Fast and fierce on two wheels
NEWTON, Mass. — A Barkhamsted native is tearing up the tracks in an up-and-coming women’s sport that may see her going pro as early as next year.Jena Page Greaser, 25, won a bronze medal in open short track women’s cycling, a blisteringly fast event that saw its share of spectacular crashes at the U.S. Mountain Bike National Championships July 15 to 17 in Sun Valley, Idaho. During the weekend-long event, Greaser competed in a cross-country race that was described as the toughest in the history of the championships. She placed second in her age group and 10th overall, racing against top females in the nation.Greaser currently competes as a Category 1 cyclist in events across the country. Category 1 is the top classification elite cyclists earn before entering professional racing, and upgrade points are earned along the way to reach each level.In the Sun Valley event, Greaser competed against a field Category 1 cyclists, ranging in age from juniors to 60, so a podium finish put her near the top of the national field among her peers. Each event is another notch in her sprocket on the road to professional success. “I’m trying to get there,” Greaser said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Entry-level cyclists start at Category 5 and then you work your way up from there. I actually started at the Category 2 level based on my results from other racing and collegiate events. Because of my first result in Category 2, I was automatically bumped up to Category 1. If I’m able to put down a solid result this weekend, that will help me to get my professional license.” To be eyeing a professional career after less than two years in the sport is a testament to Greaser’s talent and dedication.In the likely event that she does reach the professional level, Greaser can look forward to sponsorship and inclusion on one of many cycling teams that participate in road races, cross-country mountain biking and downhill “gravity” events across the country each year. She competes in all three types of racing and said that off-road events are her favorite.“Mountain biking is a solo effort,” Greaser said. “Once the whistle goes, it’s you and the mountain. You either make it or you have a bad day.”And while a mountain bike crash conjures up images of slings and a faceful of rocks and tree bark, Greaser said the sport is actually less hazardous than road racing, where a crash often means taking out multiple competitors. “When you’re road racing and you crash at 40 miles per hour, you rip all the skin off your body,” she said. “You have no helmet, and you usually end up taking people out. I can’t even list how many crashes I’ve been in, and I’ve only been racing for two summers on the road. In mountain biking, you fall a lot more, but you don’t get hurt as badly. And 99 percent of the time you don’t take anyone else out.”Last month in Sun Valley, however, Greaser saw a competitor suffer a vicious wreck over a bridge, landing on her front tire and taking herself out of the race on a stretcher. Luckily, no other riders were involved in the incident.Born and raised in Barkhamsted, Greaser is a 2010 graduate of the University of Connecticut. While at UConn, she competed on the cycling team and took a wide variety of courses to support her undergraduate degree in psychology. She now lives with her boyfriend, fellow cyclist Ryan O’Hara, in the Boston suburb of Newton and works with children as a ropes course and rock wall specialist at the Fay School in Southborough, Mass. “It doesn’t pay as well as an office job, but I’m not really an office person,” she confessed.That said, Greaser lives on a tight budget, and that’s OK. “I love it,” she said. “I get my paycheck and it goes to pay for rent and then for races and the bike. I sometimes get stressed about finances, but you’ve got to do what you love. It’s really important to stay with it, even when it may seem challenging. I always find a way to be able to do it because it helps keep me sane.”Even with professional success just around the corner, Greaser said, Lance Armstrong-style dollars are not going to be flowing in anytime soon. The real reward is meeting challenges and being at the top of your game. “The sport still definitely can grow,” she said. “You do see a lot more women getting into it at the lower levels and it’s great to see that. I definitely want to be part of women’s cycling and supporting the sport for years to come.”Greaser will be off racing again this Sunday, Aug. 14, at the Bear Mountain Challenge in Macungie, Pa., where she hopes to earn a top finish and more points toward going pro.