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Skyler Samuelson Espinoza: Go for the Goals

Skyler Samuelson Espinoza:

Episode 49

“I love setting big goals and I want to go after them really hard, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”

Being a Russian Literature major eventually led this week’s guest to track cycling. Curious how that journey began? Join Joan this week as she sits down with Skyler Samuelson Espinoza–they discuss how Skyler came to track cycling, her goals for the 2022 season, how being a coach impacts interactions with a coach, Skyler’s work with Strong Girls United, and much more.

Skyler Samuelson Espinoza:
Skyler Samuelson Espinoza

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kimgeistcoaching/

Website: http://www.kimgeistcoaching.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KimGeistCoaching


Thanks to B Braun Medical Inc. for sponsoring the Talk of the T-Town Podcast. BBraun is a global leader in infusion therapy and pain management, B Braun develops, manufactures and markets innovative medical products to the healthcare community. They are also strong believers in supporting the quality of life in the communities where their employees work and live.

Transcript

 

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to the Talk of the T-Town Podcast, where we discuss all things, track cycling. Broadcasting from the Valley Preferred Cycling Center, I’m your host and executive director, Joan Hanscom.

Joan Hanscom:

Welcome to the Talk of the T-Town Podcast. I’m your host, Joan Hanscom. And this week, I am delighted to have with me Skyler Samuelson Espinoza, who the last time I saw her was still just Skyler Espinoza. So, things have happened since we last saw Skyler, but Skyler is a very fascinating guest for us to have on the pod this week. So, a little background on our guest. She has an advanced degree in Russian studies, speaks some Russian if I’m not mistaken, is a graduate of Stanford University and also comes from a very varied athletic background where she rowed for Stanford in the Varsity Lightweight Eight. Is that correct? Yes.

Joan Hanscom:

And so, you come from a background of rowing and you’ve become quite the proficient track cyclist, and you do all great things. So, previously Skyler was the assistant coach of the lightweight team at Stanford and now works for Strong Girls United Foundation, which we are going to dive into later in the podcast. So, I am very thrilled to welcome to the pod our very accomplished guest, Skyler Samuelson Espinoza. Welcome, Skyler.

Skyler Samuelson:

Thank you so much, Joan, for having me. I really appreciate it. I’m very excited. I’m a little nervous. This is my first time appearing on a podcast. So, I’m very honored and thank you for having me.

Joan Hanscom:

I think this is really fun because the number of guests I’ve had on the podcast who are like, “Oh, this is my first podcast,” I feel like a lot of people are learning how to pod with me and it’s pretty exciting. But we’re gentle. We don’t bite on the Talk of the T-Town pod so it’s a good place to learn. And plus, we have a very friendly audience. I think everybody, the track community is such a good community of supportive people. And so, everybody listening is just stoked to hear from their friends. And so, I think you have nothing to fear my friend.

Joan Hanscom:

I did just do a really fun one with Amara from the Jerry Baker Velodrome. And it was also her first podcast. At the end, she was like, “This was really fun and we should do it again.” And I was like, “Yeah, we totally should.” Same with Kim [Zoberson 00:02:49]. When we had Kim Zoberson, she was like, “It was fun. We should do it again.” So, I think once you get into it, it is a fun thing to do because it’s always good. You always learn new things about people you think you know, and I think that’s part of the fun of the podcast.

Joan Hanscom:

So, let’s start off with the last time I saw you in August, you were Skyler Espinoza and now you are Skyler Samuelson Espinoza. So, how is the wedding? Was it fun?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. Yeah. So, I guess my wedding journey has been long and convoluted. So, my maiden name is actually Skyler Samuelson, but now I’m going by all of my married names. And the wedding was amazing and we were really lucky to be able to get it in. Nobody got COVID. And it was at a summer camp that I grew up going to in New Hampshire. So, it was beautiful.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, no way.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. Yeah. It was awesome.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, I didn’t realize you did your wedding in New Hampshire. I grew up in New Hampshire.

Skyler Samuelson:

Oh no. Whereabouts?

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. I grew up in Manchester.

Skyler Samuelson:

Oh, yeah. I was [crosstalk 00:03:49].

Joan Hanscom:

Oh, fun. It’s beautiful on that side of the state. How fun? That makes it even more fun to hear about. Yeah. I haven’t been back in a while to New Hampshire and I miss it. It’s really pretty in a different rugged way.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. Yeah. I grew up in Maine, so I feel like I can sense that from you, a kindred New England spirit.

Joan Hanscom:

There we go. See, in New England, there’s always find each other. And now we’re both California people which is also quite exciting I think. I’ve discovered that I should have moved here a long time ago I think. Why did I wait so long to move here? It’s great here. We’re not actually far apart, which is cool as well. So, you are right up the road. I’m in Santa Cruz and you are up the road in Palo Alto. And so, yeah, we’ll have to ride bikes at some point when the rain stops. Maybe the rain is going to stop.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah, I agree. Yeah. The first time I came to California, I was like, “I don’t know why I didn’t move here sooner.” It’s crazy. It’s really nice.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Every day I go out and walk along Westcliff in my neighborhood and I think, Why did I wait so long to move here? I’ve been missing out. But anyway. So, your wedding was great and that’s cool. And now I know that you’re a fellow to Englander, which I like even better. And so, here we are, we are doing this right before New Year’s. And who would’ve thought when we first started doing the Talk of the T-Town podcast, it was in the very first parts of COVID and we thought, Well, we’re going to do this podcast to get the community together when we can’t be together and it’s going to be a thing.

