I first met Maddy when she moved into my entry at the beginning of the year. Hours later, I saw her decked out in a racing suit and wheeling her bike down the hallway to go for a ride before our First Days activities. Since that day, Maddy has continued to inspire me with her dedication, athletic prowess and bubbly personality. I sat down with Maddy to hear more about her passion for the outdoors, stint on the National USA Cycling team and world travels.
What was growing up in Alaska like?
It was incredible. I wish every child could grow up in Alaska. It was really just like growing up outdoors. Nature was just a huge part of my life, whether I was camping and hiking with my family or just playing in my backyard with my friends. Rain or shine, we were outside playing games, making up crazy stories and just having fun. And that definitely shaped a huge part of my love for being active and for being outside.
And is that how you started getting involved with biking?
Yes and no. I was definitely always active, always doing sports. My good friend joined a cross-country ski team in the winter of sixth grade, and I did that with her because I was always very competitive and loved being active. And then, the summer after I joined the ski team, we started using road cycling as cross-training. We started doing training races and riding more, and the more I rode my bike, the more I just fell in love with it and realized that I didn’t really enjoy skiing. And it just kind of snowballed from there.
Ha, snowballed! And you then became really involved with biking, right?
Yeah, so for the first couple of years when we went on family vacations, we’d see if there were any bike races nearby, and I’d do them. The summer after my sophomore year, I went to junior nationals, and I was second in one of the races. I was 15 at the time, and that caught the attention of a woman who runs a junior women’s team that’s held in conjunction with the professional team. So she talked with my dad during the race and then talked with me afterwards, and then through her I sort of became involved with this junior team. That was when I started working with the coach and racing a full schedule, and then that progressed into my spending a year on the junior team training and going to school while also racing. And then my second year with her, I raced with her professional team, which was a full professional season.
And you moved to California during that time, too.
Yeah. During my sophomore year of high school, I was racing a little bit, doing small trips outside of school, but I was still going to school full-time. And then my sophomore summer, I spent most of my time outside of Alaska racing and went to my first junior world championships the fall of my junior year. During junior year I really stepped it up and switched to online school. The second semester of my junior year, I moved to California, where I stayed with a host family and then raced a full professional season from February through August with the team. Then I came back to Alaska so I could finish high school, graduated a semester early in December, and then spent the spring of my senior year in Europe with the national team.
Wow! And what did you do when you were in Europe?
For the first part of that, I was living in southern France, in Nice, with a couple of teammates, and we were just training. A typical day would be waking up, riding my bike in the morning for however many hours the coach prescribed, and then, in the afternoon, we’d try to find some way to hang out and try to get a little culture in our lives — we’d try to go to museums or take the train to nearby towns. So that was for about eight weeks in February through March, and then, at the end of March, I flew north to the Netherlands, which is where USA Cycling, our national federation, has a training house set up for the athletes. So that was our base for pretty much the entire month of April. We would train during the week under the guidance of the coaches, and then on the weekends we’d drive to races.
That sounds like an amazing experience. Did you enjoy it?
Yes and no. It was an incredible experience and I loved the people. But the racing was also incredibly difficult. And that was my first year not as a junior, so it was hard because I went from winning junior races to just barely being able to finish the elite races. But at the same time, I was literally bumping elbows with world champions and Olympic medalists, so I had to keep it in perspective. We weren’t there to get results; we were there to learn so that in the future we’d be in a position to get results. But also it’s hard as an athlete because you want to do well. It’s hard to balance getting your ass kicked with the learning and the development that come from it.
Did you ever consider taking a gap year before college to do cycling?
Definitely. I considered it, but at the same time I was worried that if I spent a year away from school it would be hard to go back. And I compromised and took a gap semester, and I’m very glad I did that to just come into college refreshed from an academic standpoint. But also with women’s cycling in particular, there’s not a strong U-23 category; you sort of go from juniors into racing with the elites. So if I took a gap year, I’d spend a year just learning, but I wouldn’t get any results. And it would be a pretty demoralizing year of trying to finish races. I figured I should go to college and let myself develop physically, so when I graduate I’ll be a little bit stronger and more mature from a physical standpoint, so I can go back to racing with the aim of getting results versus just surviving.
That makes sense. So you hope to get back to racing after you graduate?
Yeah. I mean I have four years from now until then. [Laughs.] I could get some amazing opportunities from Williams, but I’m definitely not done with cycling. Cycling is a cool sport in that you don’t peak until your late 20s or early 30s, so I have lots of time to figure things out. But it’ll definitely be a part of my life for a while.
And you’ve found other ways to get involved with the outdoors here, too.
Yes! It started out through WOOLF [Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-years], and getting that initial experience in the woods was great. And I’m definitely a sunrise hiker. [Laughs.] So far I’ve been able to make it to every one, so my goal is to make it through the semester.
And you went last Tuesday night to camp out on Pine Cobble!
Yeah! Life is better when you sleep in a tent every once in a while. I just think it’s good for my soul to spend some time in the outdoors. Pine Cobble is nice because you can just walk there from campus. I’ve slept up there three times, I think, this semester, and hope to do more in the future.
You’ve also joined the crew team.
Yeah, I walked onto crew. That’s been great — it’s been a really positive experience so far. When I came to Williams, I knew that I was going to take a step back from cycling … I was really missing the team dynamic, getting to train full-time with a team and being able to push and learn from each other. And then also I’m just someone who needs to be physically active to maintain my sanity. And then lastly there’s a lot of crossover between cycling and crew in terms of the muscles you use and the style of endurance sports. Over the summer, I was contemplating it for a while, and then everyone I talked to was so positive about the crew team, so I figured I’d walk on, give it a year and see. It’s definitely been a transition going from the top echelons of one sport to not knowing the difference between port and starboard like a month ago. [Laughs.] But it’s been really nice to sort of be forced to go back and focus on the basics. With cycling, because I understood it to such an extent, it was so easy to get caught up in all the numbers and the heart rates and the watts that I was hitting and in analyzing all this data, whereas with crew I’m forced to just focus in the moment and on the process. I’m just learning this new sport, so I’m going back to the fundamentals of it. You can easily get lost when you’re at that top level, so this has been a really good learning experience for me, I think, as an athlete.
So you’re clearly super active and athletic. What do you like to do when you have free time?
Oh no. [Laughs.] Sleeping is great. I love to sleep. Just spending time with my friends is something I definitely value a lot more now after traveling so much and having very limited pockets of time with people. I love coffee dates — food is a great way to bond with people. I just like the calm, relaxing getaway from the stress of school, life and sports.