Why I’m Leaving Professional Mountainbike Racing
A few of you may have heard that I’m retiring from professional DH racing. Some of you may have even extrapolated that it’s due to my recent injury sustained at USACycling’s MTB national championships — a reasonable conclusion by any means.
But you’d be wrong. Fortunately.
I started racing downhill mountain bikes in 2012 and went pro in 2013. When I got my pro license, I remember telling my best friend that I had five years to accomplish my goals. “Why five?! You’re fast! Why limit yourself to five years?” and I responded that I wasn’t dumb — nobody can be an athlete forever. I’d seen that clearly enough in the snowboard industry and was hell-bent on never being the scarred-up 90-year-old pro who had never lived anything else.
Racing takes a LOT out of a person — especially the way I’ve done it. Physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, socially, spiritually, romantically. I gave it all I had, though, and I don’t regret any of it even a little bit… Not even how it ended. Could I have played it smarter? Sure. Would I have? Never. I’ll never wonder whether keeping my mouth shut would have made me more successful, because we all know it would have… But keeping silent would’ve also robbed me of the honor of it. Would crashing less have cost me less and given me more chances? Of course. But not going all-in has never been my style, regardless of the armchair quarterbacks who enjoy(ed) pretending that I‘m a sub-par rider. I took risks because progression requires risk and because risk is the price of admission to the only game I ever cared about: improvement. There was a debt to be paid for the love of this sport and I paid my dues, over and over and over again, in every way. To sacrifice relationships and opportunity and stability and conventional freedom is to be obsessed with the addiction that racing downhill was for me, but that sacrifice never made me a martyr; it made me better. It made me a more disciplined, more determined, more focused, more kind, more stalwart, more cutthroat, more hungry version of myself, and so much ‘more’ on so many levels. On every level. I sacrificed for that because it gave me a glimpse not only into how much I could be but what I could share with the world through my unique abilities. It was never about glory, but leverage — what change could I leverage with my efforts? From an environmental non-profit organization and getting more girls and women into racing in the earliest days to the cultural conversations we’re having now surrounding sexism, equal pay and podium girls, I knew I could do well and I knew I could build something better than just a reputation for going fasg. I was an opportunist of a different sort, I guess.
But as time wore on, I got tired of so much collateral damage. I was worn out. I started looking for the exits last year at National Champs. Then I did really well, and was back into it. I set my sights on bigger goals, more leverage; what had been “they can’t dismiss a National Champ” soon became “they’d have a hard time hassling a World Cup winner” and eventually, it was “they wouldn’t dare fuck with a World Champion”, ‘they’ being the hordes of critics and commentators who’ve spent the last five years talking about how angry/fat/ugly/slow/lazy/loud I am. But I never made it to World Championships in 2017 thanks to more politics, and then was seriously injured in October with a bad concussion and a hip fracture. So I swore 2018 would be my season. My YEAR.
And during that giveaway, I realized that real, quantifiable progress doesn’t require a ‘win’; true growth doesn’t need leverage. It never had. I realized a few other things, like how much money I’d spent on the supremely selfish and egotistical pursuit that is racing, all for… What, exactly? Why was I spending tens of thousands of dollars to break myself off in the pursuit of some stupid title nobody would remember in two years let alone ten? A worthless title in a niche sport suddenly becomes a whole lot more worthless when you can gather a small group of people able to change the lives of 200+ kids between the ages of 1–13 in less than three weeks with no prior planning. That has value. That is progress.
Unfortunately, I’d made commitments and plans and reservations for 2018; more than that, I still had a tiny bit of that vanity left, the desire to ‘show them’. But the hunger that kept me lucky and safe for so long was missing… And it cost me dearly. I was tired, so damn tired, and in March it cost me my left shoulder.
Three weeks ago, it nearly cost me my leg.
The exhaustion has been all-encompassing this year. I battled through the winter and spring and had breakdowns in front of my coach ‘for no reason’, then came back into the gym broken and battered after sleepless night. That same exhaustion manifested in a condition called ‘pulmonary fibrosis’ that was finally diagnosed after my crash in Tennessee due to the life-threatening pneumonia that saw me hospitalized in Knoxville… And left me with the destroyed shoulder. But I came back, because #goals. Or something. Something stupid and scary and careless and deadly. The definition of ‘blind ambition’, I think. Despite losing my motivation and knowing it would all end very badly when the fight disappeared, I figured I had the rest of this race season. As I lay here in my hospital bed writing this after my third surgery on the leg I just wrecked, it’s pretty obvious that no, I did not.
