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- Who We Are
Shawn Heidgen has been involved in cycling since 1992 in many different aspects. Some of these include: competing at national and international levels, coaching cyclists of all abilities, organizing training camps worldwide, owning an indoor cycling specific training center, developing womens cycling garments, race promoting, and data/power file analyst. In 1998 she sustained what should have been career-ending hip fracture that required her to be enrolled for a month at the Mayo Clinic Chronic Pain inpatient program. Despite the odds, she eventually returned to cycling and racing, focusing on the National Race Calendar and finishing 2 Giros D’Italia Femminile. It was Chronic Pain that prevented her from being able to put in the hours of training that most of her competitors were doing but this led her to training with power and data analysis to create successful workouts and training schedules that enabled her to compete at the highest level despite limited training time.
What was the point and indicator in your life which made you realise becoming a professional female rider was what you wanted?
Initially, it was as soon as I started racing. I loved it! However, it wasn't until after the first hip fracture that I really went after it. I think when you go through an injury like that and get a second chance, your focus becomes laser-like. I knew I was on borrowed time (with a bad hip) and I was going to make the most of it, 100% of the time.
When you turned pro, was the reality the same as what you imagined it would be?
No way! I think I had this vision that it would somehow get easier once you achieved a certain level and the reality is you just learn to suffer better. It never gets easier but experience does help in races for sure. I don't think I ever thought it would be glamorous so at least I didn't have that let down. But the hard work was worth it and I am thankful I had the opportunity to do it.
What became the new challenges when you became a professional rider?
The pressure to perform for sure, whether self imposed or by others. Being in Chronic Pain and not always being able to train as much as I wanted or needed to be. For me, juggling a career as a pro athlete not making a salary. I always continued to work at least part -time. The challenges of being on the road so often and missing my husband, friends, family.
How did you overcome these challenges?
A very strong support system (my husband who had been a racer for many years and understood the struggles), being mentally tough- chronic pain at least gives you that, mental strength, and honestly I did not always overcome them. There are times when I wish I wouldn't have let the pressure to perform get to me but it did. Now I try to pass on that experience and knowledge to my athletes.
What was your greatest win and why?
A pretty big regional race- the Proctor Classic. A 3 day omnium and I went without teammates. I skipped the TT thinking I could still take the overall by racing smart and placing/winning the Road Race and Crit. Well, I completely blew the road race, not sure where my head was but it wasn't in the race. I believe I got 2nd or third but missed out on critical bonus points during the race. Afterwards we figured that I likely didn't have a chance to win the overall any longer. I had blown it. But I got my head together for the last race, the criterium and knew I had to pull off something pretty big to still take the win and some how I did. I went solo off the front but also knew I needed the current leader to finish worse than second. I let a non-threat rider bridge (taking second place way from my main competitor) and took the intermediate race points, then took the win to take the overall as well. It felt so good to redeem myself and to do it on my own. I often spent the big races riding in support of teammates and it can be hard to step and race for yourself every once in a while but I proved I could still do it.
Which race pushed you to your limits and passed it...using the term whereby you almost 'cracked'?
Too many too count! There were times in the Giro that I would almost secretly wish for someone to crash me, just to put me out of my misery. Not really of course, but I did think about just pulling the plug so many times. I am proud to say though that during my road racing career, I finished every stage race I ever competed in. I just can't stand to give up. Sure there were times, I did my work and was just making time cut but I always did what I could do to support the team and then rode it in. I guess the most memorable time was the last time I raced Downers Grove, the day before the US Pro Criterium championships. I made the winning break but was so over the edge that I have no recollection of the last lap at all. My mind just shut off I was going so hard. I guess there was a crash in the final corner, I didn't see it or even know it happened. That was a little scary, going so hard your mind shuts off.
Why did you choose to ride for as long as a professional rider?
I only rode for 3 years. I think it was a combination of things. My original goal was to only do it for 1 year and I made it 3. But I was trashing my hip even more and the fatigue of that was really setting in, combined with not really making any money and feeling like I went as far as I could go. I know that I did everything I could with what I had and it was just time to move on to the rest of life for me.
What did you miss the most after turning professional?
For me, not being able to have alone time or doing things on my own or just with my husband. I think it was draining for me to deal with teammate drama at times. While I had amazing experiences with some really special teammates, there were a few that really took their toll and could make life pretty miserable on the road at times and not being able to get away or leave was tough.
How much did mental strength feature in your career?
For me probably more than physical. I was not a naturally gifted athlete, I was mentally tough and stubborn as hell and fortunately you can do a lot with those two characteristics.
In your valuable experience, what do you think aspiring female riders need to think about now to potentially make it?
The time it takes to truly develop your potential. It will likely take you several years to realize your potential so be willing to commit that amount of time. I see many quit before their time. It is a tough sport and you will likely see many failures- be prepared for that but you have to keep going and not give up.
What advice would you give to someone who has just signed their first pro contract?
Congratulations! Keep the extra mental stress to a minimum, be a good teammate, always be prepared and ready, and keep your nose clean. Don’t waste energy on things that don't matter and enjoy the moment. You have worked hard to get where you are, take a look around and enjoy the journey. Remember that attitude you had when you would just race for the sake of racing? Of course be smart about it, but don't lose sight of that. Do not let yourself be consumed by worry of failure or don't race to not lose- race to win.
What do they need to do to keep it going?
A strong support system. I don't care what anyone says, no one does it alone. It could be a friend, an uncle, a dog or whatever but everyone needs support. And dedication. You have to be 100% committed.
What is next for you?
I am now coaching full time and loving it! Just recovered from my fifth hip surgery so looking forward to getting back on the bike and getting some fitness again. The hip is better than ever thanks to some amazing docs and surgeons. I am a partner with ALP Cycles Coaching with Alison Powers, the current US Criterium and National Race Calendar Champion and recent recipient of VeloNews Female Domestic Roadie of the Year! I love working with Alison and coaching cyclists of all abilities including two female professionals, Maura Kinsella of the US and Patricia Schwager, the current Swiss Time Trial Champion. Life is good! Thank for the interview!