A Delicate Balance

A Delicate Balance

A Delicate Balance

November 15, 2006

A Delicate Balance

School of General Studies student David Wiswell has signed a contract with Team Nerac, a professional cycling team based in Vernon, Conn. An experienced rider who raced in Australia and Europe before coming to GS, last May Wiswell placed fourth in the criterium stage of the Division I Collegiate National Cycling Championships in Lawrence, Kan., the highest finish ever by a Columbia cyclist. “This past season I was very lucky to have the opportunity to race for the Sakonnet Technology Cycling Team but, as an amateur team, we were limited in terms of what races we could compete in,” he said. “There were tons of opportunities, but on a professional team there is greater exposure, a higher level of support, and the chance to race in the biggest races around. These factors all led me to the ultimate conclusion that if I wanted to continue to progress in cycling I needed to make this leap. While it brings up a whole new set of challenges, they are all ones that I am excited to tackle.”

Collegiate cycling is governed by the National Collegiate Cycling Association rather than the NCAA, which prevents professionals from competing, which will give Wiswell the chance to try to build on last year’s impressive finish at the National Championships. He went in to the event with high expectations, but a flat tire during the first of three 28.6 mile laps curtailed his chances in the road race stage. “The course was constantly rolling and windy,” he said. “It was a perfect environment for me, but … that was basically the end of the race for me. I got a new wheel from the support car but the race was going flat-out, and it was impossible for me to catch on by myself with all of the wind.” Wiswell then shifted his focus to the 75-minute criterium. “… I was super-motivated because of the road race fiasco the day before,” he said. “… Turning over the pedals felt effortless and I knew coming into the final few laps that I could win the whole thing. Coming into the final few turns I got caught up with a rider from Indiana University and ended up losing some positions. Consequently, I was a little too far back coming into the finale and ended up fourth. Not a bad result, and now I know that the National Championships are within my reach.”

Influenced by his father, Wiswell began racing competitively when he was 15 years old. “My Dad had ridden and raced for a number of years back in the ’70s,” he said. “His interest and passion for the sport inevitably rubbed off on me and I started picking up the sport from him. It started with short little rides and maybe a local race here and there.” The short little rides ultimately gave way to professional tours in Australia and Europe, where he spent the better part of two years. “I raced extensively in Germany, Belgium, France, and Italy,” he said. “The racing was incredibly hard, but I learned so much from competing at such a high level. Besides the racing, the lifestyle was great. I trained for up to seven hours a day and spent the rest of my time in cafés reading the paper and chatting with friends.” Eventually Wiswell returned to the U.S. and began looking at colleges, trying to find a balance between a rigorous education and the chance to continue racing. “After traveling and living abroad I wanted an environment that would fit me as a person and what I had developed into after all my travels and experiences,” he said. “When I was looking around at colleges, I was using a college counselor for some outside advice, and he recommended GS. I gave it a look, and it immediately struck me as the perfect environment for me to continue my cycling, but more importantly, pursue my academic interests as well.” Still, managing both his cycling career and a Columbia education requires a significant level of effort—and the decision to turn pro will only make things more difficult. “Training is a big commitment,” he said. “I’ll train up to 6 hours a day, as well as going to classes and doing homework. It is a bit of a juggling act but you get used to it. I think the biggest hassle is traveling to races during the school year. This past semester [Spring ’06] I went to California twice as well as New Mexico and Kansas. … [B]ut with some planning it isn’t too hard to fit in school and cycling. I would say that this semester I competed every weekend starting in late February right though exams in May.”

Over the summer Wiswell won the Detroit 3-Day Madison Championship, which gave him the opportunity to race for the US National Team in Italy in July. Upon his return he won several smaller races, and in October he finished sixth at the Elite National Track Championships in Los Angeles. “I was happy with my season but I am also looking forward to building on these results next year as well,” he said. “In the long run, though, I have my sights set on making the 2008 Beijing Olympic Team. If that is the case I might have to take a little time off from school! There is a lot of competition for that team so I am trying to just take it step by step. I’ll tackle that hurdle when I get to it. “Right now I want to give cycling a go. After that I was thinking something in the business world. The risks, projections, and research that are involved in stocks and the business world in general, fascinate me. I guess it isn’t much different than sports. How long can you hold onto the ball, when should you take that game-winning shot, or how should you start your sprint in a bike race—I think those similar attitudes gives business a certain appeal.”