I’ve been mountain biking since I was a child. I’ve always loved the freedom that riding has afforded me. The ability to completely let go and to be truly living “in the now” has always been more present for me when on my bike than at any other time. As an adult, mountain biking has taught me so much: diligence, perseverance, how to conquer my fears, and to rejoice in the simple pleasure of being out on a dirt trail, in the middle of nowhere.
This past year, I started racing downhill. For those not familiar with the growing sport of downhill mountain biking, I offer up the following summary:
To the uninitiated, downhill mountain biking is more akin to riding motocross than to riding other types of bikes – whether that’s a trail bike, dirt jumper, or road bike (yes, I ride all of these and yes, I DO NEED all of these different types of bikes). When I ride downhillI, I wear a spine and chest protector, elbow guards, knee pads, gloves, and a full face helmet with googles. The terrain at a downhill park varies widely – from smooth, bermed trails to trails that go straight down the fall line, littered with rocks and drop offs, to trails that have been purpose-built for jumping. Of course, to ride downhill, you first need to get up the hill, and that’s where lift access has really transformed the sport. In the sport’s infancy, we used to have to push our bikes uphill (exhausting!) for each run. Now, on a typical Saturday morning in the summer, I pull in to the Northstar ski area parking lot, pedal a short distance, and hand my bike over to the lift attendant, who loads it up for me. Then I ride the chair lift up, and get geared up and ready for the descent.
Given this type of description, my non-mountain bike friends (admittedly, there are few) tend to ask: why would you intentionally hurtle yourself down a hill at top speed, through terrain that is inevitably going to result in some type of catastrophic crash? My answer is simple, and always the same: because I love the sport. It makes me feel alive. I love the exhilaration. I love sharing incredible moments with my husband and friends. I love the feeling of accomplishment after getting down a particularly tough track, or after hitting the six-foot drop that I had been scared of the previous season. I love spending my free time outside. I love the sense of community that mountain biking provides, and all of the amazing people that I have met who share my love of the sport.
Downhill mountain biking is not without its’ risks, of course. I’ve had plenty of friends who have had very serious injuries – ruptured spleens, broken ribs, fractured vertebrae. I’ve been quite fortunate with riding, and have never suffered injuries like these. I did crash last August, which resulted in a broken hand. A few years back, I crashed and ended up with a bunch of hairline fractures in my shoulder joint. My husband broke every single toe in his foot last summer during a crash, and just broke another one this past weekend. But these injuries have taught us something important too: the power of staying positive, of working hard to get strong again, of overcoming fears and obstacles.
It probably seems odd that I’m writing about downhill mountain biking on a blog about my job, but in truth, everything that I have learned through the sport transfers to the work that I do with ILLUME. There are times when projects are difficult, or a task seems impossible. From mountain biking, I know that if I stay positive, recognize my limits, and then challenge myself to push past those limits, well…anything is possible. My experience riding downhill is proof of that. I never thought that I’d be a racer. I REALLY never thought that I’d be headed to the US National Championships in just six weeks.