Shayna was recently inducted into the 2022 North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame and had a tremendous showing at the Esports World Championships.
An interview with Shayna Powless.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live, and what do you do? What do you like to do for fun? Family life, that sort of stuff.
Hi, my name is Shayna Powless, and I’m a professional cyclist for L39ion of Los Angeles, USA Cycling-certified coach, member of the Oneida Nation, and Dreamcatcher Foundation co-founder. I grew up in Roseville, California, and reside in Jacksonville, Florida.
I am a 2016 UCLA graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and was a member of the UCLA cycling team and American Indian Student Association for four years. I co-founded the Dreamcatcher Foundation with my fiance Eli Ankou, a professional football player and member of the Dokis First Nation in Canada.
The foundation aims to empower Native youth through sports by providing camps and equipment such as bicycles, helmets, and footballs. The foundation also aims to raise awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) crisis in North America and raise funds for organizations actively fighting this crisis.
You can learn more about Shayna’s incredible cause, the Dreamcatcher Foundation here.
You’ll find Shayna’s website here!
What is your cycling story? When did you start competing, and what is your racing history? What is your most significant accomplishment racing on the road?
I started riding around the same time I started walking. At age two, I actually got off training wheels and did my first mountain bike race when I was four! My parents were both athletes and were the main reason I got into sports (including cycling) so early on.
My most significant accomplishment on the road is top 10 at the Winston Salem classic in 2019. For gravel, I was in 5th place at Unbound last year. My partner and I placed 3rd in the mixed category for mountain biking at the 2019 Cape Epic stage race.
What is your virtual cycling story? How and when did you get involved in esports? What is your most significant accomplishment racing virtually?
I got into Zwift in 2019 because it seemed like a lot of fun, and my coach encouraged me to for training purposes (particularly for hill training and structured workouts). I started racing virtually that year with Team TWENTY20 and a lot more the following year due to COVID and the lack of “real life” racing.
I also did a lot of Premier League racing throughout 2021 to mix in with the road and gravel schedule. I have never suffered more during races than on Zwift! I genuinely believe it has made me a stronger rider all around.
Tell us about your esports team. How has racing with your team prepared you for this moment? Is there anything unique about your team that has contributed to your success?
I raced for Team TWENTY24 both virtually and in real life in the past. Racing with TWENTY24 in so many different series and Premier League races helped me gain valuable fitness and experience that has helped me properly prepare mentally and physically for this year’s World Championships.
I’m currently a part of L39ion of Los Angeles, which doesn’t race in the Zwift Premier League. However, I still do races on my own for training and will hopefully join the L39ion men’s team doing the WTRL race series at some point.
For a frame of reference, how tall are you, and approximately how much do you weigh in competition? What is your indoor PB for Peak Power, 15-second, 1-minute, 5-minutes, and 20-minutes?
5 ft. 7 inches, 140 lbs
15-sec: not sure, but 5-sec is 916w, 1-min: 456w, 5-min: 331w, 20-min: 293w
What type of rider are you? Has your riding style evolved as you become more involved and successful in esports?
I am a punchy, sprinter, and diesel-engine type of rider. My riding style has definitely become more punchy and sprinty since I’ve become more involved in esports due to the constant, fast-paced races and typical bunch sprint finishes.
What is your go-to training workout, and why do you enjoy it so much? Has your training emphasis and philosophy changed to make you a more successful eracer?
My go-to training workout is a high cadence workout because I love working on rpm and pedaling efficiency. My training emphasis has changed to more climbing workouts and routes on Zwift since I can’t do any climbing outside here at home in Florida. However, my philosophy has remained the same: embrace the suffering!
What are your short and long-term esport goals? Do they involve qualifying and competing in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championship each year? What does that mean to you?
Short term: Top 10 at the World Championships
Long term: Qualify for and podium at future Esports World Championships
You have accomplished so much in esports. What is it that sets you apart from other virtual athletes?
I think just the amount of time and dedication I’ve put into the discipline. Virtual racing is its own discipline and it definitely takes time and experience to understand and perform well on Zwift.
