Interviews: Missy Erickson
(2016) We've decided to open up a whole new section of cycling content by interviewing racers and riders, race organizers, mechanics, and shop owners. Excitedly Missy Erickson, one of fastest track riders at the Trexlertown (T'town) Velodrome, took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about racing, life, and her future on two wheels. Our interview happened over email.
creakybottombracket.com: It appears you’ve done several sports in your lifetime, which ones have you done? Furthermore, have you applied other sports’ perception to moments in cycling?
Missy Erickson: I have done a lot of other sports! Growing up as a kid, we always try so many. I've done everything from volleyball, softball...anything with a ball...to skiing, running, track... In high school I was a cross country runner, cross country skier, and long distance runner in track and field. My summers were filled with racing NHRA Junior Dragsters, so school sports filled in my free time when racing season ended.
A lot of sports have crossed over for me. The training aspect is very similar to that of running and skiing. Nordic skiing is still the hardest thing I have ever done, and I often think about that on tough training days on the bike...I could be freezing in -20 degree winter in Minnesota while suffering on a pair of skis with bad wax!! Nothing is worse than that. I definitely transitioned well onto the bike after my running was over, with the endurance and suffer component well engrained into my mindset.
cbb: When did cycling become your main sport? Why track cycling?
ME: I started cycling as summer training for cross country skiing actually, around 2005/2006. Instead of roller-skiing day in and day out, we trained on the bike. My first year I won the Minnesota State Championship, and the next year I went to nationals and narrowly missed my first national title by taking silver. By the time I graduated high school in 2008, I had been awarded a 4 year cycling scholarship to Fort Lewis College. At that point, the scholarship took over any Winter Olympic aspirations I had in the sport of nordic skiing, and I went full cyclist.
The first time I rode the velodrome was with the FLC collegiate team during my first semester in college. I remember the music that was playing on the speakers of the Colorado Springs Velodrome, I remember who I was with, and I remember it being the most exhilarating feeling in the whole world. I had never been on a velodrome before, never been on a fixed gear before...and I instantly fell in love with it. Throughout my 4 years at FLC, we were 6+ hours from a velodrome, so I raced track, road, cyclocross, and a little mountain for the team as well. Then I graduated in the spring of 2012, and moved to LA to fully pursue track cycling.
cbb: In order, what are your two specialty track events? And has there been a track event you raced in that you felt you had no business being in?
ME: 1. Keirin
2. Scratch Race
The miss-n-out was really uncomfortable for me. At the age of 15 I was struck in the eye with a pencil while sitting in school, and I've lost a significant amount of my vision on that eye due to it. The miss-n-out has so much movement and constant changes, with a rider being pulled all the way down to two....looking around sometimes becomes very uncomfortable for me, due to the fact that I can't see anything over my right shoulder. But over the years I've gotten better, and I would say I don't feel like I don't belong in any event...they are all different and unique, and fun!
cbb: You aren’t originally from Pennsylvania. Where have you lived, and what brought you to Pennsylvania?
ME: I grew up in Minnesota. A little town of Alexandria to be exact. I lived there until I was 18, then I moved to Durango Colorado for school. I spent some time in Colorado Springs between those 4 years in college, until I graduated and moved to California. I lived in a bunch of places in California (Cypress, Long Beach, Redondo Beach, Lawndale, San Pedro).... Then I lived back in Colorado Springs, with Olympic Training Center access for about 9 months, until I realized I liked California more, so I moved back! This spring, we decided we had enough of California, and it was time to enjoy some seasons again, so we drove across the country in a Suburban with 4 dogs, and I'm hoping this place sticks for a while. :)
Andy [Lakatosh] grew up in Trexlertown, a baseball throws away from the velodrome, and that is primarily what brought us back. I've always enjoyed racing at the velodrome, and the track community is second to none.
cbb: Are there differences between west and east track cycling attitudes?
ME: When I started racing on the track, I was very innocent and open to all advice, opportunities, etc. So, listening to people from different tracks was pretty entertaining. Each track around the US has its quirks and tendencies. I would say LA and T-town are exact opposites! Obviously I have a love for both tracks.
I would say LA is what really got my love for the discipline going, where I learned to ride, where I trained...its pretty close to my "home track". The stigma was always that LA riders were spoiled, since they had an indoor track and they could ride all the time, with perfect weather, blah blah blah...but I also thought that was always an excuse for people from other tracks who were too lazy to pick themselves up and move to chase their dreams. That's what I did...left my family and friends and moved..you make it work, to live in a place where you can train all the time....just makes sense, right?
