Niagara Cyclist Aiming for Commonwealth GamesSt. Catharines Standard
April 23, 2014
Bernie Puchalski, Sports Editor
In her job as assistant curator at the Niagara Falls Museum, Sara Byers has made a career of delving into the past.
But the 35-year-old member of the St. Catharines Cycling Club is living in the moment and looking to the future in pursuit of her cycling dreams.
Despite having only started cycling competitively in 2010 — cycling was the end result of a dramatic lifestyle shift that saw her lose more than 75 pounds — Byers is fixated on a May trip to Los Angeles and her last chance to record qualifying times for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the flying 200-metre sprint and the standing 500-metre sprint.
In a trip to Los Angeles less than a month ago, she was one-tenth of a second off the qualifying standard for the 200-metre event and two-tenths of a second short of qualifying for the 500-metre event.
The standards have to be achieved at a world-class track in front of specific officials who are able to verify the results.
“You have to go all the way out there at the right time and on your own buck and hopefully you make the times,” she said. “I was just a little bit off.”
Her last chance to meet the May 11 deadline for achieving the qualifying times will occur the week of May 5-12 at Cycling Canada’s track sprint assessment camp in Los Angeles. The camp is being held to select Canada’s athletes for a new track sprint program. At the event, there will also be the required officials on hand to verify qualifying times.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime and might not come up again within my lifespan in the sport,” Byers said.
She admits to feeling a sense of urgency.
“It’s because I’m 36 this year,” she said, with a laugh. “It’s time sensitive, I guess, and those types of chances don’t come up very often.”
The camp is the start of the reestablishment of the Canadian sprint program and Byers wants to be there.
“This is ultimately leading up to bigger things like going to the Olympics.”
The sprinting program has struggled in Canada because of a variety of factors, including funding and a lack of numbers.
Byers’ quest to make the national team is hampered by funding and training opportunities typically geared towards under-23 athletes.
“It makes sense because they have their whole career ahead of them and lots of time to do it in. People usually retire by the time they get to my age.”
But that doesn’t mean she agrees with the funding model.
“If you can make the times, you should be part of the program and that’s what I like abut this new coach (Erin Hartwell) as well. His belief is if you can make the time, why wouldn’t you represent Canada?”
The trip is crucial even if she doesn’t achieve the qualifying standards.
“It’s not back to the drawing board because I will have my foot in the door with assessment camp because I know I will do well in that and stand out in that.”
Her confidence is based on her preparations.
“I’ve been working really hard and through my cycling career I’ve always been trying to find what I’m best at and find my strengths.
“It took this long to narrow it down to sprint.”
Her hard work has included practising sprinting, doing strength and endurance training and practising technique on a velodrome in London. Her training schedule includes upwards of 15 hours a week depending on time of season.
Success at the camp should lead to funding help for travel expenses at the very least.
Byers is funding the Los Angeles trip by herself and is hoping to raise funds through www.gofundme.com, a fundraising website that solicits and collects funds for people. People interested in helping should log on to the website and use the search function on the left-hand side of the page.
The member of the St. Catharines Cycling Club’s executive, who helps out with the club’s youth race team, is hopeful people will help fund her trip.
“I’m hoping it’s inspiring, and it’s sharing the journey and letting them know what the experience is like.
“People can follow along and it helps them to do something similar, set high goals, take chances and put it all on the line.”
Sara Byers bio
Hometown: St. Catharines
Occupation: Assistant curator at Niagara Falls Museum
Top results: First in team sprint, second in sprint to Olympic medallist Tara Whitten and second in her first keirin racing for Team Ontario at the Elite Canadian Track Nationals
Cyclist Pedals Her Way to Healthy New LifestyleSt. Catharines Standard
March 30, 2012
Bernie Puchalski, Sports Editor
ST. CATHARINES - Approaching her 30th birthday in May 2008, Sara Byers took a long, hard look at herself and decided she didn’t like what she saw.
Physically inactive and never really interested in sports and fitness, the St. Catharines native was 75 pounds overweight and was experiencing all the physical and mental issues related to her plight.
“I had low self-esteem, anxiety problems and depression,” the 33-year-old said. “My energy was so low and obviously I wasn’t happy with the way that I looked.”
It was clear to her she had to make a radical shift in her lifestyle.
“I thought if I don’t get a handle on this now I likely won’t,” she said. “I was at a low point and I needed to take control of my life.”
She had made occasional forays into running and going to the gym, but for a variety of reasons hadn’t been able to make a commitment to either. But armed with a new resolve, she started to use her gym membership and asked for help with nutrition and fitness plans.
“My goal was to be self-sufficient. I wanted to create a new lifestyle and be able to do it on my own.”
She learned how to eat properly and joined a weight-loss challenge at the gym. One of the activities she took a liking to was a spin class. Several mountain bikers in the program encouraged her to take up cycling and she did. To coincide with her mother’s battle with cancer, Byers trained for an participated in the 100-kilometre Ride to Conquer Cancer in 2009 and her cycling career was born.
