By Andrew Glover
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma State University student Alisha Shutler was a runner. All that changed when one of her friends suggested she try a bike race.
“I liked it,” Shutler said. “It turned out that I’m a better cyclist than runner. Every since then I kept cycling.”
Last April, Shutler made history as she became the first Cowgirl to qualify for nationals after a third-place finish at the South Central Cycling Conference Championship in Waco, Texas.
“It was really a nice tribute to how hard she worked,” coach Alan Good said.
The top six qualified for nationals. Cyclists are split into different groups based on skill, with C being for beginners and A for more advanced. Shutler started the year in C but moved up to A towards the end of the season. Competitors are awarded points based on how they finish in a race, but the points start over when cyclists switch groups. Shutler said she was amazed that she got to advance.
“It was more surprising than anything,” Shutler said. “When I got up to A’s, I thought I probably wasn’t going to make it since I only had a few races. To finish in the top six was a really neat experience.”
Shutler decided not to compete in nationals because she made other plans and the costs were going to be high.
“We didn’t have anyone else do that,” Shutler said. “It made the decision not to go easier. I would be going alone and would have to fly with my bike. Then drive an extra hour to the race. The club didn’t have the funds. I’m hoping to plan on making it next year and maybe we can take a team up there.”
Shutler said it’s a little strange to her being the first Oklahoma State national qualifier.
“It’s definitely a good thing and I’m proud,” Shutler said. “There are so many people I rode against that I think are better.”
While Shutler was the only qualifier, the OSU Cycling Club had another top finisher as Jenny Ortman finished third in the B race at conference. For Ortman, her finish didn’t have that much personal meaning.
“I don’t take pride in my achievements,” Ortman said. “I just rode my bike and it’s my joy to do that. It kind of happened. It’s cool. I love to ride my bike. There was a lot more that meant a lot than me finishing third.”
The Oklahoma State Cycling Club has shown remarkable improvement throughout the years — going from the bottom of the 23-team conference to a fourth-place finish this past season. Shutler and Ortman agree that cycling is becoming more popular in Stillwater.
“The OSU program has exploded,” Shutler said. “We have 70 members and a lot more people putting up mileage.”
“Cycling is becoming more available,” Ortman said. “People are becoming more that Stillwater needs to be a cycling town. I get around on my bike. It’s nice seeing the club grow and I hope it continues to grow and good things will come from that.”
Good, who has coached the team since 2010, said everyone improved a lot.
“The team’s previous best was 15th,” Good said. “The guys that raced did well. It says a lot about how hard these kids worked.”
Dustin Morris, who competed in his first year last season, said cycling helps him relax.
“It’s something different,” Morris said. “I’m working on my graduate degree and it helps me keep my mind off studies for a little bit.”
The team set several records last season, including team points (867), wins (10) and top three finishes (30). Since OSU’s cycling team is a club it has to secure its funds. Ortman said it’s a challenge but the community has been very generous with support.