Where did the time go? Four years of school are already coming to a close. It seems like just yesterday I was signing the papers and driving across the US to my new home in Missouri. Ever since then it has been a whirlwind. My college experience has been a tornado of opportunities whizzing by me with no time to think and only time to act on the things that have been most important. Over the last four years I have longed for the day that I would get my diploma and I could finally stop rushing from one place to the next. Now, as I walked out of my advisor’s office after signing up for classes for the final time, I began to cry. Four years are coming to a close. Four years that have shaped me, tested me, and led me to the place that I am today.
I headed into my final collegiate mountain bike national championship with more nostalgia and desire than I ever even thought possible. I’ve changed a lot over the past years, both on and off the bike, but my journey to 5 national champion titles was nothing if not unusual.
When I came into college as a freshman, I was a full blown triathlete. I was swimming on the swim team, running for the track and cross country team, and cycling for the mountain, cross, and road team (not to mention pursuing a double major). My freshman year I didn’t even attend mountain bike nationals because it interfered with my triathlon endeavors. Thanks to the Clif Pro Team, I was steered toward the bike and over the next 3 years I would slowly narrow the focus to knobby wheels.
I showed up to Collegiate MTB National my sophomore year as green as ever and I got on the podium in the short track and then shocked myself with a win in the XC. This was one of the first times that I understood the vision. I was a mountain biker and I was gaining confidence in myself.
Junior year I showed up to Collegiate MTB Nationals with something to prove, I wanted to prove it to myself and to everyone else that I could do it again and that my presence on the MTB scene was here to stay. Junior Year I doubled up on titles in the STXC and the XC event.
A collegiate cyclocross national champion title, a couple World Cups in Europe, and representing USA at World Championships later, I was back on the collegiate MTB start line for the final time.
This year as I stood on the start line I couldn’t help but look back at my growth. Even on the start line, I was blown away by the transformation I had made. No longer unsure, scared, or cautious, I wanted the title more than I ever wanted it before. I wanted this title for The Process.
On a rainy and cold Friday, the whistle was blow and we attacked the mountain in Missoula, Montana. I took command of the race from the start leading up the climb for over 20 minutes. I may have wanted the win a little too badly. After about 20 minutes I found myself off the front with one other girl. I wanted to find a better rhythm so I let her lead into the single track. As we climbed together I made a crucial mistake and ran into a stump. I desperately tried to clip back in as she attacked up the climb. I was now chasing. For the remainder of the race I was on the hunt, chasing for a title that I had visualized winning so many times. I crossed the line in 2nd. I was beaten by a Canadian attending an American University to add to it all. I should have rejoiced at giving it everything I had on the day, but I felt heart broken. It is so hard to admit disappointment, especially when you do every possible thing in your power, but on some days someone else completes a more perfect race. As I stood in the finish shoot in a daze, having difficulty believing what had happened, my family, friends, and coach greeted me with the same zeal that they would have if I had won. It was in that moment that I realized my support crew was behind ME, and not just the winner of the event. I think it was in that moment that I knew that I had to do on Sunday.
On Sunday, in the constant rain and mud, I lined up for my final event of the weekend. I stood on the start line and looked up at the finish banner. I was relaxed because I already knew this was my race and I was going to win it based on experience. Experience is a thing I have in my pocket now, that I didn’t have 4 years ago.
The whistle blew and instantly there was a group of 5 of us. We would race the entire race in that group. After taking a few laps at the front in order to demand a pace, I found my spot in second wheel. I knew I could respond to any attack that was made. The whole race different girls were throwing attacks, but no matter who was at the front, I was calmly 2nd wheel. My coach, Chris Mileski, told me before the race, “You’ll know when it’s time to make your move.” 3 laps to go, 2 laps to go….and it just wasn’t time. With one lap to go there was an attack, and then a counter attack and as we neared the top of the climb mistakes were made, but not by me. I entered the descent first. That 20 second descent felt like an eternity as I composed myself, and prayed, “Dear Lord, Please help me to sprint to this finish like I have never sprinted before.”
We left the trees and it was 100 yards of double track straight to the finish. In my last collegiate mountain bike race, I won my first ever sprint finish to become the 2017 Collegiate Short Track National Champion!!!
I won by 1.2 seconds and got the biggest adrenaline rush of my life. As I sat down in a puddle completely exhausted I was descended upon by friends and family rejoicing on my behalf. It was the perfect end to my collegiate story.
I won that race with all of the tools I gained over the past 4 years: patience, tactics, mental tenacity, and fitness.
I am so thankful for the integral role that so many people have played in my journey over the past four years and thanks to the Clif Pro Team, my journey doesn’t end. I am thankful that they have encouraged my collegiate journey, and now I am ready to dive head first into the World of Elite Racing.
I am sure that the learning and changing will never end.