Dotsie has always been athletic
- by Marianne Werz Obrien
rider Dotsie Cowden is more than just a fast woman on her bike. She has also
risen from the amateur ranks to pro racer in an amazingly short span of time.
How did she do it, you ask? How could she possibly have progressed from
recreational rider to professional racer in just four years? How did she do it
considering that she essentially started from scratch after overcoming anorexia
and bulimia? You can read part I of this extraordinary interview here.
Dotsie has always been athletic. She rode saddle-bred horses competitively, nationally and internationally, from the age of five through seventeen. In college she was part of the crew team. After her recovery from anorexia and bulimia in 1998, Dotsie began cycling. Her friends convinced her to train for the 600-mile California AIDS Ride. Dotsie fell in
love with cycling and the following year she decided to try racing.
To get ready for her first racing season, Dotsie
trained with friend Jamie Paolinetti. (Paolinetti wrote, filmed & edited the
feature-length documentary film "The Hard Road," which followed the
NetZero team throughout an entire season of racing.) Jamie coached Dotsie,
rode with her, and pointed her in the right direction.
Just the Facts:
Date of Birth: March 6, 1973
Weight: 133 lbs
Hometown: Louisville, Ky.
Trains: Santa Monica, Ca.
Book: Thinking Body, Dancing
Movie: Wild at Heart
Pre-Race Music: Hip hop, rap
Never one to do anything halfway, Dotsie’s very
first race was none other than the Sea Otter Classic in Northern California. She
raced as a Cat. 4 and after the race, she vowed never to race again. This was a
vow she made several times in her first season and never kept.
She met Katie & Jim Safford, her “awesome” mentors, after her second
race when they found her unceremoniously vomiting in the bushes. It
had been a particularly tough race for Dotsie. She explains: “I was so sick
and I couldn’t breathe. I called my mom and cried to her that it was the
hardest thing I’d ever done and that I never wanted to do it again.”
Inexplicably, the Safford’s thought she had promise so they brought her into
their amateur cycling team (Team Earthlink).
Dotsie trained diligently, honing her skills as a racer even while working
full-time. Dotsie worked for an internet company, and she feels fortunate that
they were so supportive, allowing her a flexible schedule. In 2000, the
Safford’s star pupil proved that their faith in her was justified: she won the
California State Time Trial Championship!
Dotsie was totally dominating the California racing circuit by 2001 and after
she won the California State Road Race Championship, she decided to try racing
on the national level. She finished an amazing 4th in the Elite Nationals road
race, after which she was recruited by T-Mobile for the 2002 season. How did
Dotsie react when contacted by T-Mobile? She was stunned. She didn’t believe
it was happening. “I was totally taken aback with shock,” she says. “It
was like, whoa! Would you please repeat that?” It was an offer that was
just too good to pass up, so, even though she was a bit nervous, she joined the
T-Mobile team. Dotsie still had to work at another job to support herself during
her first season with T-Mobile, but then she got “super lucky.” She was
chosen to be one of the athletes picked for the Home Depot Olympic Job
Opportunity Program. This allowed her to work part-time in the interior design
department while being paid a full-time salary.
“In all ways, adjusting to life as a pro was a huge transition,”
Dotsie admitted. “My first year was made more difficult by a nagging
back injury. Also, most of the girls come from other endurance sports. I
didn’t, and the difference in competition between amateurs and pro’s is
unbelievable. It’s not only physically much more difficult, it is also very
stressful. There is constant travel, pressure to win, and almost overnight
cycling went from a passion to a job. It was really a wild transformation, and I
had a rough time of it at the beginning. In fact, at the end of the first year I
had to sit down and ask, ‘do I still love this? Would I be happier back
on a smaller team like Earthlink?’ We always wanted to win on Earthlink,
don’t get me wrong, but win or lose, we still had fun. On T-Mobile,
there is more pressure to perform and win. But in the end, I still love the
sport. I love to train. I love to ride, and I love to race!”
2003 season was easier for Dotsie. She had trained hard in the off-season and
with one season as a pro already under her belt, she had a much better idea of
what to expect. Overall Dotsie was pleased with her showing in 2003. She had
good individual results in the Liberty Classic in Philly, where she won the
Queen of the Mountains jersey, and at the Vuelta de Bisbee, in which she placed
3rd in the GC. She won the California State Road Race Championship, and provided
solid support for her team throughout the season. As Dotsie puts it, “I had
some really great races, and some really bad races, too.” Her
primary goal for 2004 is to be more consistent - to have the really great races
more frequently. To this end, she has changed her training regime for the
winter, but she prefers not to go into detail about the changes so as not to
giveaway her strategy. One thing she will share is that she purchased a
beach cruiser at the end of the season to help her “chill out!”
Dotsie used to be a personal trainer
(model, interior designer, personal trainer, pro cyclist, now coach – this
girl can do it all!) and she decided to start coaching female cyclists. Over the
past year, Dotsie has been mulling the idea of how to help grow the sport, how
to help women who were just starting to race. “I believe that women deserve
and require specialized training that takes into consideration their desires,
uniqueness, abilities, and lifestyle. As a woman, I am sensitive to the dreams
and needs of women beginning to ride and race bikes.” Racing can be
intimidating, especially for beginners. There can be a lot of negative energy
and criticism in the peloton at the local level. Instead of helping girls to
advance and mentoring them, this kind of behavior can turn girls away from
racing, sometimes sending them home in tears. “It would make a huge difference
if the more experienced racers would take time to approach the new girls after a
race and explain what they did wrong in order to help them learn from their
mistakes. Also, it’s important to tell them what they did right.
Positive reinforcement is important.” Dotsie hopes that by providing
personal coaching and classes in basic skills such as high speed cornering, that
she can help beginners gain the knowledge and skills to race with confidence.
She coaches beginners and Cat. 4 & Cat. 3 women racers. Dotsie says: “Guys
can explain something and break it down and still women don’t quite ‘get’
it. Women process things
Dotsie serves as a Court
Appointed Special Advocate for abused or neglected children in the county
of Los Angeles, and spends a significant amount of time with her
6-year-old CASA child.
differently than men.”
“It is so awesome to watch someone
grow and improve. Currently I’m working with four local (Los Angeles) women. I
think it’s important to coach locally so that I can ride with them and watch
them race. I absolutely love coaching. It’s great to be able to see
people progress and move to the next level.” Dotsie was given a new
lease on life when she conquered the eating disorders that nearly claimed her
life and she is determined to do what she can to help other women achieve their
dreams. Whether by advocacy on anorexia, or by helping to further the sport of
women’s racing, Dotsie Cowden is driven to make a difference and to help
others reach their full potential.
2003 T-Mobile International – 17th
2003 Manhattan Beach Grand Prix - 6th
2003 Nature Valley Grand Prix - 5th - stage one; 7th GC
2003 Vuelta de Bisbee - 3rd GC
2003 Liberty Classic - Queen of
2003 California State Road Race
Championship – 1st
2002 USCF Elite National Time Trial Championships - 13th
2002 Gracia Cez-Ede (Czech Republic)- 23rd G.C.
2002 Sea Otter Classic - 23rd, G.C.
2002 Redlands Bicycle Classic - 23rd G.C.
2001 California State Road Race
Championship – 1st
2001 USCF Elite National Road Cycling
Championships - 4th
2000 California State Time Trial
Championship – 1st