I’ve been on Zwift since 2019 and it’s been fun to see myself progress each year. Though I’m very experienced, I’m still learning new things and am always striving to get better.
How much do you factor in the gamification side of esports? Is there a learning curve that you must master? How vital are PowerUps and other things unique to virtual cycling?
The gamification side is a huge factor in esports. It feels different riding on Zwift vs. in real life because the draft is very accentuated and you have to know how and when to use PowerUps. I think PowerUps are vital in order to keep esports fun and engaging.
They are essentially a huge part of the nature of esports. Other things that are unique to virtual cycling include the option to customize your bike and avatar, doing meet-ups, and joining events from anywhere at almost any time–all of which are extremely vital to keep esports convenient, fun, and exciting.
Do you feel cycling esports will ever gain acceptance as a trusted discipline and gain popularity as a unique discipline? What challenges does it face?
Yes, I believe so. Esports are on the rise, especially since COVID hit two years ago. It’s been fun to see the Zwift platform explode and become more competitive and popular. It’s also good to see strict verification protocols to make racing as fair and honest as possible.
The more fair and honest the racing, the more it will be accepted as a trusted discipline. I think the main challenges it faces include dealing with the occasional glitches that happen and accommodating more people using it as it gains more popularity over time.
Tell us about your setup. Where is it located, and what do you use? What steps do you take to verify your accuracy?
My setup is in my workout room, where I keep all my bikes and workout gear. My Wahoo trainer and bike happen to be set up in front of a vanity mirror so I can watch myself suffer;)
I always do the ZADA verification protocol every six months or when I receive new equipment to verify the accuracy. I also always wear a heart rate monitor and make sure everything stays properly calibrated and updated.
Some cynics and detractors don’t trust the legitimacy of esports. What do you say to those who question the integrity and ability for a level playing field between competitors? What challenges does esports face in becoming recognized as a trusted competition venue?
There are definitely many events that don’t require Zada verification protocol and therefore attract a lot of cheating. However, I believe the events that do require Zada protocol make the races legitimate and therefore more enjoyable to support.
I think the biggest challenge esports faces in becoming recognized as a trusted competition venue include enforcing the Zada protocol in more, if not all, races on Zwift to be an equal playing field across the board.
It would be tough to do since there are so many races and competitors on Zwift, so I think the root of the challenge would be figuring out how to implement a simple yet effective Zada protocol as efficiently as possible for everyone planning to compete.
Many of your fellow elite eracers have been publicly critical of the lack of standardization in esports. What is your view on the topic?
I think there needs to be more standardization in esports. When you have different platforms with different features and variables, it can make things confusing if you are utilizing both. Standardization is ultimately needed to keep things simpler and easier, especially if you are trying to compete at the highest level in esports.
You are deeply involved in cycling and how it relates to the elite esports scene. How has the landscape changed during that time, and where do you see it going?
I have seen more and more men and women from many different disciplines and racing backgrounds gravitate towards the esports scene. I know a lot of it has to do with COVID, but a lot also has to do with the fact that esports is such a convenient and efficient training tool that anyone can utilize. If the popularity of esports continues to increase, I see it becoming a discipline that is just as big and competitive as any “in real life” cycling discipline.
What is esports' future amidst the multiple platform landscape, and where would you like to be positioned?
I see esports becoming as big as any other discipline in cycling or as big as any other game available to the general public. It is becoming more and more popular, especially since the rise of COVID, and I truly see it becoming a mainstream platform as long as it continues developing at the rate it has been. I would love to continue being a part of the Zwift community for as long as I’m able!
Esports has come a long way in a short time. What do you envision it will be like in five years and further into the future? What will it take to get it there?
In five years, I see esports being just as big, if not bigger, than any other cycling discipline or sport. The accessibility and convenience of it allow anyone from anywhere to participate in it, as long as they have a bike, trainer, app device, and wifi. However, I think in order for it to get to that point, the equipment itself will need to become more widely affordable/available to the general public.
Okay, I need a juicy exclusive. Tell us something about yourself that none of your fellow racers or fans know about you? Please?!?
I enjoy video gaming, archery, and watching anime.
Thank you for sharing, Shayna!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!