But I’m not unhappy. For the first time this year, I’m not completely fucking miserable. And I think if you crush the shit out of your leg, end your racing career forever, have multiple operations with many more ahead and you just feel total relief that you‘re finally free again, it’s a sign that you probably should’ve stopped racing a while ago regardless of whatever commitments existed. *shrug* So here we are. And I’m okay with this. I’m okay with leaving pro DH — I never accomplished what I wanted to anyway. Would I have? Who knows? Who fucking cares?
Now I get to give away more bikes. Seriously. 300 — 500 this year. I get to finish a cookie book benefitting NICA and Little Bellas and be more than just some stupid persona on the stupid internet. That’s what that bike giveaway changed for me — I don’t have to continue putting my body and life on the line in an effort to ‘legitimize’ the changes and progress I’m pushing for; no amount of nonsensical, fake ‘legitimacy’ is ever going to be enough, because the bike industry and world at large constantly move the goalposts in order to keep women chasing some nonexistent ‘standard’. They dismissed Rachel fucking Atherton when she spoke out at MSA a few years ago after 1, posting the same speed as Danny Hart and literally going the fastest in the combined fields and 2, becoming the winningest athlete in cycling. If they can dismiss someone with THAT (along with multiple world champs titles and perfect seasons), they would definitely dismiss and denigrate me… And I’ve known that since I was featured in mainstream media as a first, second and third-year pro and yet completely ignored. So why would I continue racing at extremely high costs if I’ve lost my love for achieving those specific things? The jerseys and the stripes and the titles? Did I always want them FOR ME? Of course. But there’s also a lot of ego involved in getting there and I just can’t see the point of jumping through the ridiculous hoops anymore and burning money that could go somewhere else. For me, racing became a useless waste of funds that could (and now will) go towards giving kids brand new bikes. How much stupid does it actually take to choose racing for an arbitrary, useless title when I could be pouring that valuable time and effort and joy into actually getting more kids on bikes, getting more women on trails and changing more lives?! I can still advocate for equality and inclusion, I can continue to raise awareness about diversity in sport (and business), athlete rights, concussion dangers, social justice, federation responsibilities and beyond. It seems a pretty simple choice to me now, but I guess I needed time to see it.
Racing will always be in my blood — it MADE me this person. It taught me that fear is a lie and that having people hate you just doesn’t matter. The track and mountain and bike and all of the racing stuff simply doesn’t give a damn about the stupid things we obsess about everyday. You have a timer, you have a track, you have tape and you have whatever preparation and skill you’ve put in, and then you have to confront your fears, jump into the unknown where you could get hurt and accept that you might fail (and fail hard!) and you take all of that and you say “fuck off, because I’m gonna go fast/push my limits/progress/change/adapt”. And you do, and you crush all of these terrifying things that shook you, and you dial in all of the chaos and you rein in your natural urges to flee or freeze or stop breathing entirely and you do the damn thing… And who and what I am now wouldn’t have been possible without racing, without confronting everything inside of me with all of that.
But now I don’t have to be the person who gets tagged into ridiculous arguments between idiots who don’t really give a damn about sexism in sport or else they’d speak up themselves and stop asking me to do the dirty work. Now I get to ride my bike without dudes trying to race me on the trails or show off based solely on my name or reputation and now I don’t even have to ride my bike if I don’t want to. Now I get to be my own person again, 24/7, instead of some nebulous, one-dimensional caricature people project their insecurities and needs onto, and I get to tell them to fuck off without worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to beg my way into suspension or tires or chain lube again this year.
Now? Now I don’t have to pretend like I’m actually considering sleeping with product managers in order to get on a product roster in the first place for things I’ve earned, many times over. Now I don’t have to walk the fine line between ‘that cunt’ and ‘that cunt who seems like a bitch but actually is Down As Fuck because she plays so many different roles because this damn industry won’t even let a woman live’.
And now I get to live my way, the real way, and when the heavens fall, I can just turn my phone off and wander into the woods.
That’s why I’m leaving professional mountainbike racing, the bike industry and anything resembling ‘the bike world’ at all. It’s been unreal. 😉