Athlete Spotlight: Dakota Schaeffer
At just 18 years old, Dakota Schaeffer is one of the country's youngest Pro cyclists. Dakota's birthday is in October, which means that he has always been a bit younger than most of his competitors of the same racing age. This may not seem like a big deal to most adults, but as a junior a few months of development can make a big difference in terms of experience and development. In addition to being a bit young for his age, Dakota also got a relatively late start in cycling. Though he had always been an athlete, Dakota spent most of his childhood years playing baseball. It wasn't until he was 16 that he started racing bikes, and even then he was sidelined for most of the season with mononucleosis.
Perhaps adversity is desirable, even necessary on the path to success though. As Napoleon Hill once said,
"Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit".
When I first met Dakota in 2011, he was a member of the Young Medalists junior team for which I was the interim director and eventually the full time director. Having suffered from mono most of that season, he was far from the strongest rider on the team, though he his potential was immediately apparent. He possessed a rare combination of desirable qualities: he was earnest and thoughtful but also funny and light hearted. He listened to everything I said but he did not hesitate to question what he didn't understand. He worked very hard at his training but he always balanced his life with a quest to become stronger mentally and socially as well as physically. He wanted to win with all his heart but he would always sacrifice himself for his teammates when necessary.
In the 2012 season, he was asked to become more of a leader on the YM team, though he still lagged a bit behind his teammate Greg Ratzell, who had a few years more racing experience and was now being asked to join the US National team in Europe. Dakota found his own path though, and in 2013, the big results started to come. Though still racing on the Young Medalists junior team, Dakota was asked to come aboard as a guest rider on the Airgas/D3-Devo team. This allowed him to cut his teeth in the pro circuit, racing the Old Pueblo Grand Prix, the Sea Otter Classic and the Chris Thater Memorial Criterium. Dakota scored some wins back home at the Naval Yard Criterium, the Piscitello Law Criterium, the Tour de Syracuse road race, Brownstown road race and Grandview Grand Prix. The breakthrough result, however, was a win on Stage 6 of the Tour de l'Abitibi, North America's biggest junior race (and only UCI junior race). Racing for the composite Mid Atlantic Junior Team, Dakota also finished in 14th place on stage 1 and 2nd place on stage 4. After the race, Dakota was featured in this article in the Reading Eagle.
In 2014, Dakota will be racing full time with the Airgas/D3-Devo team, now a UCI trade team. There he will be racing with a few other familiar faces; Wes Kline, Greg Ratzell, Zack Noonan and Chris Meacham are all graduates of the Young Medalists program. Dakota is still a senior in high school, though he attends the PA Cyber School, which allows student to complete most of their curriculum online. Readers may be aware that there has been quite a bit of controversy in Pennsylvania with these schools in recent months. Though it is clear that many students do not perform as well in non-traditional settings, it is likely that highly driven and self-motivated students such as Dakota may actually perform much better.
Dakota's father, Jeff (who is a master's racer himself) always like to say, "I'm not sure what I did to deserve such a great kid... one who has been so easy to raise. I never have to tell him to do his homework. I never have to tell him to do his training. I never have to tell him to do his chores. He just does it, and doesn't complain. He doesn't get into any trouble. He's a great athlete and he's a pleasure to be around. In my wildest dreams I couldn't have wished for a better son!"
In January Dakota will travel to California to get a jump start on his 2014 training (an added benefit that comes with being a cyber school student is that it allows for more flexibility with travel and training). His season won't start off easy: Redlands, Sea Otter and Gila will be difficult early season tests for all the neo-pros. But all those around Dakota: from his coach to his parents to his team director to his teammates, friends and relatives all know that he will be successful in anything he puts his mind to.