Joan Hanscom:

And if I’m not mistaken, you are actually possibly Episode 52. We are well into COVID. We did not expect, I think, to still be doing it and still have this be a thing. And yet here we are going into a New Year still in the COVID times. And so, how is that impacting you, Skyler? How is that impacting your training? How is that impacting your planning for the 22 season? How is it still impacting us all?

Skyler Samuelson:

And it’s funny because I think COVID has come and arise at the same time that I’ve gotten into track cycling. I haven’t been riding for very long. I really only started racing in 2019, which there wasn’t really any racing that season. And I was so grateful to you and to T-Town. I came out actually in 2019 and raced a bunch of time trials that summer, which is all that anybody could do. And I actually got a lot of racing experience that summer. It wasn’t mass start racing. It didn’t look the same as a normal summer, but it was still really valuable for me to come out to the track and learn how to set up my bike and change my gears and all those things in a really welcoming quiet environment.

Skyler Samuelson:

There wasn’t a lot going on. And it was really special for me and really valuable that T-Town was still able to offer that racing. And then, it was like a gentle build to then I got to come out again for a couple of months in 2020, and I already knew my way around, knew where the bathrooms were and knew things when there was a lot more people and a lot more opportunities to race mass start stuff.

Skyler Samuelson:

But definitely COVID still has a lot of uncertainties in terms of planning and scheduling. But I feel really lucky that I’m not a swimmer or something. I’ve just been able to ride my bike throughout COVID as a way to stay mentally healthy. And I’ve been able to do a lot of my training uninterrupted, which has been really nice.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. It’s funny. I stopped going to the gym with the whole COVID thing, and I just started going back to the gym and I was all excited. I was starting to lift heavy things that weren’t in my living room and now I feel like, Oh gosh, I don’t know. Maybe going to the gym right now is not the thing. So, it’s funny how there’s just those little things that impact your training. So, I think I’m back to my one sad kettlebell in my living room for a few weeks. And then, we’ll try going back into the gym again after this current wave of not so great passes or hopefully it passes.

Joan Hanscom:

But other than that, you’re right, being a cyclist is nice because generally speaking, the outdoors has been a safe space, so yeah. We’ve been able to keep pedaling, and that’s good for mind and body I think. So, tell us a little bit about your background. So, clearly you have a big brain, Russian studies, not a slacker major by any stretch of the imagination. Tell us about that. Tell us about why Russian studies.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. So, I went to college. I went to undergrad at Columbia University in New York. And I just stumbled into a Russian literature class. And I ended up being a Russian literature major basically because the woman who was running the class didn’t speak very good English. And so, I told her I was interested in the class and she thought I was interested in the major.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s amazing.

Skyler Samuelson:

Getting signed up for the major on accident, but as a college freshman, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I was like, “Well, I guess this is fine.” And I ended up with these four very old Russian women who took care of me during college and took me out for tea. And it was amazing. And I felt like home. And then, I got to explore lots of other things as well because the major wasn’t super extensive like pre-med or something like that. It allowed me to see a lot of parts of the city I wouldn’t have seen. I spent time in Brighton Beach, which is like a Russian-speaking neighborhood in the city. So, that was really fun in New York.

Skyler Samuelson:

And then, in New York, I also walked on to the rowing team at Columbia because my Russian teacher was like, “You are very competitive in class. I think you need a different outlet.” So, that’s how I found the rowing team at Columbia. I just fell in love with rowing and really also fell in love with the community of women who support each other through sports, which is huge for me.

Skyler Samuelson:

And I graduated from college knowing that I wanted to either be an athlete or work in women’s sports in some capacity. So then, I decided to get my master’s degree at Stanford, mostly to row, but also to go to school some more.

Joan Hanscom:

Nice.

Skyler Samuelson:

And so, that’s how I been started rowing at Stanford and then I eventually got that job, coaching at Stanford. And then, I also met my now husband there and he’s the one who introduced me to cycling. I forget what that question was.

Joan Hanscom:

No, you’re actually doing it. You’re right there because we’re on this path of tell us about Skyler. That’s super cool actually that it was one of your Russian teachers that got you into rowing.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah, totally.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s pretty amazing. I went to Boston University where the rowing program is obviously a big deal for all schools in Boston. I think the rowing program is a big deal. And I remember as a freshman, somebody approached me because I’m tall. And I think when you’re a tall girl, they think you’re going to be a good person to have on the rowing team. And so, I remember talking to them and then they were like, “Yeah, we’re out on the river at 5:00 AM.” And I was like, “Bye-bye.”

Joan Hanscom:

That sounds really cold and I don’t like that. Now, I get up at 5:00 every day and I train and whatever, but 5:00 a.m. out on the Charles River was not something that I ever thought my body could handle. I was like, “No, no, that sounds way too cold for me.” But more power to you for doing it because I remember just being like, “No, no, no, no. Thanks for asking, but I’m not interested.”