“I liked the feeling of training for that event and I like being on my bike and riding all day. It was endorphins from that, but it took me a year to get up the nerve to compete.”
She cycled into 2010 with huge goals in mind.
“I didn’t know if they were possible but because I had discovered this in my 30s, my mantra was I wanted to go as far as I could in the short amount of time that I had. That was my motivation.”
That year, the assistant curator at the Niagara Falls Museum competed in entry-level Ontario Cup road and cross-country races and by mid-season she had progressed to the highest level of competition. She capped her first season of winning by winning the masters division at the Canadian Masters National Road Race.
Last year, Byers continued her upward cycle racing with Ottawa-based Stevens Racing Presented by the Cyclery. In winning her second consecutive Karen Strong Award as the best female rider with the St. Catharines Cycling Club, Byers finished 2011 as the overall champion in the elite division of the Ontario Cup Road Series.
Byers’ to do list for 2012 includes: winning the Ontario provincial time trial and track provincials; placing in the top five at Canadian track nationals; and, contributing to team wins at Ontario, Quebec and American races, and the elite Canadian road nationals.
“Nationals is an opportunity to once again test myself against Canada’s top road athletes, Clara Hughes and Joelle Numainville, and this year at the track, Tara Whitten.”
Her long-term goals are even more ambitious.
“Ultimately, I am working to compete at international events,” she said.
Her training schedule is dictated by her full-time job. She trains in the morning, evenings and on weekends and gets a great boost on non-competition weekends when she rides with members of the St. Catharines Cycling Club.
“The effort is pretty close to the effort I put out in a race because there’s lots of strong people there. And they’re great people to learn from because there is so much skill and so many champions there.”
Regardless of where Byers’ cycling career takes her, she already is the champion of changing her life for the better.
“I have a lot more energy and it has been great.”
She urges others who face similar challenges to what she faced in 2008 to take a risk.
“Just get out there and starting doing it. Everything will fall into place.”
Picking a goal is an important part of the process as is acquiring the tools to reach that goal.
“You can only go up. If you feel that badly about yourself, there’s only one other direction to go,” she said, with a laugh.
From Rookie to Elite In Two YearsNiagara Falls Review
Brad Peters, Sports Editor
It doesn't take long to notice just how completely cycling has taken over Sara Byers' life. While sitting outside of the Willoughby Museum, which the 32-year-old curates, on a sunny, windy Thursday afternoon, a pleasant gust of wind comes rolling off the Niagara River and gently moves tree limbs, leaves ... and bicycle tires and wheels suspended in the tree.
"I'm very lucky to work with people who are so accommodating," she says with an easy laugh and a glance upward at the dozen or so bicycle tires dangling and swaying above our heads.
There is nothing lucky, however, about the incredible success that Byers has had in the sport of cycling in an astonishingly short period of time. Her impressive list of bicycle racing accomplishments comes down to two things: Dedication and hard work.
Topping that last of accomplishments was her recent signing to an elite-level, provincial cycling team, P-K Express/HNZ Strategy.com. The team is run by the husband and wife team of Chris Komar and Susan Palmer-Komar, a three-time national champion, two time Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medalist.
Racing on a team of that quality, in and of itself, is indicative of a superior athlete. The fact that Byers was asked to join the team after cycling for a mere 14 months is almost unbelievable.
"The members of the team were women that I was racing against, so the coach is there as well watching all the races," she said. "What he said was that I was on his radar. I came to their attention by winning the races that I was in."
But just two years ago, Byers had no idea that she would be eligible to participate in a national cycling competition. She says that she was approaching 30, not happy with the direction her life was taking and she decided to make some changes. Change No. 1 was to lose some weight ... and when Byers decides on a course of action, she's all in.
"At the very beginning, I was just doing spin classes. That's where I lost a lot of weight, through my training at Premier Fitness and with a diet program that they had. I entered the 'Biggest Loser' contest they had running. That's when I discovered how competitive I am," she says with that same easy laugh that punctuates much of her conversation. "I lost 70 pounds in six or seven months and won the contest."
As the pounds dropped and her spin class ability soared, she came to the attention of competitive cyclists who used the classes for winter training and conditioning.
"Some of the Thorold Trailhogs, who are now part of the ShortHills Cycling Club, said to me, ‘You're pretty good at this, you should get out on a real bike and see what it's like.’"
Initially dismissing the winter mountain bike riders as 'crazy,' she eventually relented and was instantly hooked. And not just on trail riding, her love for road riding and racing soon followed.
"For my first road event, some girls from the gym decided to do the Ride to Conquer Cancer," Byers said.
"I bought my first road bike and started training. It's a 200-kilometre weekend ride. For a first big ride, that's huge."
"But I guess I overtrained, because I got out ahead of the team. Afterwards, they asked me how I became so good, so fast. But I was just so excited to get out on the road. It was terrifying and exciting all at the same time."
That excitement and healthy fear of the speed of the sport was soon channeled into determination to win ... and win she has. In 11 races this season - eight in mountain biking and three on the road - Byers has won eight times. In the other three races, she's had two thirds and one fourth.
