Jenni Gaertner lives in Coeur d’Alene with her husband Mike, and two sons. By trade, she’s a pediatric physical therapist. She’s also a serious competitor in road, mountain, and cyclocross racing. She won the Starcrossed and Rad cyclocross races. She came in 4th in the Cyclocross Nationals in 2009. And two months ago, she was awarded a sponsorship from Raleigh.

OTM: YOU ARE A MOTHER, A WIFE, A PHYSICAL THERAPIST. HOW DO YOU STAY SO COMPETITIVE?

I guess I stay competitive by trying to be the most efficient with my time as possible. I follow a plan set forth by my coach, which ensures that the time that I spend on (or off) the bike isn’t wasted. I have a pretty sweet working schedule, and work with honestly some of the best people in the business, so they are pretty accommodating to my travel schedule when I’m required to be gone – but I’ve tried to arrange my schedule to impact my work and patients as little as possible. Workouts happen in the late afternoon. Weekends are where I tend to “load” my training volume, since I don’t work on Saturdays or Sundays. My house looks like a tornado most of the time, because I’m not home very often, and if I am, I’d rather spend time with the kids than scrubbing the floors or washing the windows. Honestly, I think what’s worked for me is to have a husband that is very supportive, along with the fact that I tend to be pretty organized with my time.

OTM: SOMETIMES YOU RACE THE LOCAL BIKE RACES IN THE MEN’S CATEGORIES. WHY?

I’ve “raced up” with the men because our women’s field is so tiny. I can finish respectably, but I’m maybe top 10-15ish, not top 3 at all! I always race with the A pack men in the Tuesday Night Twilight Series road races, and can mix it up with them frequently. I’ve had some top-10 finishes, but nothing to write home about. Mostly I love to race with the men because that most closely mimics racing crits or cross with the pro women. I hold on for dear life and repeat the mantra, “I’m building fitness…”

OTM: WHAT DOES THE RALEIGH SPONSORSHIP MEAN? WHAT IS THE SPONSORSHIP AND WHAT ARE THE OBLIGATIONS?

The Raleigh sponsorship is two complete bikes, a travel stipend, free entry to the Cross After Dark series races, a racing kit, and technical support.
I’ve never been sponsored at this level – it’s an amazing opportunity, for sure. Truthfully, I’m having a hard time believing it myself. I had decided that this year I would make cross my “focus season,” since I enjoy it so much, but also because I became so burned out on the road racing scene. So, the timing of this seems so perfect! But honestly, I’m a bit overwhelmed by it.

I don’t in any way consider myself a “pro” – I just race with the pros, and try to hold my own!

I feel honored, lucky, excited, nervous, happy – all rolled into one. I just really want to do the Raleigh guys proud, so if anything, it makes me more “serious” about my training, makes me think about the upcoming season 24/7.

I’ve wanted to do some of these bigger races—now I get the chance! I just hope Lady Luck sticks with me!

OTM: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN CYCLISTS WHO MAY BE ON THE FENCE WITH TRYING CROSS?

It seems like women in general tend to be intimidated by the competitive nature of mass-start cycling events. Throw in some gravel, mud, obstacles and/or run-ups, nasty weather conditions… it can look grueling! I’m not going to lie – it’s not called “the hour of pain” for nothing. But, the hard part about cross racing is also the silver lining: it’s a short race. Novice racers are usually on course for around 30 minutes.

I try to talk women into at least coming out to watch a race. Come see what it’s about. Then, just try one! No harm in trying, right? It’s a tough race, but in a way, you can race your own pace—you’re out on a lap course (there’s no getting lost) with a bunch of other people (who are going through the same thing you are) and usually a lot of spectators (who are always very supportive).

Women say, “I don’t know how to ride my bike like that” or “I’ll be so slow it will be embarrassing” or “I don’t want to get in anyone’s way.”

Nonsense… come join us for practice sessions [Vertical Earth bike shop] or join the Team REP women’s racing team for a great group of ladies who love to mentor. Everyone starts out slow—there are generally so many people on course at the same time, no one is keeping track of how fast you’re going. And you’re not in anyone’s way—everyone at some time or another has been a novice, and 99% of the racers out there are exceptionally courteous to fellow racers.

OTM: ANYTHING ELSE?

I really need to be sure to give my current sponsors as much visibility as possible, since they are the ones who got me here: Vertical Earth, Rep Gym, and Doma are huge supporters of women’s cycling, as well as Kootenai Health.

John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.