Skyler Samuelson:

That’s what so great about rowing in California.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Right. You don’t get the freezing cold. Charles River is not quite thing although it’s been quite chilly here lately I will say. So, that’s cool. So then, you came to Stanford to go to school and work on your degree, but also row and you met your now husband introduced you to the bike. And so, I would assume he was not a track cyclist.

Skyler Samuelson:

Correct. Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

So, you got introduced to road cycling.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah, he was an athlete at the time and now he just rides more bikes. But I had a back surgery at the end of my rowing career while at Stanford and then that I was hoping to pursue rowing at a higher level. And then, at the time, the back surgeon who was like, “You should probably take a couple of years off from rowing to let the injury and the surgery heal.” And so, I started riding bikes more during PT to recover from the injury. And I just fell in love with bikes.

Skyler Samuelson:

And then, I was in this limbo period right after I graduated from Stanford. And I have family that works at Nike and they hook me up with a sports physiologist who works at Nike and maybe do all these sports theology tests. And I was like, “I’m interested in being an athlete. I’m not really picky about which sport, but what do you think I would be good at?”

Joan Hanscom:

Where’s my aptitude?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. Where can I find a niche? And he recommended track cycling as I’m more of a sprint, fast-twitch muscle person. I’m a long person, but I still feel very new to cycling. I love track cycling. And I think I’m still, I’m open to more disciplines of cycling in the future, but I just fell in love with the speed of track cycling and the feel of it and the community. Something I love about the track is that you can do workouts on the track. I’ve done workouts with Mandy [Markel 00:14:14] and we’re on the track at the same time. And that’s something that you can’t get on the road as much because I get dragged by people.

Skyler Samuelson:

So, I love that people of all levels can be on the track at the same time and then you can learn from people and just gather in a way that you can’t in some other forms of cycling. So, I love that about track. Also, something coming from rowing that’s just blown me away about cycling in general is the strategy, right? There’s no strategy. You just go hard and then you go harder and then you go harder.

Skyler Samuelson:

So, yeah, exercising my brain has been really fun. I’m sure that you’ve seen I’m not the best technical writer yet. Because I think sometimes I just want to work really hard right from the start and pull everybody around. But learning when to go and the lulls of the racing has been so fun for me and been really great to exercise my brain some more.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. It’s funny people don’t necessarily… broadly speaking about cycling, people don’t understand that it’s a thinking sport, right, because there are tactics and there are strategies. And one of our very, very early guests that we had when we first started doing the podcast actually said that that was one of the things that she really appreciated about when she started racing on the track was it improved her cycling more broadly because the track cycling happened so fast that she had to learn to develop those decision-making skills split second.

Joan Hanscom:

And that was such a key piece of development for her was track cycling as it did force that wicked fast, assess and react type of thing where you just had to hone that decision-making process into a flash. And I thought it was a really interesting observation that on the… she made it sound well on the road then everything happens slower. And you’re able to see things happening as they unfold. And she very much chalks that up to tracks labeling and how fast it all transpires. So, I have no doubt that a couple of more seasons under your belt, you’ll be laser quick too in your making.

Joan Hanscom:

But it was funny talking to [Elle Smith Hewitt 00:16:35] about her win at nationals this year and what her thought process was. And I was watching. I was up on top of the judges’ stand so I was watching the whole race unfold and I could see the whole thing unfolding and see what was happening as they went into turn three on the last lap.

Joan Hanscom:

And it was so interesting to hear what her thought process was going into turn three and versus what I was seeing on the track. And it was super cool to see it all, like what I was everything with my eyeballs was what actually happening in her head. And it was super cool. But to go through that thought process of what that last lap was like was pretty, it was pretty interesting.

Joan Hanscom:

So, yeah, I think people just assume that on the track, it’s just like row and you smash it, go hard and turn left, and there’s more to it than that for sure, I mean, except maybe in the pursuit and then you just smash it hard and turn left. But that’s funny because that first season you were at T-Town, that’s essentially all you were doing.

Joan Hanscom:

I remember you were coming out and you’re doing the 4k pursuit. You were doing all the distance events. And I remember everybody going, “Who’s that? She’s fast.” But that because you weren’t an east coast cyclist person so we’re all like, “Who’s that person who’s going real fast in the pursuits?” So, that has to be a big engine translation from all the rowing years. So, it’s interesting. So, what else did the Nike sports performance person tell you?

Skyler Samuelson:

It was cycling or cross-country skiing were my two choices. And I did. I don’t know if you grew up cross-country skiing, but I definitely did. And I raced in middle school a little bit. But I guess the thing now is you have to move to Europe, which I think you do for cycling too to some capacity, but there’s not enough snow really here anymore.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Unless you live in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Right. I think that’s where all the good US people come from now is Minnesota. It’s funny. It’s funny that you say that because the middle school I went to, we had a big park across the street where they would take us outside for gym class at wintertime to make us cross-country ski in the big park. And I just remember thinking this is the most horrible, hardest thing I’ve ever done. I hated it. I now as a grown-up, I love it so much. I love cross-country skiing and I love how hard it is because it is really hard. And I love that about it.