Byers' most recent victory came Sunday at the 12th annual Lake to Lake Classic which runs from Port Colborne to Port Dalhousie. She won the women's 30-39 category, finished second overall for women and 38th overall out of 800 participants.
"The Lake to Lake win was probably the biggest result of my career because it was the race I started with in 2009. I finished 197th last year and I was a half hour slower. It feels like all the hard work over the past year has paid off."
But even with the big Lake to Lake win, it hasn't satisfied Byers' desire to compete at the highest level possible. For that, she has her sights set on the National Masters Road
Cycling Championships being held near Edmonton, Alta., July 2 to 4. She will be racing in both the time trial and road race events.
That is if she can raise enough money to help offset the expense of competing.
In order to help cover the more than $1,500 cost of traveling to the event (transporting bikes will cost nearly $200 alone), Byers is looking for the support of the community.
Any sponsors would be greatly appreciated. If you are able to help Byers reach her fundraising goal, contact her at sarajanebyers at gmail.com
Masters Gold for ByersNiagara Falls Review
Brad Peters, Sports Editor
For cyclist Sara Byers it was a golden weekend in the prairies to remember.
After a last-minute scramble to secure the funding to attend the National Masters Road Cycling Championships held near Edmonton, Alta., Byers made the absolute most of the experience, finishing third in her first event (a 21-kilometre time trial) and winning gold in a 72-kilometre road race.
Not only did Byers win her age category (30 to 39), she finished first overall.
"I did decently in the time trial, finishing third (in her first official time trial). The competition was pretty high, the girls were really strong," she said. "They made me work. I really appreciated that."
If she enjoyed the hard work and experience of finishing third, then her golden
performance Saturday in which she beat the two women who beat her Friday must have been doubly sweet.
"I was a little bit uneasy heading into the road race," she said. "Having worked so hard in the time trial, I wasn't sure of what I would have left in my legs.
"I really wasn't sure how I would make out until I was about halfway through the race. At that point, you know how much you have left, how hard you can go."
The fact that Byers was in the middle of a Masters road race itself is an incredible accomplishment, considering she only began competitive cycling less than two years ago.
After a dramatic weight loss and dedication to her personal health, she was encouraged to start cycling. Before long she was leaving those who encouraged her to ride in the dust.
Mountain bike rallies and road race victories soon followed, as did the opportunity to represent Ontario at the National Masters meet.
At the halfway point of the longest road race Byers had entered, she gauged her energy level, place in the field and knew that she has in a good position.
As the riders completed the last few kilometres, they began working together.
One rider would take the lead, enduring the hard riding through the wind for a few seconds before circling to the back of the pack.
The group approach goes out the window during the last stretch, when it becomes every rider for themselves down the sprint - and the lead three riders were the same as in the time trial.
"The difference between the time trial and the road race was the motivation and ambition. They weren't quite as patient. I had some energy for the return trip."
Rocketing to the finish of the 72 kilometres, Byers was the winner by two bike lengths.
The entire race was decided by a difference of fewer than three metres.
"That's why I love it," she said. "It's so intense."
The win elevated Byers competition from Masters to Elite 1,2.
With Masters gold proudly added to her medal and trophy haul, Byers is eager to add more hardware. This weekend, she's off to the Peterborough area for another time trial and a mountain bike race.
"The biggest thing I learned during the Masters was self-confidence. I can do a lot more, I want to do a lot more and achieve greater goals."
In reflecting on her Masters success, Byers emphatically wanted to thank everyone who sponsored her, including Gale's Gas Bars and her family and friends.
Sara’s Road to Ontario CupNiagara This Week
August 13, 2009
When Sara Byers-Ogilvie entered a biggest loser contest at her gym, she not only lost 70 pounds - she also found her competitive spirit.
The curator at the Willoughby Historical Museum had always struggled with her weight until about a year and a half ago when she decided to take responsibility. In just over a year, she lost 70 pounds by eating right, exercising and most importantly, riding her bike.
Under guidance from her trainer at the gym, the 31-year-old entered the 200-kilometre Ride to Conquer Cancer. Even though she had never ridden such a distance before, she was determined to hit the road and not only complete the ride, but also raise money for the cause.
“It was a scary ordeal for me because after I entered the ride, I found out my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Her treatment was long struggle. Throughout the ride I wore a necklace and charm for her and after I found out she was all clear.”
During the ride, Byers-Ogilvie found herself riding behind a van tasked with filming participants. Little did she know, that footage would end up on a commercial aired during television coverage of this year’s Tour de France race.
“It was a close-up of my face and I could see the necklace. People saw the footage and couldn’t believe it was me - I’m so new at this.”
Byers-Ogilvie recently raced to first place in the expert women’s category of the Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival Mountain Bike Race in Port Colborne.
With a taste of personal victory and now a few competitive races behind her, Byers-Ogilvie has set a new goal: to take part in the Ontario Cup.
“I’ve got on the podium a couple times. I don’t have much experience really. It’s come pretty quickly.”
The St. Catharines resident says she has never been as fit as she is now, and plans to continue to build on her strength and speed.