BANNER ELK, N.C. -Carla Swart, a junior at Lees-McRae, has been hailed by VeloNews, a prestigious cycling magazine, as "the United States' best-ever female collegiate cyclist."
Swart is the first collegiate cyclist, man or woman, to win all four of USA Cycling's National Collegiate Cycling Association's disciplines in a single calendar year.
Dating back to last fall, Swart has won the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championship, Collegiate Track National Championship, Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championship, Collegiate Cyclo-cross National Championship, NCAA First Team All-Southeast Region in women's cross country and finished in the top 100 NCAA Women's Cross Country National Championship.
Born in South Africa, Swart moved to the United States when she was 15 years old. She came to Lees-McRae to pursue a career in professional cycling, and she saw Lees-McRae and Head Coach Brian Sheedy's program as an opportunity into professional cycling.
Not only does Swart excel in the athletic arena, but she is an outstanding student. Despite the rigorous training routines and travel schedules, Swart boasts a 3.61 cumulative GPA.
"I hate getting anything less than an A, so sometimes I feel like I am compromising training just to get some extra school work done," Swart said. "In four months, late August to late December, I competed in four national events. I hardly ever get a weekend to enjoy just being a student - most weekends of the year I am traveling to compete in cross country running or some form of cycling, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love traveling and seeing new places. It is always fun to experience new courses and new things."
Swart's amazing run began in May 2008 at Collegiate Road Nationals in Fort Collins, CO, when she finished first in the road race and fourth in the criterium, a finish great enough to win the overall omnium title.
The streak continued this semester when she capped off the amazing run in a span of four months, winning three national cycling titles, a women's cross country regional title and a top 100 finish in the national cross country meet.
In September at the Collegiate Track Nationals in Colorado Springs, Swart won the 2k pursuit, match sprints and the omnium for a second overall title. She also finished in second place in the points race.
October also proved to be a successful month with Swart winning the cross country race, short track race and the omnium for her third overall first place finish at the Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals on her home turf in Banner Elk.
In November, Carla got off the bike and ran her way onto the First Team All-Southeast Region at the NCAA Southeast Regional Cross Country Meet. Her sixth-place finish led the Lady Bobcats to a first-place finish, advancing them to the NCAA National Meet. At nationals in Pennsylvania, Swart finished 92nd out of 189 runners to give the team a 23rd place finish.
To finish out the exceptional season, Swart got back on the bike in December to win the Collegiate Cyclo-cross Nationals in Kansas City.
"I have had a great year," Swart said. "I am truly blessed and really excited to take advantage of the opportunities that I am getting."
Swart didn't set her eye on the four-discipline sweep until she earned her second win at track nationals, gaining momentum heading into mountain bike nationals with the home course advantage.
"After winning track nationals, I set a goal for myself to try and win all four nationals events," Swart said. "Cyclo-cross was the one I was worried about. I knew that this race was the last one I had to win in order to reach my goal. I also knew the chances of me being able to repeat this goal would be slim to none. I wasn't too confident in my riding as I had taken some time off after Mountain Bike Nationals to run in the cross country regional race and national race with my team. I only had two weeks to get ready for cyclo-cross, and during that time I got sick. I would have to say that I was very lucky to win. Without the support of my coaches and teammates, I am nothing."
Growing up in South Africa, Swart's bike was more of a means of transportation rather than an instrument for competition. She never rode competitively before she came to Lees-McRae, but instead just for enjoyment.
"I think one of the greatest reasons for my success is that I truly love riding my bike," Swart said. "I have been presented with some of the most amazing opportunities. Not many women my age are presented with the opportunities that I have been offered. I am truly blessed."
Swart made some adjustments this semester that she feels has helped keep her fresh and give her body time to recover between events and practices of two different sports.
"Last year my training was very intense," Swart said. "I ran, rode twice a day and weight trained four days a week. On weekends I was racing. But this year I backed off on my training and allowed my body to recover. It seems as though that worked out well for me. I think if it wasn't for the amount of school work I have to do, I would find myself over-training again. I guess I learned that sometimes, less is more."
Swart will take the semester off from Lees-McRae to pursue her professional cycling career racing in Africa and Europe. She has currently signed with two professional cycling teams, a domestic professional team in the USA called Lip Smacker's Pro Women's Cycling Team and a UCI Continental team called MTN that works in part with the South African National Team.
"I have been very fortunate to be offered spots on these teams," Swart said. "MTN has asked to extend my contract with them until 2010 in order for me to train for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India. I will be in South Africa as early as February and will be going back and forth racing for both teams."
"Carla's hard work and dedication make her a great athlete" Sheedy said. "But it's her desire to be the best and her killer instinct that make her a true champion. These things cannot be taught. It is a privilege and honor to coach such an extraordinary person. Her accomplishments over the past year have never been equaled in the history of collegiate cycling. It's exciting to think that this is only the beginning of her career as a cyclist."
"This is a tribute to Carla's hard work and determination," head women's cross country coach Craig McPhail said. "Carla's work ethic is unbelievable, and she can achieve anything she puts her mind too."
Swart's remarkable run has earned her the Lees-McRae Athlete of the Fall of 2008, a new award, partly inspired by her achievements. Her run has put her in the history books, not just Lees-McRae, but USA Cycling. Her dedication and passion for cycling will continue to carry her across the globe as she moves through her career.