Joan Hanscom:

But I remember in middle school, I thought it was like, “Oh God, I hate this so much.” It’s funny how as you develop as an athlete, that I hate it so much, this is hard becomes Oh, I love this, this is hard. So, yeah, that was the gym class I hated the most was when we had to go out and cross-country ski in the park across the street from school. I was like, “Oh God, this is hard.” Maybe it’s because I didn’t like being cold either. But yeah. So, that’s funny, the funny transition. So, you are working with Jennie Reed coaching. Is that still the case?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

So, because it’s New Year’s and we’re all talking about what our plans are for 22, what are your plans for 22? What is it looking like for you as far as we can all prognosticate at these weird COVID times?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. So, Jennie and I have made… I’ve been working with Jennie since I started racing. Shout out to her. I love working with her. She has so much experience. And that was really important for me because as… and she was really great with me as a brand new writer. I was like, “I don’t even know what a chainring is. I don’t know anything.” And it was great for her. She was just so patient with me and has really taken me from ground zero to where I am now.

Skyler Samuelson:

And I guess our goals for 2022 are to really focus on the pursuit. I had such fundraising the mass start stuff and I still want to do that as well. But I do have national team aspirations and I’m hoping to get a really fast pursuit time this year. I’m going to be traveling to LA every month, still enjoying to get some more time on the two 50 and get a good benchmark there.

Skyler Samuelson:

And then, of course nationals is my big focus also as well for 2022. This past year was my first nationals. And I think I loved it. It was also super overwhelming. I think I got pretty nervous around the nationals. So, I think I’m going to really looking forward to 2022 to have one under my belt and know what it feels like.

Joan Hanscom:

And back to T-Town. So, it’ll be a familiar place for you. So, that’s cool too. That was a bit of a surprise to all of us. When you USA Cycling called and said, “Hey, would you be interested in hosting again?” We said yes, of course. But yeah. So, back to a familiar place for you, which is hopefully good luck on the new track surface, which is hopefully going to be faster and smoother and hopefully doesn’t have that big whoopty turn and whoopty bump and turn three. And hopefully it makes for faster times for y’all, but yeah, that’s exciting. And that stuff going down LA and the national team aspirations.

Joan Hanscom:

Talk a little bit about that. Do you know what type of times you have to put up to be a national team eligible? Have those standards been published? Do you have a ballpark? Do you know what you’re looking at?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. I’m hoping, like when we talk about Jennie, when we talk to Jennie about a benchmark is around the 3:40 time for that pursuit, which is pretty speedy and I’m right around a 3:54 right now. And so, that’s a pretty significant chunk for me. And I’m hoping that I still am seeing really big games from being pretty new in the sport. So, I think, obviously, I love setting big goals and I want to go after them really hard, but it’s going to take a lot of work. So, that’s the time standard that I’m hoping to hit. And then, yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s cool. So, as you change your focus or refocus on the pursuit stuff because like we said, the first year you were at T-town, it was all we did was pursuits. So, you clearly put a lot of those miles in the legs. And as you defocus the mass start stuff, how does your training change? So, what are you doing now? Obviously, this is the time of year where we’re all putting in the “off-season work.” What’s that look for you now that you have a different set of goals for yourself?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah, totally. I think my training this year has been different because also this is the first year in a while that I’m not working a full-time job. And I decided to leave Stanford this past year because I wanted… and I feel really lucky that now I have a partner, who has a full-time job now and I can have a part-time job and we can make it work. It was a lot of work, right? I was in the boathouse at 4:30 a.m. for the athletes to get there at 5:00 AM. And that full-time coaching of any sport is a huge undertaking. And not only time-wise, but emotionally.

Skyler Samuelson:

So, the transition from the full-time to more part-time work has been huge in terms of being able to allow me to just have more hours in the day. So, I’ve been able to put in a couple of really good, big endurance blocks this fall. And it’s been a lot of riding outside, a lot of just long hours aerobically on the bike.

Skyler Samuelson:

And then, this winter, we’re going to start doing more intensity. It’ll be a lot of two to five-minute efforts on the trainer, just a lot of intensity on the trainer then on the track in LA every month probably for a week just trying to get that effort, that three to four-minute effort dialed.

Joan Hanscom:

So, I’m curious because you are a coach who’s being coached. And how does that? I’ve never been a coach. But I am a coached athlete essentially my whole life. How does being a coach impact how you interact with a coach?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think it was really healthy for me to be in a different sport from my athletes. I think that I wasn’t ever trying to be competitive with them or I wasn’t trying to… I think that it allowed my brain to separate the two when I was thinking about cycling versus rowing. But I think that it made me a more coachable athlete because I-

Joan Hanscom:

Interesting.

Skyler Samuelson:

The amount of times that I was just like… sometimes my athletes just wouldn’t understand a technical change I was asking them to make. And I was like, “Why are you not making it?” It seems so obvious to me as the coach. And then, to understand that, Okay, This change that Jennie is asking me to make or this thing that she’s asking me to do, it might be difficult for me, but I know how to communicate better to say like, Hey, I’m not understanding this because of this reason. Or I need you to explain it to me a different way or something like that.

