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Christopher Blevins and Eddie Anderson are two of the country’s top up-and-coming young riders. As it turns out, they are also both recent college students. For the last five years, the two have had to balance the requirements of pro cycling and undergraduate education. In this column and video, produced by Eddie Anderson’s brother, Jack Anderson, Blevins and Anderson discuss how they made it work.
Christopher Blevins: The scene was the 2018 team camp with Hagens Berman Axeon, and Eddie and I were roommates for the week. The two of us were both sophomores in college; I was going to school at California Polytechnic State Institute, and Eddie the University of Virginia. Over the 10 days, we got into a routine of studying on the deck of our hotel room in Calabasas, walking back from dinner fast to submit assignments, and then panicking about what we’d have to catch up on when back. The week was grueling on the bike, exciting with the buzz of the team, and exhausting with the homework. But the two of us made it work, and three years later I graduated, and Eddie is soon to follow this December.
With our college careers nearly behind us, and the five years of balancing studying and racing professionally, we wanted to reflect on the lessons we learned, some the hard way, but all of them worth it in the end.
Lesson 1: Take the initiative to get to know your professors
Eddie Anderson: In high school, I was blessed with small classes and close relationships with my teachers that made balancing my cycling commitments much easier. When I stepped foot into a 400+ person macroeconomics lecture taught by a famous professor, however, that relationship felt slightly more intimidating and difficult to build. I quickly learned that I would have to take it upon myself to forge relationships with my professors at UVA that would allow me to succeed at both school and cycling. Something I learned over my first year at UVA is that, despite a professor’s celebrity status, they are all passionate about both their subject and students. I have found no professor who embodies this more than economics professor Lee Coppock.
I met Professor Coppock my first year at UVA, and he has been the single most important person in my life as a student-cyclist. His support, advice, guidance, and genuine interest in my racing have been instrumental to my success on the bike and in the classroom. On any given day, there is an equal chance we might be discussing macroeconomic policy in his office, or out for a ride together on our beautiful Charlottesville, VA roads. Additionally, reaching out to my first-year Dean, Sandra Seidel, for her advice on balancing cycling with school was one of the best decisions I made; her enthusiasm gave me hope that indeed I could attend school while racing professionally.
I meet with Dean Seidel a number of times each year to discuss my strategy for success in balancing cycling with school. It is relationships like these that make pursuing education as a pro cyclist much more manageable, less daunting, and exciting for me. My advice is this: take the time to go to office hours and get to know your professors. Even if a class syllabus states hard deadlines, strict attendance policies, and rigorous coursework, almost every teacher will take interest in, have respect for, and try to make accommodations for situations as unique as cycling.
Lesson2: Balance is the key to success
Eddie Anderson: “Cyclists are like seals,” my mom loves to say. By this, she means that when we’re on the bike (like a seal in the water), we are on; when we are off the bike (like a seal out of the water) we are couch potatoes resting with our legs up. For me, too much downtime can have a negative impact on my cycling; I’ll drift off in my thoughts, overthink marginal gains, and stress myself out about what I could be doing. School provides the perfect outlet to keep my mind occupied, and to stay productive while off the bike. Of course, the balance is not equal, and I have had to make sacrifices in school, such as falling one year behind the four-year graduation standard, taking spring semesters as a part-time student, and switching some of my classes to pass/fail grading.
Once I learned what I could manage, however, I found the balance of cycling with school to be healthy and enjoyable, and it has taught me important time management skills. Finally, when I was hard-pressed to find a contract for 2021, applying myself to school gave me a positive outlook on the future, regardless of what happened. I can say with 100 percent certainty that balancing cycling with school has improved my performance, drive for success, and well-being both on and off the bike.
Lesson 3: Make hard work a habit
Christopher Blevins: It’s crazy how entrenched we all get in our daily routines. and I often find myself thinking about how significant habits are in shaping our lives. I wasn’t the model of perfect habits in college, but I did build a few that made the process a lot easier. Those strenuous and tedious activities can flip to feeling easy when they’re woven into the fabric of our routines. As cyclists, we all know there’s an exhausting amount of little things we can do to be better — and I mean really exhausting. If I separate all the little things I do from the thread of the routine they live in, it starts to stack up like a never-ending list of chores. With recovery stuff alone it’s trying daily to get nine hours of sleep, meditate, do bike maintenance, meal prep, that post-ride recovery shake, be sure to Theragun, roll out, stretch, Normatec, then man oh man how to fit it all in.
But if those things are wrapped up into a routine that you do over and over again, it starts to feel like second nature.
Once it’s a habit, it’s harder to let the process slip. I’ve gotten to a point where that long recovery routine feels as normal to me as brushing my teeth and because it carries that ease, I’m able to devote mental energy to school, emails, and all that jazz while my legs are up in my recovery boots. Now, I could only do those 2 to 3 hours of recovery work per day because of Zoom class this past year. Pre-COVID, I admit I thought seriously about bringing recovery boots into the classroom, but realized that’s not the ticket to making friends. So inevitably, time constraints will show up and something will have to give. You just have to find your sweet spot in the routine, and dial in the schedule that works best for you.
Lesson 4: Find time to stop and keep your ‘Why’ alive
Christopher Blevins: There have been countless moments throughout college where I ran around like a headless chicken from one thing to the next. All too often I chalked it up as necessary to live scattered, and threw myself into everything I could while I balanced it all at once. But there is more to life than increasing the speed of it and don’t we all need that reminder at times? If you’re working nonstop between studying and training, while also trying to keep a social life and other interests alive, you need to know why you’re doing it. You need to intentionally carve out moments where you fully stop and reflect on where you’re going. If all you can do is sit in silence for 10 mins a day, then great – start there. But try to not let yourself get caught in the speed of things and always end up anywhere but right here, right now. We all have a combination of more spirited why’s and boring/practical ones. I could answer the why question about choosing to race bikes with a thousand things having to do with heart and meaning and the like.
But if someone asked me why I was forcing myself to sit through [a] Financial Analysis [class], I would’ve just muttered something about having to do it for the degree. Both will be a part of the process, but the important thing is to take time to reflect on the real reasons you’re choosing to pursue racing and elite sport at the same time. If you don’t take that time to truly reflect, you may ignore your heart telling you to just focus on school or go all-in on racing. Or you may be happy doing it all, but miss out on the perspective that only stillness can bring you.
So, what does it all mean?
We are proof that through determination, sacrifice, and planning, it is possible to be successful as a pro cyclist as well as a student at the same time. For us, time spent on one activity did not take away from the other; in fact, the opposite was true. But we also took advantage of the opportunities given to us.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced our universities to offer online instruction, afforded us the chance to study remotely. Suddenly, the training camp we’d been dreaming about for ages materialized this winter. Virginia snowfall meant that Eddie came to my home in San Luis Obispo, CA. There, we trained and studied hard, putting to use what we have learned as student-cyclists.
The magic of this week was captured by Eddie’s brother, Jack Anderson, also a UVA student and videographer. The resulting video, The Student Cyclists, sheds light on our everyday lives as student cyclists. We hope you enjoy!
Author: Christopher Blevins – California Polytechnic Institute
Author: Eddie Anderson – University of Virginia
Video: Jack Anderson – University of Virginia
Music: Matthew Scullin – Cornell University