Shifting Gears: Law Prof Breaks Cycling Records

Berkeley law professor Molly Shaffer Van Houweling started competitive cycling in her 30s, and has since become a bit of a cycle-path. Last September, at 43, she broke the women’s Union Cycliste Internationale World Hour record, having already established herself as five-time amateur world champion in the UCI time trial and road race events. And this past Spring, she was in Aguascalientes, Mexico training on the velodrome to compete more this summer, and she did—winning the Northern California/Nevada time trial championship in June and the Berkeley Hills Road Race in May, a race she’s “tried and failed to win” for years.

“That was a special win for me,” Van Houweling says. “It involved attacking the field in the pouring May rain and then riding alone to the finish!”

And after all this, there are no signs of the air being let out of her wheels, which is impressive, since a cycle can be so … vicious.

“Surprisingly, riding on the track can put a lot of tension on the arms,” Van Houweling says. “After I broke the U.S. hour record in December, 2014, I felt like my arm was broken!”

Van Houweling has crashed twice on the notorious potholes of Grizzly Peak—and her worst injury was a broken elbow at the national championship race in Augusta, Georgia in 2011. She adds: “As bike racers go, I’ve been pretty lucky.”

What she likes about competitive racing, she says, is the comradery with other racers. She also loves that she gets to work with her husband, Rob Van Houweling, who is a political science professor at Berkeley. Rob, who had been a junior rider himself, got her into cycling in the first place, buying her a road bike when they were in graduate school. He now plays the role of mechanic and logistics manager, and helps her train.

Her academic life proves just as impressive as her cycling one. She’s Director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, has written for numerous publications, served as president of the nonprofit copyright group Creative Commons, is one of the leading experts on tech and intellectual property, and even clerked for Supreme Court Justice David Souter.

Van Houweling says she manages to do so much by blocking out time every day for training the way she blocks out time for faculty meetings and teaching classes. She’s fortunate to be focused enough to be able to switch gears from cyclist mode to teaching mode, working in unusual places, such as the basement of the Mexico velodrome, while waiting for track time.

“I think it’s healthy for everyone to pair their professional goals with personal goals—which might involve sports, another hobby, goals for family live, etc.,” Van Houweling says. Her advice to anyone who wants be successful in multiple avenues is not to feel guilty or conflicted about leading a dual life. “I think my bike racing makes me a better professor and vice versa!”

— Krissy Eliot
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