The stigma around the T'town track was riders were dangerous, aggressive, took unnecessary risks...but they were good, strong, and they dominated, and other riders were afraid to race them, just out of the fear of losing. That always made me burst out laughing, when someone wouldn't come race in T'town because they were scared...put on your big girl panties and ride!!
I could make you a whole list of things about every track I've been to...every track has a different attitude attached to it. And it's fun learning the personalities of each, even with a small track cycling community like we have in the United States. Again, for someone who didn't grow up in the sport, I have no big ties to a "home track", so I see things differently than someone with deep roots.
cbb: Between boards and concrete, which surface do you like best? You stated you love the Tokyo track. Is that your favorite?
ME: I think wood would always be my favorite, but it also depends on what track it is. Personally, I don't like round tracks. And by round I mean a fishbowl, of course, all tracks are "round". Tights corners, long straights. That's what I like, but that's because I've been training on that type of track for 4 years. Now in T'town, this track is open, flatter, concrete...you can ride slowly, but that's a bad habit. Each track serves a different training purpose, and I think it's really important to ride all sorts of different tracks throughout your career. There's a lot to learn.
The Izu track in Japan will always be my favorite, for the exact reason of the way it made me feel when I walked inside it. The tracks from the world championships, world cups...nothing has given me the feeling I got when I walked into the Izu Velodrome in Shizuoka. And I can't even describe the feeling, because there aren't words to take its place. I was in awe of my surroundings. I love Japan. I really really love Japan. That's why there are cherry blossoms on the back of my custom Missy LTD Kit by Vie13 Kustom Apparel.
cbb: You recently had a bad crash that (temporarily) put your career on sabbatical. What were some of the coping strategies to get you back on the track?
ME: In all honestly, I got back on the bike way too soon, but I had my heart and head stuck on the Olympic dream, and I didn't want anything to stop me. The concussion I sustained still affects me today, with headaches and fatigue, and it's been over a year. So you can imagine what it must have done just two months after.
The initial desire to get back on the bike, was knowing I had to, if I wanted to go to the Olympics. So, I didn't really cope with anything that happened, I just kept pushing through it, and tried to keep my emotions in check. I don't think I realized how much I was affected by the concussion, until I found myself in a really deep depression, having terrible thoughts, and I couldn't control my emotions at all. I'd find myself incredibly angry, and I couldn't calm myself down. Or I'd be sad, and honestly really scared for myself. But I wanted to go to the Olympics, so I kept going.
cbb: The late Ayrton Senna, a Formula One driver, once said, “… if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you’re no longer a racing driver.” Does that sum up your attitude to come back to track racing?
ME: I've always believed you go for something 100%, or you don't do it at all. Right now, I'm kinda not holding true to myself, but the excuse I give is I'm now a business owner, working full time, with 4 dogs, a farm, and ongoing medical issues from the accident. Haha! Sounds like a good excuse to me.
To call yourself an "elite" or "world class" athlete, you need to be researching, developing, and always improving. 100% of your life should be dedicated towards the goal, no matter how big or small it is. Always moving forward. That's how I've always pursued my athletic career. I've left coaches I've outgrown, I've moved for training purposes, and I was always watching racing film, watching results, and constantly asking questions.
If you aren't willing to go the extra mile, to do the extra work, and to work harder than you've ever done before, then I don't think you've got what it takes.
So for me, coming back into track cycling, when I'm ready to give it 100% again, you better believe I'll be shooting every gap, and laying it all on the line when the time comes. For now, I'll let the gap open, I'll sip on some lemonade, and I'll smile as they ride away.
cbb: You’ve had to reprioritize your life following your crash. How do the decisions made over the past few months change your perception on the track?
ME: You know what...theres more to life than bike racing!! Who knew?! Haha. Yes, being able to call myself an Olympian would have been amazing. Such a proud achievement. But honestly, you know what I've been doing now? I've been drinking beer, and eating tacos and ice cream, and going swimming, and jumping off cliffs, and mowing lawn, and working in the yard. I have a garden!! Yes, cycling has taken me to so many places, I've met so many incredible people, but I've come to realize, at the bright age of 26, that sometimes things don't work out, and sometimes it's for the better. We've rescued dogs who now live with us full time. I own a business I am so proud of, and something I'm passionate about. And I've become happier than ever, living on the other side of the country. I've seen my family more in the last year (which isn't saying much), than I have in the last four....
