‘Do well with what you have’: The Alison Jackson philosophy

Alison Jackson is well known for her joyful TikTok videos, but has so much more to share than just her dance moves.

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Alison Jackson is easy to spot in the peloton, but even without the distinctive Canadian national champion jersey she wears, she would stand out in any crowd. She’s a positive presence in the sport, bringing joy through her infectious smile and dance routines through her famous TikTok clips. Her life philosophy of ‘do well with what you have right now’ makes her humble, content and very much in the moment but doesn’t slow down her ambition. The maple leaf jersey, Commonwealth Games and Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift are top of her list this season.

Jackson (née Farkash) comes from Vermilion in rural Alberta, Canada where her parents run a grain and bison farm. That meant a lot of hard work for the parents, and a lot of outdoor time for the three Farkash kids, of which Alison is the middle child.

“We were always outside,” she says from Girona. She’s wearing maple leaf socks and her curls are still wet from the shower after a ride that morning. 

“It wasn’t all fun and games though. It was expected of all of us that we helped on the farm. The worst chore was rock picking. I went out in the field and picked up the rocks the picking machine had left behind. If you plant crops and harvest them with rocks still on the field, the machinery gets damaged. Every year again we picked up rocks, and every year again there were new rocks,” she laughs. “I often wondered if we planted crops or rocks. I don’t know.” 

The now 33-year-old Canadian came late to the sport of cycling. She did all sorts of activities including ballet and dance, but bikes were not around in Vermilion – or at least not at the farm out of town.

“Maybe there were kids in town riding bikes, but most certainly not where we lived,” she reflects. “There weren’t any people riding road bikes or something when I was little. I was a very active kid though and did all sorts of sports. I got my first bike when I was 19. There was this man, Vaughn Cooper, a local Ironman guy and he founded a little triathlon group in Vermilion. He took me to a triathlon where I qualified for the World Championships in my age group when I was 18. I noticed I had some talent there.” 

Jackson has plenty of talent but like many triathletes she struggled with the swimming part of the sport. 

“I continued doing triathlon at [Trinity Western] University where I studied kinesiology. I ran with the University Spartan Athletics Team, cycled with the cycling club and swam at the swim club. After I graduated, I knew I wanted to be a pro athlete. At that time in 2014, I had competed at the Triathlon World Championships but also did cross country running at the University World Championships. I did realize that my swim was never good enough to make it into the elite ranks of triathlon,” she says. 

“It was a great community to be part of, because triathlon is a lifestyle. Everyone was welcoming newcomers into this lifestyle. In cycling everyone has their secret training methods,” she laughs. “There is a tactic behind that [secrecy] but it was so different.”  

Another big difference Jackson noted was the big disparity between men and women in the cycling world she joined. 

“In triathlon, males and females race events together and do the same distances. In cycling it was so strange to me that men didn’t know what was happening in our women’s cycling races and who the top riders are. It was a different world than the triathlon. The disparity between the two is so large in distances, wages and prize money! That was a strange thing to come into,” she says with a passion.

Jackson rocking the kit of her first pro team Twenty16.

That permanent switch from triathlon to cycling started at the BC Superweek races where she won a few races and podiumed a few times more in 2015. It landed her a contract with one of the leading American teams of the time.

“I got the offer to be on Twenty16 but I only had those results from BC Superweek. Despite that, they gave me opportunities and I took those with both hands. My best memory of that first year on the bike is with the Twenty16 team. We rode a four-days stage race on a car racing track. It wasn’t even a UCI race at all. We didn’t have a designated leader so everyone was allowed to create opportunities for themselves. 

“I remember that there was a small hill at three kilometers to go. The peloton hesitated slightly and opened up just a little. I dove into the gap, went on a four-minute super effort and just held off the bunch. No one knew my name but it gave the team and team management the confidence to give me more chances. On day four which was a crit race the team rode for me and I delivered the win.”

After her first year in the peloton in North America, Jackson tried to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro the year after but ended up first reserve. From 2017 she rode for teams including Bepink-Cogeas, Tibco-SVB, Sunweb, and has picked up stage wins in Route de l’Ardèche, Trophée D’Or and the Simac Ladies Tour. She has now found her place at Liv Racing-Xstra flying the colors of Canadian champion. It was a fast-track development into the top rider she now is.

Jackson wins a stage in the Simac Ladies Tour 2021

“Because I was an older rider coming into the sport, I didn’t have that development time of several years where teams let me experience races before expecting something of a result. When I came to Europe, I wanted to make it count. It was pressure I put on myself mainly because I want to win,” Jackson reflects. “My development was an accelerated approach. I took it seriously and [made] my learning curve pretty steep.”

The move to Europe – she now lives in Girona, Spain – didn’t feel like a big step for the Canadian champion. She is an open person and settles in easily in new places.

“I’ve never been super attached to one place because I want to experience what every place has to offer. Girona gives me a community. I love the bike riding here of course, but Girona is all about the people. There might be other places for the food or the riding but it’s the people that make this place home.”

If anything, Jackson is a people person, an entertainer. Jackson’s smile, famous from her social media presence, is infectious. She radiates a lust for life that’s almost gravitational in how it draws you in. Although she is quite new to the sport and perhaps lacks the experience a rider who started young might have, she feels she has a lot to offer to her teammates.

“I can mentor the other riders but maybe not in cycling itself. I can help them in the athlete/life balance because my life has not always been about cycling. I have this great life balance now.”

Jackson – who was raised a Christian and lives according to those beliefs – credits God for the place she is in now in both her professional and private life.

