Twice a month, the Women’s Cycling Association showcases an inspiring rider from the women’s cycling community. This week we’re excited to go to Australia to introduce Elite Track Racer Stefanie Fernandez.

Women’s Cycling Association: How did you become involved in cycling?

Stefanie Fernandez: I was originally a rower through high school and my early university years, rowing in the lightweight category. I struggled to make weight and over the years finished up with anemia and a host of other issues that made competing impossible. I attempted to go open weight but by then, the love affair with the sport was over. I took some time off, basically living in the gym and enjoying eating an abundance of food. Through rowing connections, I was invited to attend a National Talent Identification session for cycling—road time trialing. I was told that my endurance was not good enough for elite performance in this discipline, and, disillusioned, I turned to steak. A few days later, I received an invitation from Cycling Queensland (I was living in QLD at the time) to come down and try track cycling. I started off looking at shorter endurance disciplines. The Omnium at the time was perfect for me, but UCI then changed it by adding a lot more volume to the event. About 3 years ago, I made the switch to the sprint events and I haven’t looked back!

Vital Stats
Name: Stefanie Fernandez
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Racing Age: 26
Category: Elite (Australia)
Primary Discipline: Track
Womens Cycling Association Stefanie Fernandez Nationals 2013

Stefanie Fernandez at the 2013 Cycling Australia National Track Championships

WCA: What has been your most memorable experience in the sport?

Stefanie: One that comes to mind right away was my first national championships. This was a real baptism by fire for me, as I’d only been in the discipline for three months. After qualifying 8th in the sprint, I had to match off with the top qualifier who was none other than Anna Meares, the most decorated female sprinter in our sport. Needless to say, this was both terrifying and exhilarating. Another memorable experience was the first time I had the honor of representing my country in an international meet in China. And also, I can never forget winning my first medal, a silver in the Keirin, at my second national championships. This was quite exciting; any time a race goes to plan is a great feeling.

Womens Cycling Association Stefanie Fernandez National Keirin Final

Stefanie (top of the track) lining up for the National Keirin Final

WCA: What challenges have you faced in cycling?

Stefanie: Probably the greatest challenge I have faced to date was coming back from a ruptured ACL in my right knee which required two surgeries over the course of a year. Following surgery, I had lost so much muscle and strength even though I was very regimented with my rehab. There were times when I found it extremely challenging. I clearly remember sitting on a recumbent bike in the clinic struggling to turn the pedals and looking at the 80 year old with dual knee replacement next to me putting me to shame. When you are in a situation like that, and you realize how much work you have in front of you to get to where you want to be, it can get very depressing. The challenge was to stay focused on the smaller, more immediately achievable goals in pursuit of that seemingly insurmountable one. Next week… BEAT THE 80 YEAR OLD!

WCA: What do you enjoy most about the sport?

Stefanie: I love the entire process. Everything. I love grinding out training, day in, day out. Getting to the gym and punching out a grueling session and wondering how you are going to ride the pathetic distance home. The feelings that overcome my body and gets me curled up in a ball on the floor after an effort at the track. It feels like freezing intestines, burning legs that are about to explode and eyes that no longer want to be in my head. I love knowing that I have given everything and then reaching down and giving more. These feelings only seem to get worse and more varied but I love seeing the results and changes that comes with putting my body through its paces. I like talking race tactics, and then practicing them on the track with my training buddies, making mistakes and laughing about them. I like cleaning my bike before a race and most of all I love racing. I LOVE when all the work you have put in comes together at the right time in the right way. It is completely surreal and one of the sweetest, most rewarding things in the sport for me.

I also can’t go past a steak and Dr Pepper (a very rare drink in Australia) directly after racing.

WCA: What are your goals in cycling?

Stefanie: My goals are to compete and do well in world championships and world cups. More immediately I am looking forward to the upcoming nationals and a successful campaign. I want to continue to working hard in all facets of the sport, to get those speed and strength gains and make them all come together on race day.

Womens Cycling Association Stefanie Fernandez Olympic Lift

When she’s not hard at work on the track, Stefanie works on her strength and speed in the gym

WCA: What are some of your goals outside of the sport?

Stefanie: I am currently chipping away at my Masters in Strength and Conditioning. I would say that finishing that would be a big goal for me. Paying off my car would be another!! Also acquiring some form of Dr Pepper fountain would be up there too.

WCA: What do you like to do in your off season?

Stefanie: We don’t have much of an off season but in my down time, I love to hang out with some awesome mates talking for hours over a steak and Dr Pepper. I have an amazing and supportive family and anytime that unruly bunch gets together is complete bliss for me. I live far from my parents, and I like to hug them a lot—not just in the off season.

WCA: What do you think you can do to help women’s cycling grow?

Stefanie: I’m not sure that as an individual, at this stage of my life, I can really do anything to help women’s cycling grow. But what I would like to see happen is female cyclists worrying less about their physical appearance and far more on making their machine move fast. If you want to be a good bike rider, chances are that you are not going to end up looking like a Victoria’s Secret model, but you are going to be fast. If women can learn to accept and love the fact that their bodies (especially in my discipline) will be very different from what society wants you to have, then I think we can foster a generation of women with a high level of self worth who would make strong riders. This would do a world of good for the sport, because a large group of confident women (with big legs and butts) make a very formidable force!

Stefanie Fernandez races in Australia at the national level for her state, New South Wales. To race at the national level in Australia, riders must go through a selection process and must be submitted as part of a state team. You can follow her on Twitter at @fernandez_stef.

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