I love racing on the track, and it's so nice doing it stress free, with no expectations on myself, for the first time in four years. The last few months have been very emotionally challenging, especially watching the Olympic trials. I get so emotional seeing the faces of those who have just witnessed their dreams come true, and I get angry knowing I didn't get that opportunity. But not once am I not proud of what I have accomplished, and the decisions I have made since then. Decisions were made that were outside my control, and I made the most out of the decisions I could.
cbb: You’ve opened a new business. Tell us a little bit about it:
ME: I am now the proud owner of ERO Pennsylvania! I was granted this opportunity by ERO founder/owner/CEO/mastermind Jim Manton, who owns ERO Sports in Los Angeles. Specializing in bike fitting and aero testing alongside Alphamantis Technologies, we have narrowed the science in almost every cycling discipline, utilizing Retul technology, along with quite a few ERO secrets. I spent 7 months in an apprenticeship with Jim Manton, after he asked me back in 2013 to work for him. It took me until September of 2015 to take him up on that offer, and even two years later, he was happy to bring me on board. We ran aero testing for numerous professional riders, triathletes, world champions....it's really cool to say we had a thing or two to do with the US Women's Team Pursuit winning the Elite Track World Title a few months ago, and are helping in their progress towards a hopeful gold in Rio 2016.
I love the science behind what we do. The gadgets are cool, but having spent so long just watching and learning before actually doing gave me an eye that I can see a rider on the velodrome, and know they changed saddle, and how it's affected their position....things like that. I never expected this to be my profession, but here I am, absolutely loving what I am doing, and having the opportunity to open an ERO location on the East Coast has been crazy, scary, and exhilarating all at the same time!
cbb: You have several huskies. How do you manage such large personality dogs? You’ve also mentioned they’ve helped you through difficult times. How so?
ME: Oh my goodness, sometimes I feel like I'm living under a circus tent! Our dogs are incredible. We've got 4 total: 3 huskies, and one Goldendoodle. Daisy is 11, Dunkin (doodle) is 8, Eva is 4, and Theo is 1. They all have such big personalities and they've all got different stories. They definitely keep us on our toes, and I always say, while the silence is much welcomed with all the howling and singing going on, it usually means something is going down, or falling down, so I'm usually up and running to see what's going on before I get a moment to relax. They are all unique and cute, but the huskies are so witty and smart! We have to be 10 steps ahead of them, or their GPS collars will tell us they're in Topton before we even know they are gone.
Eva, who is my original pal, knows me better than I know myself. She knows when I need kisses, snuggles, and she knows when I just need her nearby. She's the only husky I know who can go off leash in the yard, she loves to garden with me. Even though she's not registered, she's an emotional support animal, most definitely. I had so much anxiety and depression after my crash, and it was having her near, along with the other pups, that really got me through those first few weeks. I was home alone for a while right afterward, and I'm not really sure what I would have done without her. I may have "rescued" her, but she's given back to me ten-fold. (Even at this moment she's sitting at the foot of my bed staring at me to get off the computer and play!)
cbb: Are there comments girls have said to you regarding you as a role model for female athletes?
ME: I have been told I am viewed as a role model, and honestly, I think every athlete should view themselves in that way. You never know when someone is looking at you, or watching you, and the things you do or say can really affect someone in a positive or negative way. Living in LA, I started the Missile Mentor Program, which had about 15 girls who skyped, emailed, called...we talked about life, cycling, boys, school...whatever they needed, I was there to help them develop plans, walk them through steps, and to help teach them to make good decisions. So many of them have grown, changed, and I'm watching them come up through the ranks....sometimes I get messages, sometimes they come up to me in person...it's humbling, and an honor to be viewed that way, and its a reminder to always put your best foot forward, always help the next generation, and to always give back more than you receive.
cbb: You’ve stated the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are on your radar, specifically because of the track. When do you start turning your attention to those Olympics?
ME: To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. I love Japan. I love the Izu Velodrome. After what happened leading into Rio, there needs to be a serious restructure within USA Cycling and its track program for me to even consider being part of "Team USA" again.
Besides that, if I wanted to move forward with Tokyo, I would start this fall or winter. Over the last quad, I had four different coaches, I moved two times, and when someone yelled, I ran. This time I would do it my way. I would leave it to pure athletic ability and make sure I was the best without question.
cbb: Evelyn Stevens raised the bar for the Hour Record this past year. Do you have any interest in cracking a shot at that despite being a sprinter?
ME: No. I don't fully understand the hour record. Maybe it's because I wasn't brought up in the sport of cycling and I don't see its significance..it's never been appealing.
cbb: With so many men’s track racers finding success in the road racing peloton, and with the focus on women’s grand tour races, do you think you’d consider a position on a Grand Tour team in the future?
ME: It's been brought up to me on a few occasions by a few teams...but I give them all the same answer...I'm happy. Why spoil it?
All pictures are property of Missy Erickson. The cover picture is the first time Missy Erickson returned to the velodrome two months after her May 2015 crash.