MSU Cycling members keep succeeding through lost racing season

Cycling team keeps winning tradition

MSU Cycling members keep succeeding through lost racing season

Cyclists are versatile athletes by definition, combining strength, balance, and endurance with skill and determination. Cycling is both recreational and professional.

Add educational and therapeutic, too, if you’re talking about the 2020 Midwestern State University Cycling team.

Pablo Cesar Cruz saw MSU Texas as his land of opportunity. He wasn’t sure about what he was planning to do before meeting coach Charlie Zamastil and learning what the university offered educationally in addition to its tradition-rich cycling program. Cruz is glad he joined the championship program five years ago after a run as a professional in Spain. And for Bridget Reilly, it was a chance to meet a diverse group of student-athletes she calls her “best mates from across the globe” after she arrived at MSU Texas from Australia.

Cruz, Reilly, and the MSU Cycling team had prepared for a season they hoped would end with national championships, only to see it halted by COVID-19. That hurt. MSU Texas won first place in the abbreviated conference season, a campaign cut short before the scheduled championship race in Wichita Falls. But medals and trophies didn't replace the experience of a promising spring season. Zach Gregg was a returning national champion, and Zamastil felt this was one of his best units and one that never had a chance to get fully healthy and kick into high gear in 2020.

“The team is resilient, and while we were left heartbroken, we will channel our frustrations into training even harder and faster for next season,” Reilly said. “I was looking forward to watching Pablo’s last nationals as a collegiate rider. But at the end of the day, it is just a race, and I’m glad USA Cycling is taking the precautions to keep their athletes safe.”

Cruz has taken that lost opportunity at nationals in stride. And so has the team, which had to break up its group sessions to ride individually. They recently started making deliveries for community members. If it can be delivered on a bicycle, the team is happy to help and requests for help can be made by email.

“I’m in the master’s program (in Exercise Physiology), and I knew it was my last season, and I was committed to it,” Cruz said. “It was my last time to compete for the school, and so it was kind of a bummer. We had a really strong team this year. I’m very grateful for the cycling community in Wichita falls, and coach Charlie. He’s been a big part of my life.”

Zamastil had many volunteers when the team began offering deliveries. “For years, the Wichita Falls community has supported us, and this is our way of returning the favor,” Reilly said. “It’s helping us get miles on our legs while helping out where and when we can.”

The team cut out group sessions in March, wanting to decrease the chances of a crash and needing medical help or hospital space to recover. There were benefits to having a lifestyle that works well with social distancing.

“We can do trail riding and ride around town,” Zamastil said. “Being able to exercise is super important for your well-being, and what has been great is just the support we’ve shown each other, our group of 12. We’ve had WhatsApp group meetings and a Zoom meeting.”

But even though they’ve made the best of it, Zamastil felt a sense of loss.

“I’ve personally struggled with it, and I’ve told them that it’s OK to feel things and be able to seek help when you need it. Let’s do this together and you don’t have to feel hopeless,” Zamastil said. “And it’s good to get out riding and get fresh air.”

Zamastil noticed the community has felt the same way about getting outside, warning trail riders that “it’s pretty scary and you have to be careful around those corners.”

Reilly said she’s made a game out of running and riding with an app called Strava. “It tracks your workouts, and you can follow friends and like and comment on your friend’s workouts, similar to the social side of Facebook. Some friends and I have been setting workout routes so we can ride or run a segment and try to dethrone each other to claim the top time for that segment. It sounds a bit lame, but the feeling of being dethroned is painful and makes you want to stop what you’re doing, suit up, and try to take back your crown. It keeps our competitive edge intact, which could be lost when training in isolation!”

Reilly testifies that crashes can happen. She recalls her introduction to MSU Cycling. “I’ve been riding since I was 14 when I was introduced to triathlons, but I had never raced bikes. My first race was 2019, and it took three races to have a nasty crash, and it completely wrecked my one-of-a-kind bike, which I’d had since I was 15.”

She suffered a concussion, was devastated, and did’t touch a bike for a year, she said. Zamastil had to recruit her again. “Charlie flashed a fancy red team bike, and I was back in the saddle,” Reilly said. “I’m grateful for the community MSU Cycling has given me. It was daunting to come to a place, not knowing anyone. The team is incredibly diverse, so I get to be best mates with people from across the globe.”

And she’s survived the terrain around Wichita Falls, a lost spring season, online classes, and is striving toward a December graduation with a major in sociology and a minor in criminal justice. Along the way, she’s captured memories not only for herself but for others at MSU Texas as a photographer for The Wichitan newspaper, too.

“Riding the back roads of Wichita is comforting; constant COVID-10 updates can be overwhelming; and getting away from the screen for two or three hours at a time, taking in how green everything is, and seeing all the new foals and calves brings me back down to earth,” Reilly said. “Most of the criminal justice classes for the minor were online, so the transition wasn’t a big deal. However, one or two classes online per semester is a walk in the park, but when every class is online, it feels like you’re drowning in due dates. I’m so grateful for my professors – they’ve had to completely restructure the semester and are simultaneously sending messages of encouragement each week, throwing all their support behind us.”

Cruz said coach Zamastil’s influence and enrolling at MSU Texas changed his outlook. “I never thought I’d come to college, and after high school, I had four years off. I learned I could come to school and enter the exercise physiology program. I could put all my experience I have in sport into science, and that got my attention. Dr. (Frank) Wyatt has helped a lot.”

Cruz plans to continue racing. “It’s a part of my life, if I’m not riding, I’m not happy,” Cruz said. “I’m still training for USA Cycling races, maybe not the same volume and intensity as during our season, but it’s good for my mental health.”

Cruz was employed at the Redwine Wellness Center, but with its closure, he found a way to help on the university’s maintenance crew. He said everything “worked out fine” with his transition to online classes.

He’s satisfied he joined MSU Texas and MSU Cycling. “I think of all the experiences, very good experiences, fighting for national championships. A lot of learning experiences here. It was a big change and super hot when I got here for Hotter’N Hell (Hundred, the annual bike race in Wichita Falls every August). That was a big change.”

The changes kept coming. And so did the victories.


It’s not the way the team had envisioned winning another conference title – by mail – but if someone was going to keep score then MSU Cycling was glad to be in first place when the season was called.

“It was super disappointing,” Zamastil said. “We had a small team of 10 people in one race. We were in third place behind A&M and UNT. But going into Oklahoma, we killed it. We won practically every race we started except for a time trial and we were second, third, and fourth.”

Cruz won the individual omnium there and finished first in the conference in Men’s A. Pavle Kalaba, his teammate was second. And MSU’s Sharome Burton was first in Men’s B, and Rodrigo Quezada was first in Men’s D. Dominque Shepherd and Bridget Reilly of MSU were second and third, respectively, in Women’s C.

Cycling team delivers

MSU Cycling team delivers to community on bike

Pablo Cruz wins conference

Pablo Cruz of MSU Texas wins conference title
Pablo Cruz of MSU Texas wins conference title

Related Links

Cyclists deliver for community
KAUZ story and video on MSU Cycling team
Zach Gregg wins nationals in 2019
Flashback to 2019 championship for MSU Texas