In the photos, she appears poised. Dark hair with dark eyes. A distinct edge.
It may be state of frozen time or the art of the photograph. It may be all the things she couldn’t do — not having enough money to take the pre-college exams, for example — have been turned into something she can do now, and can do well.
Priscilla Calderon was recently photographed for the Rapha Women’s range. She works at a bike shop a few shifts a week, and goes to dental hygienist school. She is a Cat. 1 bike racer on the brink, as she’s recently signed on with a small pro team in Los Angeles, California, named La Sweat. She wakes up to ride at 5am or churns the trainer after work, if that’s all time allows.
Put simply, Calderon is a racer; she’s the kind with the mixture of talent and lack of time that results in a distinct urgency to get this done, right now.
“I was kicked out of my home when I was 18 years old, right out of high school. College wasn’t really available. To take the SATs (college entrance exams), that costs money. And we just weren’t able to afford anything like that,” Calderon explains. “Eighteen, on my own. Working 40-plus hours and just doing dumb stuff. Drugs, alcohol, that whole thing.”
Ultimately she lost a friend due to the drink, and that was that. “It just broke me up. I’m better than this. I need to not do this,” she says. “At the time I was dating this guy, and he was like, ‘you need to get your shit together. Do something.’”
That something was a bike. She began riding to work. Calderon admits she should probably have seen a counselor to talk some things through, but she didn’t have the money. The bike is where things were worked out. “It was me, the bike and the road and I could get lost in my thoughts. And it worked out great,” she says.
The owner of a shop taught her the ropes and next thing she knew she was a racer, shouting into the hot Southern California night and bumping around in the closing laps of a crit race. “I knew by doing these races and competing and winning — that’s the whole goal of bike racing, is to win — I needed to not drink. I needed to not do the things that I was doing,”
Now it’s a matter of time. She’s 30, but doesn’t want to be racing into her late 30s. “I feel like time is not on my side. That’s just me and my personal goals. I don’t want to do this when I’m 35. If I’m 35 now, I want to look back and be like, ‘I was pro, I did this I did that, now I have a career… I need it now, in the next couple years,” she says. “When I’m 35, I can make the money I want to make, take the trips I want to take and I can take my bike with me, and my husband and I can go and explore Europe on our bikes – because we both have careers.”
Any time a rider pushes all her chips in, the gamble is coming up with nothing to show for it — same as anything else, really. For Calderon, it’s a bet worth making. She’s missing the concerts and some of the family gatherings. She’s chided for going to bed at 9:30pm. All in the name of a buzzing crit, hoping for a bigger win now, a bigger win later.
“If I don’t make it, I’m fine with that. But I don’t think I can live with the ‘what if.’ Right now my diet is crazy. I’m doing everything I can with training. With rest. With everything. Doing everything right. So I know that if at the end of the day if I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it. If I don’t have what it takes that’s fine. As long as I know I gave 100 percent.”
In cyclists, in athletes, that push comes from somewhere. Inside or outside, a rider has the thing that pushes him or her past the moment of relent. For Calderon, it’s those who thought they knew what she couldn’t do. Now and then.
“They were like, ‘You can’t do that, you can’t do this.’ ‘This chick doesn’t have what it takes.’ You overhear some things… that kind of fuels my gut. Not only do I want to prove to myself that I can do this, I kind of want to make it big. Or when I have some amazing ride one day that those people who have shunned me and talked shit really – then I would be happy. I would be content within myself. And I would drop the mic and be like, ‘I’m out.’”