Sure, Dan Persa and company garnered plenty of attention on the gridiron last fall, and John Shurna’s “Cardiac ‘Cats” always had fans at Welsh-Ryan Arena on the edge of their seats in the winter, but as spring sweeps through Evanston, there’s a new squad picking up buzz.
Meet the burgeoning Northwestern University Cycling Team.
Flying — well, in their case, pedaling — under the radar for years now, the team’s recruitment efforts and subsequent surge in membership has led to their skyrocketing campus presence.
Cycling Team President Joe Hooker attributes the team’s success to their unwavering spirit and an individualized practice regimen. When he joined the team three years ago, its roster held around 30 cyclists. Today, it exceeds 40. “The team made a very big shift away from a small team focused on intense racing to a larger, inclusive group that has riders of all abilities,” the McCormick junior says.
“We have seen a large increase in the percentage of girls on the team,” adds Communication senior Yannell Selman, the team’s recruitment chair.
But with augmented membership comes varying degrees of skill, passion and commitment from incoming riders. The team has no required practices, but according to Hooker, top cyclists train at least four days a week in the offseason, followed by two or three days a week during the peak of race season. The team also promotes weekly weight training, focusing more on core and upper-body work rather than leg strength.
Individual workouts and training plans give the team the best of both worlds, fostering a friendly environment while producing successful standouts. The team finished fifth in the Midwest Collegiate Cycling Conference this Spring, a competition which boasts more than 40 members who have scored points. Men’s races can range anywhere from 20 to 80 miles, and women’s races range from 40 to 60 miles.
“Whether you’re excited about trying out your first criterium or joking about finding a restaurant to seat 20 people in the middle of Indiana’s quietest cornfields, [races are] very entertaining,” Selman notes.
Still, the Cycling Team faces the nuances and struggles of finding on-campus resources in a school with numerous clubs, teams and organizations. When harsh winters hit campus, the team is forced indoors for sheltered practice facilities. “Indoor training space has been a primary difficulty of the team,” Hooker laments. While they were able to use the Blue Room in Patten come snowfall this year, the room will be converted to a locker room for the women’s lacrosse team by 2013, setting the cyclists back to square one.
Even with the setback, the team will remain competitive, largely because of its unity. Weinberg senior Tommy Peng notes that racers may strategically block opponents to give a teammate better positioning. Peng, who calls himself the team’s “bike snob,” says the team carries on the spirit year after year. “Each year’s roster is as enjoyable, fraternal and friendly as the last,” he says.
Despite being an individual sport, the cycling team uses this spirit to work as a whole and passes on this bond to new racers.
“Because there are such varying abilities, a relationship is built between the new racers and the members who have raced before,” Hooker says. “The new racers get guidance and help at every step of the way to ensure they do their best in their races and have fun. The team continues to pass down knowledge and grow the sport in this manner.”