Skyler Samuelson:

Versus just like this block that sometimes I would hit with athletes by saying, I need you to do this. And they’re doing something completely different. And it gets frustrating as a coach to say, You’re not doing this way that I want you to do, but maybe that’s because as a coach, I haven’t explained it well enough or there’s another, like something else that’s going on that I don’t know about as a coach.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. That’s super interesting to me. That’s the coach within a coach or coach being coached. It has to be an interesting dynamic that would inform how you interact. It’s almost like a peer-to-peer thing, but still a coach-athlete thing. I don’t know. Maybe I’m overthinking that, but I think it’s got to be cool. It’s got to help inform everything, how you approach communication with your coach, which is so key.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. And I think that it also really informed how I communicated with my athletes and what I knew worked for me, and saying something as simple as, Hi, can I give you some feedback right now, which is something that Jennie says to me that I love because it just prepares you for the feedback or gives you the option to say yes or no. And everybody always says yes, but it just gives you that option to open the door for that feedback.

Skyler Samuelson:

And then, also, things like I know when my athletes haven’t had a snack in a while, they might be grumpy or when you know they haven’t got a fall sleep because we’re on a travel day or reminding them to roll out in the airport or things like that. As an athlete and a current athlete, you’re more tuned into those things than I think some other coaches might be because they are away from athletics all the time.

Joan Hanscom:

Right. That distance as they step away from the experience themselves. Yeah. Interesting. So, you are not with Stanford anymore. You are now with Strong Girls United Foundation. You are doing mentoring. Is that the correct description of what you do with them?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

Talk a little bit about this because I think it sounds pretty cool.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. So, I’ve been working or been associated with Strong Girls United for the last two years. I started volunteering with them while I was still at Stanford, looking for a different way to give back to the athletic community. And I started working as a mentor in their Female Athlete Mentorship or FAM Program. It’s a program that pairs a couple of elite but mostly collegiate female athletes, one on one with an elementary or middle school-age girl for the school year. And we do mental skills and mindfulness and a lot of physical activity and all virtual like over Zoom. But it just allows girls to meet an athlete.

Skyler Samuelson:

And a lot of times, we’re able to pair people up with the sport, so we have a lot of basketball mentors and soccer mentors, and they’re able to meet a young soccer player and inspire them in that way. And then, so this year I’m working with Strong Girls United to help run this program. So, I’m both working as a mentor in the program, but I’m also helping run the mentorship program. It’s funny. This year, one of my mentees is Cadence, Amara’s daughter.

Joan Hanscom:

Oh wow. That’s amazing.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. She’s so sweet. I love working with her.

Joan Hanscom:

That’s super cool. Well, I’m on the board of the Amy D. Foundation, which I don’t know if you know who Amy was, but she and I were friends and she died very tragically in a crash in Belgium. And the foundation is very much about empowering female cyclists to chase their dreams or big dreams via bicycle. And I almost wonder if there is an opportunity for us there that like offline, not part of the podcast, explore some opportunities between the organizations because the missions do seem to really be something that could be mutually supportive. So, it’s cool to hear you talk about it.

Joan Hanscom:

And then, I think about, Is this something Amy D. Foundation could be a part of or somehow be engaged in to help each other scale or something? But yeah, very, very cool, very cool program. And I think something that when you were way back in the first part of this conversation when you were saying I knew I wanted to be an athlete and that was part of how you were wired. The fact that you found a place where you’re able to share that now with the next generation of female athletes is pretty cool and, yeah.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. I feel so lucky. It’s so perfect, the perfect setup for me right now that it’s virtual and remote. And I have really flexible hours in terms of helping run the program, and it’s helping me be able to pursue my dreams and live out my dreams, so it’s awesome. I feel really lucky and the org is doing really good things. So yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

As I was reading about it before we got on the call today, I was like, “Oh, this sounds super cool.” Because I’ve seen you on your Instagram stuff post about it, but hadn’t really had the opportunity or time to dig into it more. And as I did, I was like, “Oh, wait a second. This is actually super cool.” So, yeah, right on. Good for you. What else is going on? We’ve got nationals as a big goal. What else? What else is in the Skyler playbook for 22? Or are you totally just totally track-focused now? Has that taken up all of your bandwidth for Skyler time?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. I think that I am really looking forward to taking advantage of this year in terms of that. One of my vision goals for this year was to find a setup that allowed me to train and race more full-time. And I was really lucky to be able to accomplish that goal. So, I am really excited to capitalize on the flexibility that I now have and that I am also being paid to have this flexible schedule is so amazing. And I’m so lucky that, if Jenny says like, “Hey, I’d love you to go to LA this weekend, I can say, Yes, I’m going to drive down there.

Skyler Samuelson:

And if opportunity comes up to race whether that’s in Seattle or Canada or something like that, I can say, Yes, I’m going to be there. And I think that while I am going to focus on the pursuit this year, I still would love to do mass start racing and then hopefully race some more. I’m probably going to race some early-season crits in California.

