Recently several stories about Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) leaving Wall Street to race her bike have been written. Stevens is headed to compete at the 2012 London Summer Olympics representing the USA. Though Stevens journey to London is amazing, she is not the first cyclist to leave high finance. Linda Jackson, Team TIBCO Founder and President, left her Vice President position in an investment bank to race her bike full-time in 1992. Jackson represented Canada in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics in both the road race and in the time trial. I spoke with Jackson about her journey into racing and coaching back in 2007. Here is that story….
Linda Jackson comes to coaching from a very successful professional riding career. Though quite productive as a pro, her path to cycling and racing was anything but direct.
Jackson grew up a competitive swimmer in Nepean, Canada. She gave up competition in her late teens and had no plans to remain competitively active. Instead she went on to college and eventually moved to California to complete her MBA at Stanford University. She began working as an investment banker for Alex, Brown & Sons in San Francisco, successfully moving up the corporate ladder to Vice President in Biotechnology Investments.
It was not until she was recuperating from a skiing accident that she took up riding. Her knee injury required extensive surgery and physical therapy. Riding a bike was the key to getting better. What she discovered in her recovery was a true joy for racing. Jackson entered a local road race, her very first, and finished second. “I came across that finish line and realized that it was in my blood,” Jackson stated. “I knew I had to ride my bike. From then on I knew my life would be different.”
For two years Jackson continued to work full-time while trying to squeeze in training. She would start her commute at 4:30 am, riding about 50 miles to work each way. It was a way to get the miles in her legs. She would put in long hours at the office and then ride home each day only to get up and repeat the cycle. “I would be so tired that I would go to the gym next door and rent a suntan bed. It was not to get a tan but to lay down and get some rest. Training and working was really hard.”
In 1992, Jackson entered and won a bronze medal in the Canadian National Road Championship. “When I won the bronze I knew that not only did I love racing but that I was good at it. I knew from then on that I would be racing. I remember calling my coach from my office in San Francisco in tears telling him that I could not keep working and training like this anymore. I decided to give up my career so that I could ride the bike.”
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Jackson stated, “Instead of working all those hours and feeling like crap, I’m having a life seeing different places and competing against the best. I’ve never looked back.”
Jackson rode professionally from 1993-1999 and was quite successful. Her decision to focus solely on her riding proved to be fruitful. She earned six Canadian National titles (3 road and 3 time trial), a bronze in the 1996 Road Race World Championships, 1st GC – 1997 Tour de L’Aude, 2nd GC- 1997 & 1998 Giro d’ Italia and competed in the 1996 Olympic Games. She was named VeloNews North American Female Cyclist of the Year in 1997 and 1998.
In the 1996 Atlanta Games, Jackson was one of the pre-race favorites in the road race. Unfortunately Jackson crashed early in the race when a Russian rider tumbled ahead of her. Jackson was catapulted over her bike hitting her arm. “I’ll never forget coming up to the tent. When I saw my coach, I put my bike down, put my head on his shoulder and just burst into tears because I had given up so much to get there. I was devastated. It was amazing though. I was able to turn it around within the hour. It was a bittersweet race.” At 37, an age when many cyclists were long retired, Jackson was competing at a high level. Although she suffered swelling and tendon damage, she was able to compete later in the Olympic individual time trial. She went on to finish ninth.
Jackson retired in 2000. When asked if she ever wondered what if she had started racing at 23 instead of 33, Jackson responded, “I don’t dwell it. I was able to get my undergraduate degree in business, my MBA, be an investment banker. I had this whole aspect of life before I began riding.”
“This is what I coach now,” Jackson continued, “You never want to wonder. If you really want to see how far you can go you have to give everything. For me it was a matter of age and for others it may be a matter of opportunity. They should give everything they have. They don’t want to look back and say, ‘I should have trained harder,’ or that ‘I shouldn’t have worked 10 hours a day.'”
“After I retired, I did nothing cycling related for three years. I went back to investment banking, working as a Director in the Technology Group at Credit Suisse First Boston from 2000 to early 2003. I then got involved with Palo Alto Bicycles and met Amber (Rais) Pierce, now racing for Diadora-Pasta Zara. I started coaching her and realized that I had the same passion for coaching that I once had for racing. Now my life is about coaching.”
Team TIBCO is a tight-knit group of very supportive riders. Jackson is very much the “Mother Hen” of the group, so much so that her riders have nicknamed their coach, “Momma Hen.”
“My goal is to take Team TIBCO to be the #1 team in the country,” Jackson stated, “and then go to the world level.” With Jackson’s determination, talent, enthusiasm, and with the support of her riders and sponsors, Team TIBCO is very much a team on the rise.