With more than 2000 people participating in the LA Marathon Crash Race, the odds of winning 1st in any of the 4 categories were looking slim… Which is precisely why this year’s Women’s 1st place overall winner has an even more compelling story to tell. After being diagnosed with cancer last summer, San Diego local legend Jo Celso was back on the bike and on a mission for glory. After learning more about this young wolf-hearted lady, we get the feeling that this win is only the beginning…
My name is Jo Celso and I’m a 23-year old San Diego local. I love art and bicycles.
How did you become a cyclist?
I picked up a little Suteki mixte frame mid-2010 because I needed a healthier, cheaper way to get to work. I started riding with a guy friend of mine, bought a gorgeous vintage Bianchi road bike and did a lot of barhopping. I finally sucked it up and showed up to a couple group rides. When I started dating someone in the beginning of 2011, he encouraged me to start racing and it was only a matter of time before I was totally hooked.
What kind of challenges do you face that men may not?
Cycling’s been traditionally male-dominated and so I think women are still less welcome. Sometimes when I show up to rides I feel like there’s this attitude, like “oh man, who brought their girlfriend?” and you have to really hammer before you’re taken seriously. It bums me out because I think it’s really discouraging to a lot of girls who are interested in bikes.
What kind of advantages do you think women may have as bicycle riders?
None, other than maybe safer racing fields because there’s less of us and we’re less inclined to make dangerous moves. But, that aside, there’s also something really cool about being a strong female rider. You take away something extra from being the underdog and defying expectations.
You have faced a particular challenge recently. Talk about that.
I was diagnosed with stage IIa Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in July of 2011 and it really threw me for a loop. I literally raced two criteriums in a row directly before where I won in a multi-lap solo break– I was so hyped about racing and I was having an awesome season. And then two weeks later I was hooked up to an IV pumping me with toxic drugs and I was so ill I couldn’t get out of bed. Even when I could ride, I was so slow that I couldn’t keep up so I spent a lot of time on the trainer, or on short rides by myself. There were a lot of concerns that the chemotherapy would permanently affect my lungs, and it stressed me out because bikes were such a huge part of my life at that point.
I completed my last treatment on the last day of January 2012 and was bald and exhausted, but knowing I was done was one of the most uplifting feelings of my life. It felt like everything had been on hold for the past 8 months.
Tell us about your favorite set up…
I’m not riding anywhere near what I’d like to be. I’m currently racing on a Trek 5200 that still has 9 speed Ultegra. I use a Bianchi Pista with the stock 46/16 for most of my commutes, though. Commuting through the city on fixed is just more fun.
What do you love about a city when you are on a bicycle?
I love being full of endorphins and seeing all the awesome little things you miss when you’re in a car.
Describe your most challenging moments on a bicycle
I went out to AZ to do the State Championship race in August 2011. About three quarters into my race we reached the final climb– 7 miles of uphill, and I got antsy (stupid) and attacked and broke away. The temperature hit over 100 and I ran out of water, and I stopped worrying about crossing the line first and started worrying about crossing the line, period.
Do you commute by bicycle or do you mostly ride for sport?
Both. I don’t own a car so I commute to work and school by bike. But I also do a lot of training rides and spent a lot of last season racing.
Apple fritter, definitely.
Dog tags… you have a set. What do they mean to you?
Earning those tags had to be one of my proudest moments on bike. I felt really weak both physically and emotionally coming right out of chemo, and I almost didn’t do the crash race because I doubted myself so much. But I decided I might as well do this while I can because I may not get another chance. And then when I got there, there were so many people it was overwhelming– I remember seeing some girl’s quads at prereg and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here.” So when I won, it was a huge confidence boost.
If you want to do something, do it. You never know what life’s gonna throw at you.