TWENTY20 committed to providing opportunity to women in the workplace
The love of bikes is a powerful thing. No matter the age or phase of life, riding bikes means different things to different people. Courtney Nelson has not had the standard cycling development path. A division I soccer player that headed straight to the financial world after college, Courtney found a bike to explore outside and clear her mind after long work hours. At 35, she will join the TWENTY20 Cycling development program, in balance with her full time job at Google as a Global Real Estate Data Integrity Manager. Driven by a team environment, this late blooming cycling talent is driven by the joy of riding bikes, the challenge of climbing and the feeling of giving 100%.
“I ride because somehow completely exhausting myself is the most relaxing part of my day” – Unknown
From a young age she was always going. It started with bombing down bunny hills in Vermont and New Hampshire. Courtney then like many youth athletes found soccer and then basketball, softball, street roller hockey…basically every outlet for her energy and her athletic talents.
“ Any sport, I played it, be it in the back yard or our dead end suburban street. My parents always made me a snack after school before practice when I sat at the table with my mom and did my homework before heading to the field. In middle school and high school, I was on three soccer teams (school team, premier or club team and the state team) which required tons of travel. My parents were travelling with me to the games, the practices and it created such a strong bond with our family,” said Nelson.
Graduating from St. Bonaventure University in 2006, Nelson immediately took a job at Hartford Financial. One day, looking for a challenge Courtney randomly googled job openings at Google. The search engine and tech buzz was minimal on the east coast at the time and she applied for a risk analyst position, dreaming of the West Coast.
“I thought (this role at Google) was similar to my current role at The Hartford. I was contacted by Google and after months of waiting, flown out to California for interviews. After the interviews, they notified me saying that Google was in a hiring freeze, but they were going to open up the role to temp work for a year (at which point I would need to take 3 months off if I could not convert to full time). I saw this as an opportunity and a huge life change. My parents supported me and I flew out to California two weeks after hearing the news. I jumped on a plane with my dog, mom and dad and we found an apartment and I rode the fast train to getting my footing in California.”
Courtney is coming into racing later than some, at age 35 however, her passion for riding and her structured mindset and absorption of mileage is ideal.
“A former competitor Brianne Szolusha reached out to me to see if I would talk to a woman she knew who had just got into cycling and was crushing the Silicon Valley STRAVA segments. I checked out her profile and sure enough there was a whole string of QOMs – not that it’s always an indicator of pure talent but the miles, elevation and dedication that Courtney was putting in was impressive. I immediately recognized several important traits when I spoke to Courtney: drive, determination and focus. There are many different pathways into competitive cycling, One trait that must be there is passion for riding a bike, and that this woman has,” said Nicola Cranmer, General Manager, TWENTY20 Pro Cycling.
Courtney found the bike a year after moving to California, pick up soccer was less than fun – ball hogs, ankle hacking and not ideal hours with her long work schedule in finance at Google. She bought her first bike at a local bike shop and a few months later her sister bought her a bike trainer to ride in the early mornings. However she returned that trainer, and ran into that same employee at the shop. Fast forward and Courtney marries that man that sold her that first bike.
“I still remember riding for a few months in sneakers before watching YouTube and learning how to clip in.”
The benefit to starting at the beginning of a sport later in life is you have experience and life lessons already. Her first “real ride” was the formal Bike To Work Day Ride organized by Google. She joined the ride leaving from her neighborhood and merged with a small group heading up to the main campus. After that, Courtney continued to find enjoyment in riding and began to commute to work 1-2 times a week.
“Riding for me changed when I met someone who was part of a MeetUp group ride that left from Woodside. We would drive up on the weekends to ride the Coastal Loops. My first group ride was an experience as my bike was set up with electronic shifting and the shop said it would last months on the charge. I had barely been riding but on that ride, well, the battery was dead and I was stuck in the big ring grinding up grades. Being my first group ride, I didn’t say anything and just suffered, but managed to survive some pretty serious grades and finish the ride.”
That group ride was the seal of approval, even with limited gears. Courtney had found her passion — climbing.
A few years later, Courtney took to really climbing, logging 1.6 million feet for 2016 and then built to 2 million in 2017.
“I maximized my miles to feet on a local favorite Bohlman – Orbit and would repeat Orbit over and over. Times changed. I had loathed long climbs like 9, Montebello, Kings, Montevina and Page Mill but needed to find something challenging. I took to hitting those climbs hard and just pushing myself to exhaustion before a solid day at the office. Montebello is by far my favorite morning pick me up on the way into work. Any workout with hills is my favorite. It is a feeling of pure bliss that is explainable on reaching the top of the climb and pouring all effort into it.”
Cranmer and sports director Mari Holden have recently focused on a more balanced training to work on weaknesses, adding recovery days, rest days as well as group rides to her schedule. Courtney quickly progressed from a Cat 5 to a Cat 3 with the goal of smaller races this coming spring to integrate her into the team dynamic.
“While the team and staff will be mentoring Courtney on all things bike racing, it’s very advantageous to our program to have a mentor showing the juniors and recent college graduates how to cultivate athletic balance and a successful career. I see Courtney as being a huge asset to the program on and off the bike,” added Cranmer.
For Courtney she is motivated by the squad mentality, the idea that she can be a part of a team and grow her personal riding skills and hopes to be a part of the team success.
“The part I am most looking forward to with Twenty20 is being part of a team – like work, it is leveraging the skill sets of each rider to set the team up for success. In sport, work and life, the learning never ends. If I am not learning, I am not challenged. Failure teaches more lessons than winning. By helping a team see failure as a learning and see how they bounce back, that is success.”
Nelson may not have the traditional path to elite cycling, however she has the balanced mindset and determination to learn from others and push herself to find the limit — that is where success is found.
“You can say that climbers suffer the same as the other riders, but they suffer in a different way. You feel the pain, but you’re glad to be there” – Richard Virenque
This week Courtney celebrates her 10th year at Google.
Photo ~ Courtney rolls the free company bikes around the expansive Silicon Valley campus