Women on Bikes Series: Sheryl Senczakiewicz (Mud Chix)

A Dirty Jane Ambassador and certified level 2 IMBA skills coach, Sheryl experienced hard lessons when it came to first mountain biking. Ultimately, she ended up having to have surgery and almost gave up riding; that is, until she signed up for a skills clinic.

That clinic inspired Sheryl and completely changed her point of view- finding that many women have had similar experiences. 

Because of this, Sheryl created her website Mudchix.com- a place where she can share her experiences and help empower other women to become the best they can be on their bikes!

Check out Mudchix on Twitter and Facebook 

When did you first start riding a bike?
I started when I was 27 years old so about 6 years ago. 

What motivated you to ride as much as you have over the years?
Many things, I love meeting new people and mountain bikers are a great group of people. Being in my late 20s I found that trying to make new friends and meet new people after college was difficult so it was a great Way to make more friends. The more I rode the more I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of riding as well as the outlet for my extra energy. 

Have you competed in events? If so, what were your reasons for competing?
I have competed in many cross country races over the last six years. I competed because I am generally a competitive person and also because it was a way for me to set goals and accomplish them. Also going to a race forced me to get out and explore new places and do some traveling.

What would be your favorite competitive biking event?
My favorite biking event was the dark horse 40. It was a 40 mile mountain bike race.

What inspired you to take up mountain biking and how has it changed your life?
My ex-boyfriend who is also a very good friend of mine was the person that inspired me to try mountain biking. After my first ride even though it was quite painful I loved it so much it just stuck with me. 

Mountain biking to me it has been a form of moving meditation so it has really helped me in stressful times. The biggest thing that biking has done for me is that it has made me realize that I can set goals and not only accomplish them but blow them out of the water. It really showed me how much control my mind can have over me and can affect my decisions.

Do you remember how you felt on your first mountain bike ride?
Yes I do, I nearly passed out from hyperventilation while trying to climb what is now a small hill to me. 

If you had nervousness at all, what do you do or think to overcome it?
Generally when I'm nervous I take a deep breath and look at the situation in front of me. I ask myself am I capable of riding this section of trail or am I in over my head? Usually my gut instinct will scream out pretty loudly if I am actually in over my head as opposed to just being nervous. 

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 ridden in clipless pedals and still will ride in them occasionally. I was rushed into using them only one month after I began riding. It became a huge hindrance as opposed to a positive experience. I recommend that all riders both experienced and beginners right on flat petals for a couple of months minimum. They did wonders for my balance and my riding overall.
I think too many beginners get pushed into riding in clipless pedals Way too quickly and the petals then become more of a crutch rather than an added bonus to their riding.

Have you had a bike biff? If so, how did you recover on a physical/mental/emotional level?
I have a big one about a year into riding. I fell pretty bad and needed wrist surgery. That fall really messed me up mentally and the way I was able to overcome it was taking a step back and deliberately practicing all of my skills in a parking lot or flatter area over and over again. Being in a controlled and safe environment like that and not out on the trail helps me boost my confidence and mental game as well has strengthened my body back to what it was.

Do you "bad" riding days? The times where what you can usually accomplish become difficult? How do you deal with the potential feelings of frustration?

Everybody has bad riding days usually what I do is take a step back to what I know and reinforce that to fix my confidence. Also I use the rule of threes I will try something three times only and if I don't get it by then I will come back to it on another day.

What do you love about riding your bike?
I love how it feels to be able to set a goal for myself and just blow it out of the water. Some people might think it's just an adrenaline rush but for me setting a goal of hitting a larger size drop or riding a very technical section of trail and actually making it through that is huge accomplishment for me. That keeps me addicted. I also love the social aspect of the sport and all the great people I meet. 

Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have three bikes right now. My cross-country bike is a Santa Cruz Blur TR Carbon fiber. This is one of my favorite bikes because it is so light and responsive. I also built it from scratch so there is a bit of a sentimental value to it. My downhill bike is a Kona Operator and I chose this one because it was a good price point for a downhill bike and it is pretty tough so it won't break easily. My last bike is a no namebrand BMX bike that I got from a friend and I have it so I can go play at the pump track. Riding the pump track really helps me step up my other skills for trail riding. 

What clothing/bike accessories do you love? What would you recommend to your friends?
For my cross country riding I really enjoy all of the bike gear that I got from twin six. Their shorts are very comfortable for women and the quality of the apparel versus the cost is a great deal. I also went to great lengths to find a hydration pack that would fit in my small torso and not hit the back of my helmet while I was riding. 

