From competition to basic transportation to vacation travel, this Port Washington family is bicycling through life
It would be an understatement to say bicycling is important to Jeanne Kasza and Anthony James and their daughters, Emma, 11, and Reese Kasza-James, 9.
After all, bicycles were integral in the Town of Port Washington couple’s courtship — they met when James came to check out an apartment Kasza was renting out, and he spied her bicycles.
“We did a lot of biking together before we had kids,” Kasza said.
And their daughters, who seem to have the sport in their blood, have been bicycling “literally all their lives,” their mother said.
It doesn’t matter the type of biking — road, mountain or cyclocross — the family enjoys participating.
The family, members of Team Extreme, uses bicycles as transportation and recreation. Kasza rides hers to work at the Holiday Inn Harborview — James said he would but there’s no safe path between home and his job with FedEx in Brookfield — and the girls as a way to get to school and swim lessons and
everywhere in between.
They recently returned from Colorado, where James participated in the 260-mile Triple Bypass ride through the mountains, where he went through three passes at speeds reaching 44 mph.
Earlier this year he took part in the Dirty Kanza, a 200-mile gravel race in Emporia, Kan. Last year, he completed the challenging course in 9 hours, 2 minutes, and he hoped for a top 20 finish this year, but his bike broke five miles into it.
And Emma and Reese took second and fourth place overall in the Tour of America’s Dairyland youth cycling series — including a first place for Emma and fourth for Reese in the inaugural Race the Harbor event in Port Washington.
Many people ride bikes when they’re young, but not everyone continues to ride into adulthood. Certainly, not everyone has the passion for the sport that this family does.
James said he got into bike riding when he was in his late 20s and a friend invited him to go camping.
“What he didn’t tell me is that camping meant a mountain bike race,” he said.
The rest is history, as he continued to ride and race.
“I have a competitive spirit,” James said. “And I hate not finishing something I start. I either wanted to beat him or show I was good enough to go with him.”
Kasza admitted she has a competitive streak as well, but said bicycling for her is more about getting where she wants to go.
“I’ve been riding my whole life. For me, I’m just looking to get there,” she said.
She does ride in races, Kasza said, and then her competitive nature tends to rear its head.
“I try not to be last,” she said.
The girls began biking when they were just a couple years old, and they started racing about two years ago. Their dad encouraged them to join the IS Corp. junior development team based in Mequon last year, and this year they joined Team Extreme, which they said is more focused on mountain biking.
Asked why she likes to race, Reese said, “I’m a speed demon like my dad.”
Her eyes sparkled as she talked about traveling to the top of a Colorado mountain and followed her dad on the bike ride down, reaching speeds of 25 to 30 mph.
“It was so much fun,” she said. “A hawk was flying with me for part of the way.”
While Reese enjoys the speed of the downhill, her sister prefers the trek up hills.
“I like to think of it as my way to get stronger,” Emma said.
Her goal, she said, is to get strong enough to beat a Minnesota boy who laps almost the entire field at many of the races they participate in.
“I want to be up with him,” she said. “I am competitive. Every time I see a person in front of me, I make it my goal to catch them in the next lap. I always want to be the best.”
As much as she enjoys racing, Emma said, she likes the fact that biking doesn’t always mean racing and that, even in racing, there are different types of events.
She especially enjoys cyclocross events, which her father described as the steeplechase on a bike.
“I like that there are obstacles,” she said.
Her father said he’s converted from the sprint races of his youth to longer, ultra-endurance events, particularly those that involve natural settings.
“The longer the event the better,” James said. “I don’t have the fast-twitch muscles for sprinting.
“And I like to just be alone on my bike.”
For the most part, the family members participate in events that are close to home, and they train throughout the year. James has created a training room at their house that includes a computerized system that simulates riding outside in which they “ride” with others throughout the world — it’s like an active video game, he said — as well as a roller system that teaches riders balance.
He will sometimes jostle the girls’ bikes when they are on the rollers, James said, so they learn how to instinctively react in case they are ever bumped in a race.
Lest anyone thinks this family is one dimensional, the girls also participate in activities that include swimming, running, skiing, hockey and horseback riding, as well as 4-H.
“We love to be active and busy,” Emma said.
But bicycling has a special place in this family’s heart.
In keeping with her belief that biking is as much about getting places, Kasza said she’s always wanted to do a cross-country bike ride, and said it’s something she would love to do with her family.
And recalling a 2003 trip she and her husband took to Italy to train in the Pyrenees Mountains — “That was fantastic,” she said — she can also envision the family taking a trip to Europe.
“They’re old enough we could probably do not just a regular sightseeing trip but a bike trip,” she said.
“That’s my dream.”
Image Information: Bicycling is a passion shared by Town of Port Washington residents (from left) Reese Kasza-James, her mother Jeanne Kasza, father Anthony James and sister Emma Kasza-James. Photo by Sam Arendt