Welcome to The Jammer Show
by Jenna ‘Jammer’ Kowalski
So what’s the story with the girl who calls herself Jammer?! She talks about herself in third person, hashtags everything on Facebook with some sort of ‘jam’ reference, and has created an insane amount of nicknames for herself based upon her own nickname. Well, folks, it’s your lucky day, because starting today, and every Thursday, your Cycling Illustrated feed is going to be ‘jammed’ to the max, and if you don’t get it now, I promise you will in a few months.
“Your parents must be so cool, I mean, who names their kid ‘Jammer?!’” Well, yeah, I think my parents are cool, but, c’mon seriously, who does name their kid ‘Jammer’? Nobody. They didn’t. Sorry to disappoint, but I do have a real name, and it’s Jenna Kristine Kowalski. Terribly unexciting, I know. Anyway, I digress.
Now this is a story all about how, my life got jammed, endo-ed upsidedown. And I’d like to take a minute, so just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I became a cyclist in town with polluted air.
In San Luis Obispo, born and raised, on the dancefloor where I spent most of my days, spinning out, stretched, plié-ing all cool, jamming to tunes outside of school, when a couple of guys (my brother), they were up to no good, started riding bikes through the neighborhood…
True story. However, I won’t write the remainder of it to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air tune. I grew up as a competitve dancer from the ages 3-16. In high school, I was ‘too cool for anything’ and thus didn’t do a whole lot of anything. Until, one Sunday afternoon, my big brother thought it would be a brilliant idea to hop on a mountain bike with 6 inches of travel, having never pedaled a day in his life mind you, and ride up a local trail in 90 degree heat, to make it about 20 minutes before passing out. My immediate reaction, besides laughing so hard I peed in my pants (not uncommon), was to say ‘UH! No fair! I want a bike!’ So, I convinced my mom to take me down to a local bike shop, where I bought my first whip, a Raleigh M16, sounds dangerous, but really just your run-of-the-mill hardtail mountain bike with a so-called ‘adjustable suspension fork.’ After only a handful of rides in the dirt, and at least a dozen over the bar ‘I HATE YOU BRANDON!!!!’ moments, I was committed, and ready to take off the training wheels. With a family trip planned for Northstar Ski Resort, I knew the hardtail wasn’t going to cut it, so I shelled out the big bucks, and purchased myself a Specialized Enduro. Needless to say, that would be the first of many bike trips to Northstar, and certainly not the last dirt-crusted toothy smile.
So, to fill in a few blanks between 2004 and now, I began racing downhill mountain bikes in 2005, found some success and a stars and stripes jersey at the expert level, adopted the nickname ‘Jammer’ and a few bad habits after traveling around the country with all guys. In 2007, I made the jump to racing with the big girls, but found that more often than not I wanted to go home instead of going big. Instead of either, I went to college at Cal Poly SLO, was somehow convinced to race on skinny tires in 27 degree weather in San Diego, and in 2009 decided to shed the dirt for good and chase the lyrca clad dream. And what a chase it has been! Collegiate racing, while an amazing experience, would only be a pebble sized stepping stone in the path that I have chosen to pursue for the past three seasons. But a worthy pebble it was, and while at the time I didn’t realize, that my collegiate racing ‘frenemies’ from UCSB and UCSD would become my teammates and best friends. By joining forces, we were able to work our way through the demoralizing first year of elite racing with a lot of laughing, crying, complaining, and dancing. And repeat said experiences for the next two seasons.
Which brings me here. After three years of elite racing, I think I have it figured out. Or have I? Maybe I will never know, as I feel the itch for change like a fresh patch of poison oak on the shin. Perhaps, as it’s the ‘off-season,’ often a time of uncertainty and renewal after the end of season burnout, that I feel a need for something more than riding pavement. While I am not kissing my road bike good bye, I am hoping get back to the roots, literally. So, if you are out riding trails, and you hear racous laughter, hooting and hollering, be not weary of mountain lions, but a 5 foot tall, single-track slaying, strava record chasing, hammer head. You’ve been warned, it’s Jammer Time.