Amherst Teen's Homework Leads to Grant
Imagine competing in cyclocross races every weekend during the season. That’s what 18-year-old Kale Wenczel did last year. The Leverett, Massachusetts rider competed in more than 16 cross races, missing only one race weekend. That’s pretty dedicated for a guy who started racing cross two years ago.
“I got on my game and registered in time for Gloucester, Providence and all the big races,” he said. “I made sure I got there and did my best.”
Wenczel successfully completed every cross race he started in 2015 and finished in the top twenty at the KMC Cyclocross Festival in Providence.
“I started at the back of Cat 3 and moved up by the end of the season to call ups for Cat 3, which was pretty cool,” he said. “In Providence, I got in the money, which was so awesome.”
Wenczel is one of thirteen cyclists selected for a JAM Fund Grant—financial and equipment assistance provided to promising cyclists to help offset the cost of cyclocross racing.
“I’m really psyched to have a grant,” he said. “I applied for it last fall, and I think it helped that I have been riding with the whole JAM group in the past couple months.”
Wenczel often saw the JAM Fund Team at races; He met JAM’s Co-Founder Jeremy Powers by doing a high school homework assignment.
“I was taking an Anthropology class and had to write an ethnography about some culture I observed,” Wenczel said. “It was a big project, and I decided to do it on cyclocross because I already knew the subject, so I thought it would be easy. My teacher wanted to see that we got interviews, so I emailed Jeremy and didn’t expect a response, but I had to show my teacher that I at least tried. But then he responded, and I was taken back by that. We ended up meeting. It was too late for the paper but we went for a bike ride and I stayed in touch. Eventually we went for another ride in late February with the whole group, and I’ve been going with them a bunch of weekends ever since.”
Wenczel graduated from Amherst Regional High School last month and will be starting classes at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in September.
“I’m going to be a mechanical engineer,” he said. “My end goal is to hopefully work at Sram some day. That would be ideal. I picture myself designing derailleurs.”
Wenczel got a later-than-usual start to cycling training after playing Ultimate Frisbee this spring.
My team was undefeated this year, and we were invited to world’s tryouts with the top 100 people in the country,” he said. “We won the Paideia Cup in Georgia, the high school invitational, where they invite the eight best teams in the country. Our team solidly won that, so we can say we are the best in the country.”
Wenczel says Frisbee helps his cycling fitness.
“Ultimate is such a physical sport, it conditions your whole body to take pain,” he said. “If nothing else, it gives me a lot of mental strength, which is essential in any sport, and my running and general conditioning is pretty solid as a result. I’d say it’s definitely helpful.”
For now, Wenczel has packed away his discs.
“I just entered retirement last week, but I’m not going to give it up for good,” he said. “I pick up a disc every now and then, but I’m going to focus on biking, my first and only true love.”
Wenczel has been racing the past two years for Joe’s Garage, but someday hopes to make the switch to JAM Fund.
“I am a strong person who has a lot of potential because until this summer, I never trained a day in my life,” he said. “As far as I’ve gotten is just me going out on rides with nothing particular to them and learning from just doing it. I have a ton of potential in terms of technique, training and becoming more specialized. Going out and riding with Al, Jeremy and everybody else and have them see what I can do, is hugely instrumental. I have the drive to make something happen here, that’s the reason I got a grant.”
His short-term desire is to move up the ranks.
“My big goal for this year is to move from Cat 3 to Cat 2,” he said. “That will be huge, if I can achieve it. Also, nationals is very doable in the U23.”
The JAM Grant that Wenczel received is made largely possible by the fundraising at the JAM Fund’s Grand Fundo, a one-day bike ride through Western Massachusetts. Wenczel will formally receive his grant at the Grand Fundo on July 16.
“I’ll probably use the grant for entry fees,” he said. “I guess I would replace broken things, because I break a derailleur every season.”