Skyler Samuelson:

So, I think just, I’m really looking forward to being able to take advantage of being a little bit more flexible and just learning more and taking in a lot more experiences and, yeah, making myself a better racer and a better writer.

Joan Hanscom:

So, you said your vision board, that was a… So, when I’ve done that in the past, which I am not doing in 2022. I’m going to be delightfully vision-free. I’ve done that in conjunction with working with a sports psychologist. Is that something you do with your coach or is that something you do with a sports psychologist?

Skyler Samuelson:

My vision goals are something I’ve come up with my coach, but I’m also working with a sports psychologist now, which I’ve had ongoing issues with my back after my back surgery. I’ve also had some nerve damage issues. I had a concussion in 2019. So, I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries and a lot of chronic pain management. So, that was one of the reasons I started working with a sports psychologist was to keep managing my relationship to pain in my body

Skyler Samuelson:

But also I do think that with national team aspirations, hopefully with being able to race internationally at some point, I am putting a lot of pressure on myself. So, it’s been really great to be able to talk to sports psychologists too about how to manage cycling life balance and to keep a healthy relationship to the process. I was like, “Go for those big goals.”

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. I found that it was an incredibly useful thing to do. Like yourself, I started working with a sports psychologist after a big crash in 2015 where I had a very bad concussion, a really bad shoulder injury, very bad collar bone break. It was outside. It was not inside my body. It was outside my body. But the concussion part was really the part that I tried to force myself back into riding and racing far too quickly after my shoulder healed and did some real damage to myself from rewiring my brain for anxiety because I pushed through a concussion that I shouldn’t have pushed through.

Joan Hanscom:

And it took many years with a sport psychologist to unwire that anxiety piece of the puzzle that was a result of that crash. And over time, I found that it shifted from working on anxiety with her to doing all those things like how you manage the stress, how you manage balance, how you keep perspective, how things don’t become outsized problems in your head. But also just really how to create the goals and how to strive for them in a healthy way. So, I’m very pro-sports psychology.

Joan Hanscom:

I think it’s such an important piece of the puzzle, especially as a person like myself, who’s had issues with eating disorders too just making sure that you stay really focused on what your goals are, but in a healthy way is I think so key. But when you said that, I was like, “Oh, there’s got to be a sports psychology in there somewhere.” And I think that’s one of those topics that it’s important for people to talk about and certainly with people who are going to be competing at your level.

Joan Hanscom:

The pressure is enormous and I’m just middle-aged lady racer. And the pressures that I put on myself were enormous. So, the pressures at that elite level are very, very high. And I think it’s so important for people not to fear the sports psychology that it’s actually such a good and empowering thing, and it can really clarify those goals. So, that’s cool. Yeah. But it’s funny. They’re just left out of me. When you said it, I’m like, “Oh, wait a minute.”

Skyler Samuelson:

Well, thank you for sharing that with me. I appreciate that. And I’m sorry that you had to go through that. Concussions are literally the worst.

Joan Hanscom:

I’ve had seven, and every time you get one, they get a little worse. So, yeah. But I think, again, it’s something that’s so important for us to talk about openly. Be careful when you get a concussion because it can be way more than just a headache and the ramifications can last a long time if you don’t address them right up front like I didn’t. And I remember I was in the hospital for four days after the crash and they kept asking me if I wanted pain for my shoulder and for the collarbone.

Joan Hanscom:

And I just kept telling them I just had a headache and I didn’t need narcotics but was I suffering with a headache and they never made a recommendation for a neurologist. They never made a recommendation to seek follow-up treatment for the head injury, but then they were pushing those opioids. And I was just like, “I don’t need them. The pain in my shoulder is fine. I just, my head is…. And I was really mad at the medical community for not saying, Hey, you should probably see a specialist for this concussion that you had because it is bad.

Joan Hanscom:

And so, one of the things we do with the kids in the team T-Town program is we got them all baseline tested and we made sure we connected them with LVHN’s concussion center. And it’s one of those things where having been through it, you know it can do a number on you.

Joan Hanscom:

So, again, one of those things that I think is really important to just have open conversations about. There’s no stigma about it and there’s no pressure to return before you should return things. And as you as a coach, I’m sure you dealt with that with your athletes trying to come back too soon, too fast, and never works that well.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I was so lucky to have Jennie as well in that time that she checked on me every day for two months.

Joan Hanscom:

It’s amazing.

Skyler Samuelson:

It was amazing. She went into also mama bear mode to me, but also to have someone on your team who’s been through something like you’ve been through who knows how serious it can be. It was a huge benefit of being able to work with her and to be able to have that experience when I don’t have to go through that experience myself.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. Best not to have to learn it firsthand if you can avoid it. Yeah. That’s super cool. So, are you planning to be back at T-Town for the UCI stuff?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yes. Yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

Nice. So, a little-

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. I’m hoping to… Yeah, go ahead.

Joan Hanscom:

A T-Town UCI appetizer for your national championships is the way to go. It’ll be funny though because I don’t think Al Smith is going to be racing. She said she’s hanging up the wheels. And so, you’ll be down one buddy, one race buddy.

