Souderton alum Dana Feiss, who medaled at the Pan American Games, is one of the nation’s elite track cyclists.
By Alex Frazier
Dana Feiss has never turned down a challenge.
When the 2008 Souderton grad signed up for an introductory clinic on track cycling when she was 14, little did she know that eight years later she would be one of the best riders in the United States.
But one thing she did know, “I wanted to make it happen and I was going to do it, but I didn’t think I was going to do it this fast.”
As a junior at Souderton, Feiss was the best hurdler on the track team until a neighbor encouraged her to try track cycling.
Then it was bye, bye running and hello cycling.
By the time she was 17, she was already drawing the attention of coaches at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome. That year she started competing nationally on the junior circuit, earning a pair of silver and bronze medals at Junior Nationals.
By the time she was 18, she was competing in the elite ranks nationally.
When she arrived at Kutztown University as a freshman, she thought she might stay for a year and then transfer out west where she could train.
Instead, she stayed and completed her major in professional writing in three years, despite commuting to the West Coast every chance she had to continue her training.
“I was a normal student for the most part, but every break or swing time between semesters, I would spend training out in Los Angeles with my coaches and the National team,” she said. “It was a wacky bi-coastal relationship that I had. It was part of being a student and an elite athlete. It was good.”
By taking on-line courses over the summers, she even managed to graduate a year early.
“I was lucky my degree offered on-line course over the summer,” she said.
Feiss said she is the kind of person that always likes to have something to do. Well, she certainly did.
The last couple of semesters between her 2-3 workouts a day and classes, she was “on duty” from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. and getting only six hours of sleep a night.
She also completed a senior internship at Rodale Press in Emmaus, which publishes Bicycling Magazine.
“Sometimes it was just a constant stream of caffeine in my body,” she said, “but I relished it.”
Having graduated from Kutztown, her life hasn’t slowed down any. As a professional cyclist, she doesn’t make enough money to support herself, though she does get some help from the U.S. National team.
“They havemade great steps in the past year and half to make sure that its athletes get necessary help in the form of equipment, some clothing, and available grants,” said Feiss. “We get money and support where we need it.”
With all her training, she can’t hold down a regular fulltime job. Right now she’s working part-time in a bike shop, selling bikes, working on the website and marketing.
With a degree in professional writing, she also tries to make some money freelancing and publishing a blog to keep her writing skills sharp.
And in the summer, she earns some money in races.
She’s also looking for sponsors.
“You have to support yourself any way you can,” she said.
The one thing she regrets about college is that she wasn’t taught grant writing.
Feiss’ two main events are the sprint and the keirin. She has medaled in those two events at Elite Nationals for the past two years.
In her first nationals in the fall of 2008, she took silver in the keirin and drew the notice of coaches and former riders.
“I had more than one person come up to me and say, ‘You have Olympic potential,’” she said. “I knew I had to give it a shot.”
Her climb up the ladder has been swift, but she knows she still has a long way to go.
Back in October she placed third in the keirin at the Pan Am Games and sixth in the sprint in Guadalajara, Mexico.
She just returned from her second World Cup appearance in Columbia.
“My coaches are most concerned about us younger girls getting out there and getting experience,” said Feiss. “It’s very tough.”
As she explained the World Cup competitions, “If the Pan Am Games are a family barbecue where your family and closest friends get together, this is like a block party, where everyone and anyone who is anyone is there, world champion, multi-time Olympians. The competition is definitely steep.”
Her first World Cup was in Kazakhstan.
She’s had mixed results in her first two World Cups. She just missed the keirin final in Columbia but did better in the sprint in Kazakhstan.
“There are little ups and downs, but I’m pretty happy how I went overall,” she said. “There’s no other way to do it. You get out there and race shoulder to shoulder with the world’s best. That’s the best way to learn.”
Feiss is hoping to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. She knows it’s a long shot. She can qualify individually or with a team (comprised of two riders). Feiss said that her best shot is to qualify for the team sprint.
Each time the Americans compete in a World Cup, they accrue points, which ultimately determine which countries and teams qualify. If you qualify a sprint team, you automatically get sprint and keirin spots for the Olympics.
In the Pan American region, two countries qualify.
Right now the Americans trail Canada and Venezuela.
“We expect to reel in Canada by the end of the World Cup season,” said Feiss. “Canada is the bigger target than Venezuela right now.”
There are two more World Cups, a Pan American Championship and a World Championship left to compete.
Feiss will most likely sit out the next World Cup in Beijing.
“I’ve had the benefit of going to three competitions already right out of the box,” she said. “It will be nice to have a break.”
Her plan is to take time to recharge, train and prepare for the fourth World Cup, in London in mid-February.
“It’s really a team effort,” she said. “We try and get as many points as we can through using different riders. It doesn’t matter how each individual rider does. You’re scoring points for your country.”
If Feiss doesn’t make the 2012 London Olympics, she will set her sights on the next Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s going to be tough,” she said, “but it’s not out of the question. It makes us push ourselves even harder.”
The one thing that Feiss has going for her is her age. At 22, she has risen to be one of the best US riders and still has many good years of competing left. Sprint cyclists typically peak at age 30.
“I’m very much on the younger side,” she said. “My coach tells me, ‘You’re just a wee little pup.’ I have a lot of time to grow and progress. That’s part of the fun. I’m doing all this stuff already and I haven’t reached my peak. It’s exciting to think it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”