“I feel like God has given me many talents that as a whole make me who I am. I have a positive nature and can see the [positivity] or beauty of a negative situation too. That is my natural disposition and I know that not everyone is like that. That is a gift,” Jackson explains. “I also feel that my creativity is a talent from God. Sometimes people ask me where I get my TikTok ideas and I don’t know. They just happen and come out of nowhere. It’s one of those unique characteristics. I also see my athletic ability like sprinting as a gift. It’s a unique blend of talents that God gave me.” 

In cycling you see the occasional rider with a cross around the neck, or tattooed on the body. There are riders who make the sign of the cross before a race, but cycling is not a sport where religion is prominent. Jackson is not evangelical about her faith but brings it with her into the peloton by just being who she is.

“I don’t think of it like bringing my faith into my job. It’s not a conscious thing I do. It’s just that these are my beliefs that I hold to be true and make me who I am. It’s how I perceive the world. Hard or good times? There is a positivity that comes from me. I believe that the things I can’t control are controlled by a God who is good. 

“I see people in a way I think God sees people. There is such value in every human and there is something really interesting in everyone. I hope this comes across as kindness. It’s real and genuine interest in other people. Loving people is how I bring my beliefs into my career or my life,” she explains.

Defending the polka dot jersey in Simac Ladies Tour.

As a pro athlete she is ambitious but her life motto teaches her to be content with the place she is in at that moment as well. That might sound like a bit of an internal struggle, but Jackson sees the ambition and the contentment as complementary. It helps her overcome the hardships of the sport. 

“Do well with what you have right now, is my life motto,” she explains. “It’s about seeing the positive parts in yourself, whatever those are. I might not be 100% a sprinter but maybe 80%, and not a 100% climber but maybe 75%? Within that capacity I don’t wish for more, but I do the very best with what I have. That way you can be satisfied or proud with how you live your life or how you rode a race. 

“As an athlete, faith and ambition might not go together but I think there is a balance between being content and having ambition. You do aim for more out of yourself, to get that little bit more out of your God-given talents. For me this is a journey of self-discovery. What more do I have in me to give, or what more can I get out of myself?”

One of Jackson’s biggest ambitions was representing Canada at the Olympic Games, which she proudly did in Tokyo in 2021. Riding the first Paris-Roubaix [Jackson was 24th] was another.

In 2021 she also won her Canadian titles in both road racing and time trial. 

“I ticked off many goals in 2021 but that makes room for more,” she laughs. “I look forward to the Commonwealth Games and doing well there for Canada. The Canadian national championships are important because I love this maple leaf jersey. It’s in my home area [Edmonton]. It’s not been on the west of Canada yet and I am ambitious to compete in front of friends and family. I am also looking forward to making history in Tour de France Femmes next month. Women’s cycling is growing so fast in popularity and visibility.”

Jackson is a one-person publicity department all by herself with her now world famous TikTok dance routines. She knows that female athletes have to go that extra mile for publicity compared to her male counterparts.

“I always loved making videos. I asked for a camcorder for Christmas when I was a kid,” she explains. “I made school projects and created little drama pieces. When TikTok came out, I felt this app was made for me. I started in 2019 and without all the racing in 2020 I had so much time on my own alone. For my own mental health, I needed to laugh.

“I laughed at and with myself and wanted others to laugh too [in those difficult times]. As a kid I was already an entertainer. Bike racing in itself is entertainment. I like watching the riders who create the drama in races. I love being that entertainer as a bike rider, but also off the bike.”

Teammates often feature in the videos as do other Girona-based cyclists. The dance routines are equally popular with cycling fans as with those who have no idea. Jackson estimates that audience split to be about 50-50.

Not all teammates or Liv Racing-Xstra staff members are eager to take part, but there is always someone at hand to hold the camera.

Another belly laugh: “Some teammates love the videos but don’t want to be in them or dance with me. Valerie [Demey] and her partner Elke [Vanhoof, Olympic BMX rider] make videos too. We share ideas and get creative together. 

“I also made this video with Nathan Haas. He really wanted to be in it. I love that when others want to be in the videos. I already have a few ideas ready where teammates or friends can feature, without different dance routines. I also like giving our sponsors some love. It’s so fun when other athletes or different companies want to collaborate. That brings out more creativity.”

The little clips that look so easy to make often require elaborate planning – it’s not done in a few minutes on the team bus back to the hotel. For Jackson, the videos are a way to express herself and give that abundance of creativity a place to go. 

“That’s the interesting thing about dance. It gives me joy to dance but when people watch it gives them joy to be able to do it. It is maybe vulnerable to look silly but that’s okay.”

The clips always have a happy vibe to them. It looks as if there is never a cloudy day in Jackson’s life, but that is of course not the case. She however choses to share the joy – even if that joy is just a small part of that day or her life at that moment.

“I feel depressed sometimes too. People always see me as the happiest person alive. Normally this is 80% of how I live my life and who I am but there is the other 20% too,” Jackson says. “In 2021 I had a personal crisis but my social media were still positive. It was still authentic but it represented the 20% joy I had back then. The rest was sadness. What I show is always who I am, even if it’s not a full 100% of who I am at that time.” 

Being away from home when you experience difficult times is not always the easiest for riders who are not from cycling’s European heartland. With her life philosophy of taking genuine interest in other people and seeing the value in everyone, Jackson reaps what she sows in the hard times as well as the good ones.

“When I feel low, I have my best friends and my family. They invest in me and build me. I have a good balance and a good community, back in Canada and here in Girona. I surround myself with lots of good people wherever I am,” she says gratefully.

At 33, Jackson feels secure in her life, firmly grounded in who she has become. She finds comfort and strength in her faith wherever she travels and brings joy to the people around her.

For Jackson, that’s a good place to be, and it shows in her demeanor, and in her results. This dancing star of the women’s peloton still has a lot to give, on and off the bike – and eight years into her professional cycling career at age 33, it feels like it’s still just the start for the Canadian champion.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.