the best thing I could do to loosen up my legs from the impact. I crashed again during that same race and most of the impact went to the side of my face. I was bloody all over, but I learned that I could endure a lot of pain and keep a positive attitude. I have to admit, I was a little emotional at the finish but it didn’t last when I realized I was fine and happy that I finished a tough race. Crashes are bound to happen and you learn from every one. You learn how much risk is too much – a necessary lesson to perfect the art of mountain biking.



1 comment:

  1. Veda, you are an inspiration to all female athletes! And so we spoken! Keep doing what you are doing!!

    ReplyDelete