Zwift Academy is a community of fun-loving, competitive women from all corners of the globe. They are moms, daughters, doctors, lawyers, caretakers, entrepreneurs, bosses, and more, who remarkably balance training with all of life's responsibilities.
Each week, we'll tell one rider's story to uncover a little bit more of the motivations and personalities behind this inspiring group of women.
Jessica York took her health into her own hands (and pedals). Here's her story...
Why did you join Zwift Academy?
I only started cycling in 2015 and just discovered Zwift in February of this year. I was never really interested in cycling before that. I ran and played softball in high school. College came around and I gained 120 lbs. I had stopped being active completely. I tried to lose the weight for the better part of a decade with every fad diet under the sun. I would have some success, but would always slide back. My physical and mental health took a big hit.
After my gallbladder removal surgery, I decided I needed to take my health seriously. I tracked my calories using MyFitnessPal, and started exercising. I was too heavy to run like I used to, so I started using an elliptical machine. As I lost weight, I gained both confidence and mobility. I took up running again, and did Zumba, spin classes and Crossfit. I lost 105 lbs in two years!
Meanwhile, my dad, who has been cycling for 40 years, wanted me to give cycling a try and invited me to go riding with him on his tandem. I loved it and continued riding with him tandem for a few months. I soon progressed to riding on my own using my sister’s bike, which she leant to me while she was deployed. Then, in July of last year, my dad surprised me by giving me my very own Specialized Ruby. I took up cycling in earnest and have been hooked ever since. It has been a great way to stay active and keep the weight off. And I just really, REALLY love riding.
I wanted to get stronger and faster, so I read every article I could on cycling. I decided to dedicate time over the winter to improve on the bike, so I looked for ways to use my trainer to help with that goal. I found Zwift via a cycling blog and decided to check it out. I really liked it. It was a fun, innovative way to use the trainer. The workouts were great, too, so I signed up and used it to supplement a training program I was using. When that training program was over, I had increased my FTP by 26 watts. I felt great, but wasn’t sure where to go from there.
Enter Zwift Academy. I got an email about the Academy and decided to check it out. It seemed too good to pass up. I had wanted to see what group rides on Zwift were like, and the fact that it was designed for women cyclists was really awesome. I wanted to continue to improve, so I thought perhaps I could benefit from the Zwift Academy training program. I’m going to be 35 in October and I just started cycling a year and a half ago, so I don’t think I have any chance at the Pro contract (one can hope and try as hard as then can, though, right?).
I hope that I can take the opportunity to learn from other strong and amazing female cyclists. It’s hard to find female cycling groups in the real world. This has been a great way to connect with other female cyclists, and that alone has been worth joining Zwift Academy!
How has the training impacted your life so far?
The training program I did previously had me riding 4 hours/week. The sessions were short, but intense. The ZA workouts have been much longer, almost double the time in some instances. It can be difficult to fit in, but the benefits are worth it. I have developed the ability to stay on the trainer for longer periods of time, which helps on outside rides. My endurance has improved - I can go longer on the bike than I used to. I’m very interested to see what this will do to my FTP, but I can already see that my fitness is improving. It has also improved my mental endurance and has helped keep me disciplined on the bike. The group rides have also been beneficial. The social aspect is wonderful, and the coaching has been great. I love that the rides focus on different aspects of riding. You get something new from every ride. Sometimes you have great group rides and crush it, and other days you’re just lucky if you finish. I think experiencing both ends of that spectrum is important.
Zwift Academy and cycling has shifted my focus. I used to be obsessed with what size jeans I wore, and if the scale moved in the wrong direction, it could devastate me for days.
Now, I have 20 lbs I’d like to lose still, but it’s less about aesthetics and more about being able to climb hills and having a better power to weight ratio. And while they say that you shouldn’t focus on what the scale says, my focus on my weight has a purpose - to enhance my performance on the bike.
I had sort of lost focus on my weight loss goals and ZA has rekindled that focus by giving me new goals and a sense of purpose in regards to my weight loss and training. In addition, I feel more disciplined. I’ll actually wake up early to get sessions or a group ride in, and anyone that knows me knows that I am NOT a morning person. The running joke is that it takes an act of God to get me up and functioning before 8:00 am. Now, I’m getting up at 5:30 or 6:00 am to get in my group rides or workouts.
What do you do when you're not riding your bike?
I’m Vice President of Accounting for a property management company, so that’s what I do for work. Outside of work and the bike, I mostly just spend time with my husband and kids. I also run and do Crossfit when I need a break from the bike or I can fit them into my schedule. Otherwise, I can be found cooking or baking for my family, reading, or teaching religious education classes at my church.
Do you have kids or pets? How do they feel about your Zwift Station?
I have two kids - a 5 year old girl and a 14 year old boy. My daughter thinks it's really cool. She loves to watch me and cheer me on. She’ll say “Mommy, your legs need to move faster!” or if she’s watching my avatar on the screen she’ll say, “Don’t let them pass you!! You gotta win!!” My 14 year old thinks its a cool concept, but beyond that he’s not too interested in riding...yet! I like that they see me being active while doing something fun and “cool”.
As I have become more active, my kids have also become more active. My daughter is practicing to get her training wheels off of her bike so she can come riding with me.
My son and I do zombie runs/obstacle course races. I love that they are active with me.
Cyclists have to replace a lot of calories. What's your favorite post-ride treat?
Quest chocolate protein powder with P2B Fit (powdered peanut butter) is my go-to recovery snack after a ride. Honestly, replacing calories has never been a problem, so I still try to have after-ride treats in moderation. But if it was a long, hard ride and I feel like I’ve earned a treat, I’ll go for pepperoni mushroom pizza, or perhaps crack open a good bottle of red wine to share with my loving and supportive husband (Hi Dan!).
What's one of your most memorable moments on a bike?
It’s hard to pick! One of my favorites is the very first time I climbed a monster hill. I wasn’t sure that I was going to make it up. I was going super slow and my legs were burning. Actually, everything felt like it was burning. I felt like dying, but I made it up that hill. And now when I feel like I can’t get through a workout or a hill, I remember that hill and how now it’s not nearly as hard as it used to be.
Where has your bike taken you, physically and/or mentally?
My bike has taken me on a path that has allowed me to meet new people, but also given me the ability to spend time with loved ones. When I was little, I remember helping my dad clean and maintain his bike. But for various reasons, our father/daughter relationship was quite bumpy as I got older. But now, cycling has led me down a path that has allowed me to create wonderful memories with my father, and to get to know him beyond just being my dad. He supports me, and I have learned so much from him.
Mentally, cycling has strengthened me. It has tested my fears and has pushed me to move past them. I love going into the pain cave and pushing myself beyond my limits. Cycling takes me to a place where I’m strong and the possibilities are endless.
Physically, I mostly do neighborhood trails and routes in the metro Washington DC area. We have some paved trails that I’m itching to try out in the near future.
Describe Zwift in 5 words
Fun, Challenging, Community, Innovative, and Awesome!