You have a website: Mud Chix  and a blog. What inspired you to use social media as an outlet for sharing what you do?
I felt like that was the best way to really access a large group of people and get what I know as well as my experiences out there in hopes that others might learn from my mistakes. 

What has been the most surprising thing for you since you created your website/blog?
Honestly the most surprising thing is that people are actually reading it. I did it for fun and never thought that anyone would ever follow my blog. But now I have random people and strangers that I have never met before saying hello to me in person and complementing me on it. It is actually quite a humbling experience.

With your blog, how did you feel when you first started doing videos? I can't seem to get through one without having to delete and start over! Do you have any tips for those who would like to add that element to their blogs?

Videos were really hard for me as well because I hate how my voice sounds and I'm also not great at speaking in public. I pretty much had to do the opposite of everything that I wanted to do. There was a lot of filming and deleting and editing in the beginning but the more I did this the better and more comfortable I got. I still feel awkward and get embarrassed sometimes but I always keep in my mind that everybody has been there. 

For people starting out, I would suggest going out and getting a good WebCam and just look at what video blogs they follow and identify what they like about those videos both in content as well as layout of the videos. It's not a problem if you find something you like and add your own spin to it. 

Why is it so important for you to encourage and inspire other women to get involved with mountain biking?
I feel like men can be overpowering sometimes and tend to force their ideas on others. I know that they mean well but I have seen and heard about so many women that struggle with biking or give up because of bad advice that was given to them or no advice at all. I don't want other women to miss out on how great biking can be for them because they either were misinformed or not informed about things at all.

I also focus on women more than men because women learn and absorb information much more differently than men especially when it comes to physical activities and sports. 

Why do you feel many women are nervous or apprehensive about riding the off-road scene?
To many women mountain biking is intimidating because they have it stuck in their head that they or going to fall and get seriously injured. Women tend to have a higher level of self preservation that guys do not. I wish I could let them know that if you learn the proper skills and technique that mountain biking is actually quite safe and you can enjoy riding just as much as anything else in your life and not get injured all the time.

I also believe there are a lot of women out there that ride but don't really have a way to connect with each other. Riding with a group of guys is very intimidating for women because they feel rushed or like they are holding everybody up. Since they feel that way they usually opt out of even going on a ride for fear and pressure. When riding with a group of women it's a totally different vibe and it's much more comfortable. 

What inspired you to become a skills instructor? How has it changed your life?
After talking to a bunch of ladies and realizing that they went through the same hard stuff that I did in the beginning of my riding I realized there is a need to have things explained to us. I figured if I could learn how to teach people how to ride their mountain bike safely that would get a lot more women on their bikes and out riding instead of just giving up after the first time. 

Seeing women come in feeling really insecure and having no confidence is a regular thing when I teach. By the time I'm done not only are they smiling and laughing but their confidence is through the roof and they are actually trying things they never even dreamed of doing. That is a huge reward for me and inspires me to continue teaching because I want to help as many people as possible. 

What has been one of the most inspiring moments you've had while instructing?
My favorite moments are when after a skills clinic we go out for a ride on the trail and I hear a woman get really excited and yell out because they just rode a section of trail that they used to be petrified of. Now they are so comfortable on their bike that they not only ride that section of trail but don't even realize what has just happened until they are already through it. 

Have you had any frustrations as an instructor? How did you overcome?
One of the major frustrations that I have had and am still having is actually getting people to take a clinic or lesson. Many people just see it as riding a bike and don't feel the need to actually take a lesson. When you learn the right techniques you can save yourself not only a lot of headaches down the road but also a hospital visit and a lot of expensive bills. 

What would you like to see happen with women in the mountain bike scene in the next 5 years?
Like always I would love to get more women on bikes. I think that a lot more companies need to make more's women specific items from clothing to bike equipment. Also in the racing scene there needs to be more fair prizes as well as a larger variety of classes for women.

Tell us something random about yourself that people may or may not know!
Something random, hmm. I really enjoy dressing up in costumes also known as cosplay. Usually I will wear something goofy while riding my bike like a tutu or mini mouse years but I actually do it a more serious level, it's called cosplay. Life is too short to be serious all the time. So I make it less serious by dressing up. Plus it makes people laugh.