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The Journey to Track Worlds 2017

Journeys are funny things. Some have grand beginnings, some have grand endings, and others just seem to materialize over time - only in hindsight becoming apparent. My journey’s been a long one, and like many an epic tale, it ended just the way it began…

October 9th to 14th I competed at the World Masters Track Cycling Championships in Los Angeles, California. The journey to get there had a few starting points and like most goals worth pursuing, many challenges along the way. It required a couple of years of focused training, a social life centred around bikes, and a significant financial investment.  Not that any of those are bad things. In fact, my entire life story goes something like this: bike, bike, bike, work, rest, race, repeat. Throw in moments of pure joy and painful heartbreak, and there you have it - one woman’s journey to the World Championships.

Track cycling is a wonderfully pure, stunningly fast and endlessly exciting discipline within the sport of bike racing. Pure, because the bikes are uncluttered by unnecessary things such as gears or brakes. Fast, because bunch races are regularly over 45 km/h, sprinters go over 60 km/h and that’s not even including the much faster speeds the elite national-calibre athletes are travelling at! Exciting, because just imagine going that fast, sprinting for placings all the while being elbow to elbow in a pack of riders! One wrong move and the consequences could be disastrous.

So, when did my journey to these World Championships begin? One could say it began in 1983, when I joined the Edmonton Road and Track Club. I was a young cycling enthusiast, taken in, coached and encouraged by a wonderful community of athletes. I became impassioned with the sport - both road and track racing stole my heart. In a few short years, I found myself travelling to Europe to compete with the National team.

Around 1990, plagued by injury, exhaustion and impoverishment , I relaxed my grip on this sport I love and instead focused on my teaching career - and getting out of my parents’ basement!

Fast forward to 2003. The World Masters Games were coming to Edmonton. So I dust off my racing gear and my old ambitions, join the Juventus Cycling Club, and start competing in local events again. A handful of medals at those games were enough to whet my appetite - I once again had a taste for precious metals. I headed to Manchester, England for the World Masters Track Cycling Championships where I earned some precious metal - a bronze - for my efforts.

Life took me away from the racing scene again, until 2014 when the familiar itch returned. I wanted, no, I needed to compete again. I headed out to the track, falling into that familiar and comfortable, bike, bike, etc. In 2015-16, a few of us from Juventus competed at the National Championships in Milton,Ontario, at the cycling track built for the Pan American Games. What a track that was - an engineer’s masterpiece and a cyclist’s dream. Then it was announced that the forthcoming World Championships would take place in Los Angeles, California. This would be the first time for Masters Worlds to come across the pond and land on North American soil. This meant business. It was time to get serious and focused.

Fate smiled down on me when a former track cycling Olympian from my early years with the ERTC, Alex Ongaro, decided he needed something new to do. When he became coach of the Academy of the Argyll Velodrome Association, my training gained structure, discipline, and - frankly - some much-needed fun! He and I share similar values and a sound philosophy about training, and life in general. Words fail me here, in trying to accurately capture the degree of reward that came from working with an elite coach for the first time in my athletic career. Let’s just say, it rocked my world.

September snowstorms put a damper on training, but time moved on (as it does) and soon it was time to depart for sunny California.  Arriving at the track, I was struck by the chatter of languages from around the world. What a delight! I was moved by the thought that the world’s best were coming to compete, and I was here! The sight of so many seriously strong-looking women was also something to behold. I was awestruck, and a little intimidated by it all. That, in itself, was rather amusing. In my mind’s eye, I was taken back, full circle, to 1984 - one of my first big events away from Alberta. I was 19 years old, scanning the group of women and feeling awestruck and intimidated by their strength; how muscular their legs looked, how sleek, how professional they seemed! It was incredible how, 35 years later, the same sorts of thoughts crept in: she looks so strong! So professional! So sleek! I remembered, too, that I won that event back in ‘84, and I laughed at myself for harbouring such ancient insecurities.

That week of racing would prove to be as much of a learning experience as anything I have ever done. How reassuring that, after a lifetime of racing, I still have plenty to improve upon: mastering the start gate, pacing the timed events, dealing with aggressive, take-no-prisoners women on an impossibly steep, banked track. And that is a great thing. Coach Alex and I will be sharpening the knife for the next 11 months as I look to take my strong, professional, sleek self (with a more finely-tuned take-no-prisoners attitude) to the World Championships when they return to Los Angeles in October 2018!

~Gail Wozny

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