Cycling to the Top
Olympic Hopeful Balances Love for Cycling with Goal
of Designing Earthquake-Safe Structures in the Third World
Christine Clark | January 7, 2008
Anna Lang is a doctoral candidate at the Jacobs School of Engineering who has dedicated herself to elite-level cycling for three years and become one of the fastest female sprinters in the country. She is training to be a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Cycling Team and hopes to be named as an alternate for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
In just one season, Lang accumulated six top-five finishes on the national circuit and numerous regional wins. Recently, she has been racing exclusively in an arena for track cycling known as a velodrome, where she discovered a talent for sprinting
“It is a talent I didn’t chase after,” she said. “I first started winning, then I started taking myself as seriously as my coaches did.”
Lang has been in the U.S. National Talent Pool for two years and was a member of the national team at the 2007 Los Angeles World Cup. Her primary goal was to win a Collegiate National Championship, and she did that—eight times over.
Although Lang has a proven ability to win road races, her stongerst skill is sprinting on the velodrome. She also prefers riding on the the track as opposed to the open road. "It is the sheer speed," Lang said. "The track is so much more intense than the open road."
Lang can go as fast as 45 mph on the velodrome and she said she uses her skills as a track sprinter to win road races. “I coast the whole race and will ride in the draft of other cyclists,” she said. “The race doesn’t start for me until the last couple of laps. Then it’s the positioning and sprinting to the line.
Lang has developed an increased desire to excel in racing over the past couple years, but her original plan was to become an engineer. She has been passionate about earthquake engineering and hazard mitigation since she started studying engineering. She first started racing as an undergraduate at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where she received a degree in architectural engineering. “My primary goal is to be an engineer,” she said. “But I discovered a talent and love for cycling, which I just can’t pass up right now.”
Lang is from Marin County and worked as a structural design consultant for two years at a leading engineering firm designing multi-million-dollar homes in the San Francisco Bay area after graduating from Cal Poly. A trip to Mexico, however, motivated her to attend graduate school. “I was in a well-paying position,” she said. “I could have stayed and had a promising career, but I went to Mexico on a consulting trip after a major earthquake and it opened my eyes. It made me realize that what I was doing wasn’t what I wanted.”
Lang said her goal as an engineer is to develop earthquake-safe structures and policies in Third World countries.
She said she wants to earn her doctoal degree so that she can help others, yet she feels cycling is something she does for herself.
Lang came to the Jacobs School because of its prestigious engineering program, she said. During her first year, she did not enter in cycling competitions because her coursework was very demanding, but took it up again during her first summer at UCSD.
Gradually, she started racing more and her wins fueled her desire to compete. “I know I have the ability to go very far in this sport,” she said. “I haven’t reached my athletic potential; that alone is what drives me,” Lang said.
Lang has managed to balance an intense schedule between cycling and graduate school. She rides her bike for an hour and half before school and works out every evening after class. “I feel like I constantly have to switch hats between the cycling world and the academic world, but I need both,” she said.
Cycling and engineering are both fields dominated by men. Lang is one of only eight women out of 58 students in the Structural Engineering Department's doctoral program. However, her experiences there have been positive, she said. “I believe women in technical fields can bring unique perspectives to problems not considered by males,” Lang said. “And it takes a confident, intelligent woman to step up and voice that perspective.”
Gil Hegemier, professor at the Jacobs School and chair of the department of structural engineering, served as Lang’s advisor and says that most female graduates from the Jacobs School have gone on to achieve success in the professional world. “She is able to project herself nicely and she is very articulate,” Hegemier said. “If she were to teach, I think she could walk into a state or federal agency and secure funding.”
He added that he has always encouraged Lang to pursue her Olympic dream. “This is something that comes around once,” Hegemier said. “I suspect if she didn’t take a shot at this, she would really regret it.”