Buckeye cyclist wins national championship in cyclocross
In the classroom or the lab, Jennifer Malik is a biomedical engineering doctoral student working on new ways to deliver medicine. On a bicycle, Malik is one of The Ohio State University’s newest national champions.
This month, Malik raced her way to the Collegiate Club Cyclocross National Championship in Reno. Malik is part of the Ohio State Cycling Team, a recreational sport at the university. Her specialty is a little unusual.
“Basically you take a bike that looks kind of like a road bike – but it has a little knobbier tires. And you’re riding off-road in either grass, mud, dirt or some pavement. You have different features or barriers that you have to get off your bike for,” Malik said. “It’s kind of like the steeplechase of bike riding.”
Malik’s journey to the top of the podium started four years ago. She finished 11th in her first collegiate national championship but placed third last year.
“So I had that taste of the top step. So all this year leading up to it I was visualizing, ‘OK, you’re going to win. You can do it.’ And so to actually have it happen, I was like ‘Oh my god, it happened,’” she said. “It was really, really exciting.”
The race wasn’t without challenges. Malik said part of the course featured a ditch that riders could race through or hop over – a more aggressive move. Malik made the decision to race hard out of the gate, get to the ditch before the other riders and hop over it. The move worked.
“So that actually worked out, which was nice. It’s the first time a race has gone exactly according to plan,” she said.
Then again, not exactly: A blown tire toward the end of the race required a quick change, but Malik had built up a commanding lead and cruised to victory.
Doug Simpson is president of the Ohio State Cycling Team. He said the championship was primarily a win for Malik but also a win for the team.
“She did all the hard work to get there. It’s just a benefit to the club that we can say that the club holds a national title, but really it’s Jen who holds that national title,” Simpson said. “I think it’s something that will go a great way with the university to start our foundation as a serious club here especially as cycling gains more popularity in the United States.”
Simpson said the club has existed on campus since 2005. In the last three years it has grown from only a few riders to about 20 or 30 members this year.
“It’s just a really solid group of friends. I feel like it helped provide balance for my studies because you don’t want to be doing school all the time,” Malik said. “But I also don’t want to be sitting at home alone.”
In addition to her club team, Malik races with a professional team. She said she is hoping to make the U.S. team to compete for the world championship. Malik expects to finish her doctoral degree this semester.
“I would really like to keep doing research,” she said.
Malik hopes her national title is a boost to others considering cycling or cyclocross. She considers it the payoff for a lot of hard work.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a bunch of little things that really make the ride so much more enjoyable.”