Not About the Gold

by Carrie Schmeck

The gun sounded as a chorus of 84 shoes clicked into bicycle pedal clips. Girls swerved amid dust clouds, shifting gears and pushing to get ahead at the Junior Women’s mountain bike World Cup race last June in Offenburg, Germany.

Sixteen-year-old Shayna Powless from Roseville, California, tightened her hands on her grips. Starting in the middle of the pack was new to her. She’d shipped her favorite bike all the way to Europe for her first world cross-country mountain bike race. Right from the start, she could tell this would be quite different from races back home.

Shayna had just won her second consecutive state championship in the Nor Cal High School Cycling League. She was used to leading. But here Shayna tussled among equally fierce and more experienced riders.

As she lightened her grip and shifted her weight back, Shayna prepared to drop down a crag higher and rockier than anything she’d ever ridden. Her competition pulled away as Shayna struggled with unfamiliar terrain. She finished 43rd, fifth from last place.

Disappointment bubbled. But instead of giving up, Shayna decided to use the experience to learn about her weaknesses. Losing didn’t make her mad—it made her want to work harder.

Grown to Race

Shayna can’t remember a time when competition wasn’t part of her life. Both her parents had raced in triathlons since she was little.

When she was 8, Shayna begged to enter a duathlon (like a triathlon, but competitors only run and bike). She discovered she was good at racing and won her age division with ease.

Shayna also played soccer at the time, but she decided to concentrate on running and biking. It was easy to train because her whole family practiced together. Even her little brother, Nielson, joined in.

Her family drives to races almost every weekend, so they have lots of time together. With so much travel, her family often misses Sunday church. But that doesn’t mean Shayna leaves her faith at home.

“Before every race, my family prays for a safe, smooth race and that everything goes OK,” she says. “We thank God that we get to participate.”

In high school, Shayna used the cross-country running season to improve her conditioning and then raced her mountain bike in the spring. She won so easily that she bumped up to the varsity level her first year.

Though she had won two state championships, Shayna was surprised to get a call from Connie Carpenter last year. A 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist, Connie worked as a certified national cycling coach. She said USA Cycling had identified Shayna as a potential Olympic or world-class cyclist and invited her to a European camp where she could experience the highest level of competition.

Despite Shayna’s disappointing finish in that first race, her coaches still saw the makings of a real champion. She wanted to improve, didn’t get frustrated and kept a good attitude.

How is it that Shayna could take defeat so well? She says it’s her faith: “During my races I ask God to help me not get frustrated, to think about what is important and to remember good sportsmanship. When I’m having a tough race, I ask Him to guide me through it.”

About a month after her poor finish in Europe, Shayna found herself at the starting line of the 2011 USA Mountain Bike Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho.

This time Shayna—in her red, white and blue jersey—knew the terrain. When the starting gun popped, she clicked her gears and hammered her cranks to move toward the front of the pack.

It felt good to race in the United States again. The trails were familiar and not as rocky or technical as the European courses. When she wheeled across the finish line after one hour and 11 minutes, she was pleased with her time and her fourth-place finish.

“I can’t win every race,” Shayna says. “It wouldn’t be right.”

Podiums in Perspective

Shayna gets a lot of attention as a star athlete. But she doesn’t let it go to her head or worry about the future. She prefers to let things unfold in God’s time.

“Sure, the Olympics would be awesome,” she says. “But I don’t want to put that much pressure on myself right now.”

Instead, she plans to keep up her six-days-a-week training schedule and focus on her goal of studying sports medicine in college.

Shayna’s humility and quiet faith help her be a champion—win or lose. As she continues to lean on God’s gentle direction, Shayna will ride her way toward wherever her athletic gifts take her.

Check out more inspiring athletes!

This article first appeared in the July 2012 issue of Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine. Copyright © 2012 by Focus on the Family. Used by permission. Photo courtesy of Mark Coverdale.