Nine years ago, Jade Wilcoxson was a 26-year-old with a brand-new doctorate in physical therapy. Life looked bright.
Then her doctor dropped a bombshell: She was pre-diabetic.
"That disease runs all through my family," Wilcoxson explains. "So my brother and I bought bicycles and began to train. After my first race, I was hooked."
Not only has cycling warded off that dreaded disease, it has earned the Talent resident two national titles in 2013.
Competitive bicycling has come relatively late in life to Wilcoxson. She played soccer in high school in her home town of Visalia, Calif. Bicycling, she says, is just a way to express her innate competitive drive.
"I have this switch that's always on," says Wilcoxson. "It never occurs to me to give up or not try my hardest. I'm wired that way, so I go through a lot of suffering."
She's seen plenty of suffering in others, as well, through a physical therapy career in which many of her patients have been elderly or disabled. It's given her the motivation to push that much harder.
"After working with elderly patients, seeing the struggles some of them had just getting out of bed, I realized I couldn't complain," the 35-year-old adds.
Wilcoxson turned pro in 2011 and landed on the podium in several races. This year, however, has been truly phenomenal. She kicked off her year in January by claiming the silver medal at the National Cyclocross Championships. In May, she followed that with gold in the 63-mile USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships. For an encore, she took home gold at the U.S. Track National Championships 3-kilometer individual pursuit title on Aug. 10.
Wilcoxson rides for Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies, one of the country's top women's teams.
What is perhaps most impressive about these results is Wilcoxson's mastery in such a diversity of bicycling sub-specialties. It's the equivalent of a runner who is simultaneously the national champion on the track and the road, and a runner-up in cross-country.
This presents a difficult choice, but one that most bicyclists would love to have.
"Right now I'm 70 percent in each of them, but to achieve the big goal, I'll have to focus, be 100 percent in one of them," says Wilcoxson.
The big goal is to be selected for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team.
To help her make that choice, as well as compete against the best in the world, Wilcoxson headed to Europe last week for a five-week fall racing season. She'll try her hand at international stage races, competing in both the Tour de l'Ardèche in France and the Giro Toscana in Italy. For good luck, she'll race in a team time trial and compete in the Road World Championships as a member of Team USA.
Psychologically and tactically, a trip to Europe is mandatory for an American aspiring to Olympic success.
"European racing is more intense," says Wilcoxson. "Not more difficult physically, but more strategy is involved."
The strategy is compounded with 150 women in a single race, which Wilcoxson estimates is double the average she faces stateside.
"In Europe, the roads are narrower, many are cobbled," Wilcoxson explains. "You have to keep a sharp focus or you'll go down."
As the saying goes, there are two types of bicycle racers: those who have been in an accident and those who will be in an accident. Jade Wilcoxson understands that saying all too well.
In between her two national titles this year, Wilcoxson was the overall leader in the third and final stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
She crashed in the final corner of that stage while in the lead and suffered a broken wrist and a lacerated face. Her wrist ultimately required surgery to repair.
"When you crash at 30 mph and sustain a serious injury, you get post traumatic stress syndrome," Wilcoxson explains. "It hasn't gone away, but it does get better with every race."
Judging by her success since the accident, life is definitely getting better for Jade Wilcoxson.
Follow Wilcoxson on her blog, www.jadewilcoxson.com
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Email him at email@example.com.