Skyler Samuelson:

I know. I know. It makes me very sad. She and I have become close friends, and it was really fun to be able to race with her. And I feel really lucky that I got to in her last official season. I’m sure that she’ll be back to dip her toes a little bit.

Joan Hanscom:

I hope so. I hope so.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. I’m sure that she will. So, yeah.

Joan Hanscom:

And she was a Jennie Reed athlete too, right, in the same coaching group?

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. So, she was coached by [Taylor Crane 00:40:37] who is Jennie’s assistant or co-coach, but yeah, that also made it easy for us. We did some workouts together last summer because Jennie and Taylor would talk, and that was really fun.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. That’s super cool. I was very impressed with that whole sense of community building that Jennie builds with her athletes that you guys are very connected. And I think that that probably translates now into how you’re going to work with your role with the Strong Girls, that creating support, not controversy or conflict, where it’s… I say this as a person who’s older than you. So, we weren’t really taught how to compete. Boys just know how to leave it on the field. You play hard on the field and then you walk off the field and you don’t carry that with you.

Joan Hanscom:

But I think that at my age and I’m speaking specifically for my generation, which is really the first title IX. We’re the first ones that benefited from title IX. We did not learn that. Right? And so, competition could be a little bit it weird. And now I think athletes of your generation are learning to do that thing where, yes, you play very hard and you compete very hard on the field of play. But then, when you walk off the field of play, there’s mutual respect and there’s friendship and it’s supportive off the field of play as opposed to.

Joan Hanscom:

And I’m speaking in broad generality. But I think that that’s important evolution of women’s sport is that lifting each other up instead of just strictly viewing each other as competition is a really important evolution. So, it’s cool, again, organizations like you’re with fostering that and, yeah, that’s super cool. But I always admired that about what I would hear about Jennie’s coaching group was that there was definitely that sense of community of it was a team, which is cool.

Skyler Samuelson:

It is cool. And I think it’s something that I’ve missed a little bit in cycling from rowing that having that built-in team. So, that’s why it was really fun to get to know, not only Al Smith but also Kim Zoberson and Jess Strong and have this little group of women who were so generous in giving me tips and teaching me things. And then, also competing really hard.

Skyler Samuelson:

It’s funny you were talking about Al Smith’s win in the national championship. And I was behind in the back and almost like was forgetting to sprint because I saw her winning. And I was so excited for her. I was like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s happening?”

Joan Hanscom:

She’s doing it yet.

Skyler Samuelson:

And I was like, “Oh, I’m still in the race and have to remember to keep pedaling.” But yeah, I think that that’s something that I hope that I always value and I’m sure that I will, but something I just love, the community that sport can bring and I hope to continue to be both a humble competitor and someone who continues to lift women up around me. Because I think to a certain extent, that’s still in the community is that there’s not enough room for all of us or there’s only space for one woman or is that only funding for this stuff that gets in the way.

Skyler Samuelson:

And I think that I heard this great Abby Wambach quote, which is like, If there’s not room at the table, just build your own table. And I love all the women I’ve met, including you through sport. And I love what sport can do in terms of lifting women up, so hope to keep doing that.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah. And it’s for life too, right? I’m still so close friends with my teammates that I’ve raced with over the years. Those friendships go back to my very first year of racing bikes way back now. So, it was like going back to T-Town and reconnecting with Cheryl Osborne, who is the person who taught me how to race bikes. It’s one of those things where that teammate bond or that connection. I feel like everywhere I’ve lived, and I’ve lived in a lot of places, everywhere I’ve lived, it’s been, you’ve made these teammate friends through sport that really endure and that’s pretty cool.

Joan Hanscom:

The first team I raced for way back when I was just messaging with her on Facebook, and she’s like, “When this COVID stuff is over, we have to plan a visit. And I was literally, like she’s…. I’ve lived all over since we raced together and she’s lived in London. She’s in Texas now and yet still we have this bond that was created through racing bikes together.

Joan Hanscom:

And I think that’s just amazing. It just does last forever. It bonds you together in a way that I don’t think a lot of other things do because you’re in the trenches together. And when you do scary things together, you have an appreciation, you have triumph together and tears, right? And it just bonds you. So, it’s super cool. Yeah.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. I want to plug while we’re talking about community that for the last two years at T-Town, I have stayed with the [Verma 00:45:54] family and they have become like my family. We exchanged Christmas cards this year and [Devick 00:46:01] just got into Dartmouth. They texted me about it and it was so great to hear. I think, obviously, you know this, but having that, being able to live with them for the summer makes a huge difference in terms of the cost and being able to come out and race. So, shout out to the T-Town community and them especially for what they’re able to do in terms of supporting rider and also just loves them because they’re like my home away from home.

Skyler Samuelson:

I think that’s been honestly the hardest part for me about bike racing so far is I didn’t know how much travel there was going to be and being away from home, being away from my husband and my space has been really difficult, but being with them has been such a joy and I feel so lucky that they took me in.

Joan Hanscom:

They are lovely humans, all of them, which is a nice thing to be able to say is there are some really great people in that community. And, yeah, I think you landed with some of the really good ones, that’s for sure. But there are lots of people in that community that become family with the racers and that’s cool. And I’m hopeful that, fingers crossed, that 22, we start to see things like more international riders coming back because all those international riders have forged those relationships too.

