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Liberty cyclist rides to silver, gold medals at track nationals

Matsick races in the USA Cycling Elite Track National Championships in Trexlertown, Pa. (Photo byTrevor Raab)

Bethany Matsick, a graduate engineering student on Liberty University’s cycling team, never dreamed she would be a silver and gold medalist at this past week’s USA Cycling Elite Track National Championships.

A competitive swimmer through high school, she rode her bike recreationally with her dad, Todd, a former road and track cyclist, growing up, but she had never raced until her senior year at Liberty in 2019-20.

“I never really had any thought to race, as I had always done swimming,” Matsick said. “As a kid, most of the time I spent riding was back and forth to the swim club for practice and work, as a lifeguard.”

Last week, Matsick competed in the Elite Track Nationals at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center  in Trexlertown, Pa., just over an hour’s drive from her home in Warrington, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. She made quite a first impression at her debut in elite track competition, excelling in the high-speed races held on a 0.33-kilometer banked oval velodrome.

Matsick is entering her second year in pursuit of a master’s degree in engineering and her third season on the Lady Flames’ cycling team.

Matsick qualified first (in 3 minutes, 51 seconds) before earning a silver medal in last Thursday’s elite women’s pursuit final, completing the 9-lap, 3-kilometer race in 3:54.2. Her four-member team in the women’s team pursuit took gold in Sunday’s 12-lap, 4-kilometer race, winning in 5:02.95 by averaging nearly 30 miles per hour as a drafting pack of cyclists.

After arriving at Liberty in Fall 2016, Matsick considered joining the Club Sports triathlon team as a freshman.

“Swimming in high school was a huge time commitment, and I wanted a break from that intensity of training and wanted to make friends on my hall and focus on (academics),” said Matsick, who graduated with a B.S. in Mathematics in May 2020 and is now entering her second year in pursuit of her master’s degree in engineering.

But in Fall 2019, she heard about Liberty’s cycling team through Head Coach Dr. Timo Budarz, also a physics and engineering professor, when he spoke during a Convo Select.

“I decided to give cycling a try, and I loved it and it worked out great,” Matsick said. “The fitness side of things transferred over from swimming pretty well.”

Budarz, who earned a silver medal in Sunday’s 1-kilometer elite men’s team sprint, was pleasantly surprised to find an athlete of Matsick’s caliber, after first testing her VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can absorb and use during exercise) on a stationary cycling machine in Liberty’s Human Performance Lab.

“He couldn’t believe I was actually producing that much power on the bike, and saw that I could potentially have talent in cycling,” Matsick said.

Matsick won the first two road races of her collegiate career in February 2020 in Williamsburg and Newport News, Va.

“After that first weekend, I went from Category C to B the next weekend (in Raleigh, N.C.) before I won both of those races and went from Category B to A,” she said.

Matsick (on the middle podium, far right) with teammates after she received her gold medal on Sunday. (Photo by Kyle Helson)

In April, Matsick was named the 2020-21 Club Sports Female Athlete of the Year.

She credits Budarz for her rapid rise through the cycling ranks, and for smoothing her transition from road to track racing.

“He knows a lot of the science behind the training and he always has a lot of faith in me,” she said.

“It has been a blessing to be able to coach her to the top level of the sport,” Budarz added.

Matsick had considered pursuing a Ph.D. in math at another college after graduation. But when a graduate assistant position opened in one of Budarz’s physics labs, she was excited to learn she didn’t have to give up competing on Liberty’s cycling team.

As quickly as she has accelerated in her cycling career, the sport has helped her excel academically. She is on target to graduate next May and is planning to write her thesis on applying graph neural networks to trace human trafficking patterns.

Matsick (center) races between teammates in Sunday’s gold medal final. (Photo by Kyle Helson)

“The Lord really opened doors, and I continue to see God working in a lot of different ways,” Matsick said. “I am confident that this is what He has in store for me now, and I’m really excited because I love it.”

Matsick will compete in a couple more track events in Pennsylvania this summer to prepare for the USA Collegiate Track National Championships in Indianapolis in September.

In June, she raced in her first road time trial using a dedicated time trial bike at the USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., competing against a few members of the women’s cycling team who are representing the U.S. at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

She said she wouldn’t rule out contending for a spot on Team USA in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

“That would be a dream,” Matsick said. “I have no clue how quickly things progress, but I will definitely keep trying my best and see what happens. It’s definitely not anything that I would have expected even two years ago, but it will be pretty cool to see how everything plays out, and I’m excited for the future.”

Liberty’s cycling team from last season, including Head Coach Timo Budarz (red helmet) and Matsick (beside Budarz, third from right), hosted a weekend road race and time trial on campus in April.