Riding High

Riding High

Aug. 5, 2013

Physical therapy alumna Jade Wilcoxson '04 took up cycling for her health. Her "hobby" has grown, though: She turned pro and just won the national championship.

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JADE WILCOXSON PT ’04 is stuck in the Minneapolis airport, her one-hour flight to Chicago delayed by three hours.

It’s clear from her tone on the phone that this isn’t how Wilcoxson wants to spend her day, but when you travel as often as she does, occasional delays are inevitable.

“It’s kind of the story of my life,” she says.

In the past few years, Wilcoxson has been around the world, pursuing a somewhat unexpected career — and success — as a competitive cyclist.

“It’s a unique opportunity to see the world on a bike on somebody else’s dime,” Wilcoxson says.

But hers is a unique story: Going from physical therapist to pro cyclist and U.S. champion in the blink of an eye.

WILCOXSON DIDN’T really set out to be a professional cyclist, though.

Through her undergraduate years, she followed her love of science, exploring majors in biology, cell biology, forestry and botany. Ultimately, she decided she wanted to use her passion for science to help others, and she started looking for physical therapy schools.

Pacific University, she said, was a good fit in a beautiful location, not extremely far from where she grew up in central California.

“It’s was a very personal experience at Pacific,” she said. “They’re really centered on the student first and impressing them the importance of the patient in physical therapy, treating patients with respect.”

SHORTLY AFTER her graduation from Pacific, where she earned her doctorate in physical therapy, though, Wilcoxson’s life turned a bit upside down. During a routine doctor’s appointment, she was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, meaning her blood sugar was abnormally high. Diabetes already ran in her family, but most of her relatives were diagnosed later in life. Wilcoxson has been careful, working out regularly and eating well.

“I felt it was pretty unfair,” she said. “I thought I was doing everything I could … but it wasn’t enough. I needed to step it up.”

She and her brother decided to try out cycling as a way to spend some active time together. They bought road bikes and started meeting up to train for a “century,” a 100-mile race.

“I found out I was kind of a natural on the bike,” she said. “I enjoyed it. I just kept pursing more organized rides, did a few races, and did well in those.”

Eventually, she found herself competing — and competing well — in regional, state and even national-level races.

Two years ago, she was offered the opportunity to go pro with Optum Pro Cycling.

“It’s a great organization to ride for, because their motto is ‘human-powered health,’” she said. “They really drive home that you as an individual can be accountable for the decisions you make regarding your health.”

After all, that’s exactly what Wilcoxson did: chose a fitness route over a medication route to control her pre-diabetic symptoms. Today, her blood sugar is relatively normal.

PLUS, SHE’S LIGHTING UP the racing world. Earlier this summer, in just her second season as a pro, Wilcoxon won the national road championship, earning the right to wear a red, white and blue jersey for the next year and to compete to earn a place at the world championships in Italy. At this rate, the 2016 Olympics in Rio could even be in her future.

Wilcoxson still has a passion for helping people, and she hopes, for now, that she’s doing so as an inspiration for health and fitness.

“It was kind of a hard transition to go from being all about the patients I was working with to turning that all back on myself and doing something that was pretty much just for me,” she said. “But it has been nice to be able to ride on a team that does drive home a good message for health and wellness. It incorporates my PT background a little bit.”

She plans to see her cycling career through as far as she can go. But someday, when it’s over, she plans to go back to physical therapy.

“I’ll continue on this career path until I feel like I’ve achieved everything I want to,” she said. “Then, I’ll go back to PT, for sure.”