Joan Hanscom:

And so, I think that’s what’s made T-Town amazing over the years is that these families take in riders year after year and they forge a bond and it is like for a lot of athletes coming to the home or second home because of that really lovely community piece. And that’s cool about Devick. So, super cool. Always knew he was a smart kid. So, that’s very cool. Congratulations, Devick. If you’re listening, study hard. Yeah. That’s super cool. Is he going to go pre-med like his family?

Skyler Samuelson:

I was joking. I texted him that, I was like, “Oh, The next Doctor Verma.” Who knows?

Joan Hanscom:

Who knows? He’s got good role models if that’s what he chooses to do. So, what else is exciting? What are you going to do for New Year’s Eve, Skyler?

Skyler Samuelson:

You can check out my baking Instagram. I’m like an amateur baker. I love baking and I love that it’s my hobby that’s truly a hobby. Sometimes bike racing feels like not a hobby anymore. So, I love baking. And so, I’m going to make this fancy pavlova, which is basically like a meringue with great fruit curd in it and some fancy cream. And we’re going to have a little dinner at our friend’s house. So, nothing too crazy. But I have an FTP test on Saturday morning.

Joan Hanscom:

So, you’re not going to eat a lot of your pavlova.

Skyler Samuelson:

I’m going to crazy and get drunk and stay up until the night.

Joan Hanscom:

Yeah, that sounds wise. Wait, FTP will be a little low. Sidebar, you should check out more of Ethel’s baking. So, more normally sits in on the pods as well. But since we’re on west coast time and she’s on east coast time and technically she’s on vacation this week, I did not recruit Mora in for the pod this week. However, she is quite the accomplished baker. So, when you’re back in T-Town, you’ll have to compare notes with her because Mora more can whip up a confection herself. So, shout out to Mara.

Joan Hanscom:

When she’s going through the transcript of this podcast, she’ll know that I’ve given her the shoutouts for all of delicious confectionery as well. So, you’ll have to compare notes when you’re back. She’ll be thrilled to talk baking with someone. But that sounds like a lovely, quiet, calm, sane New Year’s Eve.

Joan Hanscom:

I will do the same. I will probably be asleep by 9:00 because I’m not going to be crazy. I’m going to go out myself tomorrow for my New Year’s Eve. Good times. Because, boy, do I know how to have a good time is two and a half hours of tempo. And then, after that, yeah, I’ll probably be done for the day. That’s it. Two and half hours of tempo and then I’ll be ready for sleep by 9:00. And meet the New Year same as the old years. That’s my motto for 22. Meet the New Year same as the old year.

Joan Hanscom:

But, Skyler, it’s been a delight. Is there anything else you’d like to tell our listeners things for the show notes, things where they can either follow along like your Instagram handle or information about the Strong Girls United Foundation? Tell our listeners where they should find out more about the cool stuff you’re doing.

Skyler Samuelson:

Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. This has been really fun as advertised. It was very fun and not scary.

Joan Hanscom:

I promise.

Skyler Samuelson:

You can find me on Instagram @skyler.espinozaa with two As. If you want to follow my baking Instagram, it’s @stickofbuttah, B-U-T-T-A-H. Yes. And then, @stronggirlsunited, all one word, is also linked in my bio. So, you can check us out there. And if you’re a female athlete especially in college or fresh out from college and you want to serve as a mentor for us next year, that’d be a great way to get back and get involved.

Skyler Samuelson:

And then, anything else? I don’t think so. I’ll also plug for try the track. It’s very fun. Everyone should try it and you will love it. Guaranteed. Getting more people riding bikes is always super fun and it makes more fun for everybody the more people we have racing.

Joan Hanscom:

And 50 and 50, there you go, 50%, 50% female participation. All right. So, you’re going to have to send tomorrow for the show notes the recipe for your confection for New Year’s Eve, your pavlova. And so, we will include your recipe, Skyler’s recipe with a link to your baking page. So, your best post photos of what your confection looks like. And we will put the recipe for it in the show notes. So, you are now on the hook. You have homework, Skyler. So, our listeners will know what you’re talking about here.

Joan Hanscom:

And with that, I will let you go and wish you a very happy and successful New Year. And I’m sure we will cross paths. And I hope to do some bike riding with you this year because now we live, what, 45 minutes apart. So, let’s ride bikes.

Skyler Samuelson:

I would love that.

Joan Hanscom:

And Happy New Year.

Skyler Samuelson:

Happy New Year. Thank you so much, Joan.

Joan Hanscom:

This has been the Talk of the T-Town Podcast with our guest Skyler Samuelson Espinoza. If you like us, please give us the thumbs up, the hearts, the stars, wherever you consume your podcast of choice. It helps us grow the audience and keep the podcast going. Thanks so much for listening. Happy New Year.

Joan Hanscom:

Thank you for listening. This has been the Talk of the T-Town Podcast. I’m your host, Joan Hanscom. Thank you for joining us for this week’s episode. Head over to our website at thevelodrome.com, where you can check out the show notes and subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode.