Tell us a little about what life is like in Bucks County's first family of bicycle racing?
Ever since I was little, I have been bicycling all throughout the quiet, rickety roads around Doylestown with my older sister, Paige and my dad, Tony. However, the experience of being on a hometown team is new for me. When I am riding with my family, we are often discovering hidden backroads and coffee shops, while also pushing limits in a workout. These experiences are a great source of bonding and connection for our family, sometimes bringing along my mom and little brother. On this team I am meeting and engaging with new people, creating a sense of community outside of family ties. I think it is exciting and encouraging to be meeting and working with these people, through the connection of cycling. As I am further immersed in the cycling community, I realize that it’s a small world as I see these people all over the place and meet people who know them without even realizing it. I think that is one of the best aspects of being in the cycling community; using cycling as a way of bringing us all together through one shared interest, and then building relationships upon it.
What are you interests in school, and where do you see yourself with your education past high school?
I am a junior at Central Bucks East High School. While I have no particular interest in (though understand the importance of) academic classes, the best part of my day is always art classes. Be it painting, drawing, photography, or digital arts I love it. Ever since I was little, I have been artistically inclined and have been building upon these skills throughout the years and will be continuing this pursuit into college. Though I am not sure what major within the arts field I want to go into my main interest is in fine arts. With art I love the freeing and (sometimes) mindlessness of creating. Though I like to work realistically, generally 2D, I try to exaggerate colors and perspective as well as many of the other aspects that go into it, to make each piece unique. I have found that one of my favorite subject matters is people. Though I have only been working with people for a little over a year it has quickly become my favorite thing to paint or draw as I find interest in the unique expressions and the person as I work. One of the places that you can find my work is on Instagram as @dani_art_world.
You are a veteran of the discipline of track racing. It's a discipline that is confusing too many and even cycling enthusiasts. Can you tell us a little bit about your strengths in the discipline and what you think we ought to know?
I started racing in Valley Preferred Cycling Center’s Bicycle Racing League when I was young, where I quickly learned many lessons of the track world. As is applicable to any cycling discipline, or even sport, one of the first things I learned was that winning a race is not an everyday commodity. More like one for every fifty. This does not seem like a positive, but it is something that you work towards. You find the little things that you did better and learn every time you get back on your bike. At the track tactics is everything. It is about using the slope of the track, knowing your opponents, knowing your fitness range to play your cards, and many other small details you may never think of until race day. Most people know of the big three races like Scratches, Points Races, and maybe a Tempo. The flip side to these races are the sprints, my favorite and strongest discipline of track racing. For a sprint tournament, this would generally consist of match sprints, a 200m, 500m, and (my absolute favorite) the Keirin. In a sprint tournament this is the race I most look forward to. For those who do not know what a Keirin is: on a 333m track, it is five laps total, raced by six or seven racers. The race starts by the racers lining up behind a pacer (generally a motorcycle) for two and a half laps, building the speed to thirty miles per hour, and then the motor leaves the track. The racers may then race as they would with the remaining laps sprinting to the finish.
Can you share your thoughts on being a woman in the sport of cycling and your thoughts about the future of women's cycling?
When you race at the velodrome, you see the men’s field, and then the women’s field. The biggest difference is always the number of women. That aside, I think one of the biggest obstacles in cycling is the lack of knowledge of the cycling world. When at school, I may tell someone I am a cyclist, but first I have to clarify a few things. No, not like a motorcycle. Yes, competitively, as an athlete. No, haven’t seen it on the Olympics? While it is no easy task to help the public be more knowledgeable of the cycling community, it is a limiting factor. This is a big reason, I think, that makes it difficult to be a female athlete. There are not many of us, and therefore less acknowledged even within the cycling world. It can be discouraging but within women’s cycling we have also become tightly knit as a group, facing the same troubles and working towards similar goals. In our future, I think that it is becoming increasingly positive for women in cycling as more teams and sponsors try to reach out to us and attempt to build teams and places to learn about the community.
You've shared openly about the health concerns that interrupted your 2019 season. What do you want people to know about overcoming chronic health issues as a competitive athlete?
Over late summer of last year, I was diagnosed with Grave’s Diseases and Thyroid Eye Disease. Most simply put, this is an auto-immune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism, which essentially makes my organs go into overdrive. The months prior to my diagnosis, I had struggled with unexplained symptoms that had suddenly become more pronounced, specifically as an athlete, and subtle problems that I had been dealing with on a regular basis but dismissed as insignificant. The most pronounced problems that I dealt with were high heart rate, exercise induced asthmatic symptoms, heat flashes, shakiness, and many other things. One of the hardest parts of this entire ordeal was being told that it’s just allergies, that you might be sick, or any other simple conclusion. Being told things like this made me feel like I was being dramatic, that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. The self-doubt. While exercising during intense intervals, my heart rate would hit 220 beats per minute. This is not normal, no matter your age. Only after being diagnosed was I told that this kind of heart rate could lead to a major heart attack. I am sharing this to emphasis the importance of being your own advocate. When you know something is not right, you must do the work and meet with new doctors, get new perspectives, if you know it cannot be a simple conclusion. This is the hardest part. When it was finally discovered that I have hyperthyroidism, I was told I had to take two weeks off from any kind of exercise. At the time, this felt like the worst news. It felt like a very long time, but then at the two weeks mark I was told I could workout, but to keep my heart rate under 80 beats per minute. What turned into two weeks of no exercise, turned into three months of no exercise. Not only was I worried about my upcoming racing season, but some of my sanity. You don’t realize how much exercising or fresh air helps keep you sane until it is restricted. It clears your mind; helps you feel good about yourself. I also discovered it was not the end of the world to stop cycling. I took the time to refocus myself by working on my art projects, school, and being with friends and family. Now, with the right medication and treatment, I am lucky enough that I can fully exercise and resume where I left off, albeit little more cautious and more aware. One of the most important things that you can do during a point like this, is to surround yourself with the other positive things in your life.
We're speaking at an unprecedented time that is causing disruptions in so many areas of life including sport. What are your thoughts about the Coronavirus pandemic?
Right now, we are all in unexplored waters. We are all facing similar troubles as Coronavirus is worldwide, and so, we will all move together to help one another and eventually move past this as best we can. As individuals, I think the most important thing that we can do right now is trying to be informed and aware using places like the CDC for information, and therefore making the most educated decisions we can, based on their recommendations.
Danielle Shumskas and father Tony Shumskas. Photo: Mind Your Design