Mountain Biking Changed My Life

If I hadn’t discovered mountain biking, I’d be a very different person, living a very different life.

Have you ever felt like you weren’t good enough? Or that people would love you more if you were the best at something? Yeah, me too.

I used to suffer from perfectionism in every aspect of my life: I needed to have the best grades, be the best in band (yeah, I was a band nerd!), and be the best athlete. Why? I thought people would like me more and that I’d fit in if I was number one. Things have changed, though, and today I focus on doing my best, not being the best. I’m driven by personal growth, not a need to please others. And, above all, I’ve learned that when you work hard and do your best, sometimes you get what you were after all along. So what changed?

It all started with a single decision to show up and challenge myself on the bike.

I started mountain biking my junior year of college–and I went all in. This newfound passion gave me permission to abandon the status quo and set me on a trajectory I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. At the time, I thought I was headed down the same path as most people: get my engineering degree, get a job, get married, buy a house, have babies, and live happily ever after. And I started down that path, but a gnawing feeling inside me–one that mountain biking only amplified–hinted that there might be something more.

Collegiate cycling in both undergrad and grad school provided an amazing community for me to plug into at the start–a community that introduced me to a lifestyle centered around passion and the outdoors instead of the next paycheck or promotion. The more cyclists I met, the more I realized that I didn’t have to fit the cookie cutter mold. I wanted to travel more, see the world, meet people, and become a “real pro.” That was my dream, to get paid to race my bike and not have to work another job on the side to make ends meet. Moving to Boulder, Colorado, for grad school only solidified my plans–people there didn’t look at me funny when I said I wanted to be a pro cyclist. Fast-forward a decade and a lot of hard work later, and I can say with immense gratitude that I’m living that dream and have created a life far beyond my expectations.

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It all started with a single decision to show up and challenge myself on the bike. Again and again and again. One challenge after another, choosing to get on my bike, take risks, and try things I had never done before awakened a new level of courage and confidence. The way I viewed myself and what I was capable of changed because I was constantly outside my comfort zone–trying new races, restructuring my life to revolve around riding, and continually seeking personal growth. Starting line after starting line, my self-worth improved from the experiences, not just the results.

In addition to simply challenging myself to show up, I found strength in riding with other women, especially those who were more skilled than me. This not only helped me strengthen my technical skills and willingness to ride scary looking trails, but it also helped me move past irrational limits I had placed on myself. I can remember watching the guys ride a feature and, assuming (falsely, I might add) that they were more capable than I was. I’d talk myself out of even making an attempt. But in riding with other women, I discovered what I call the “I can do this too!” culture. I think it’s simply easier for women to see themselves as equals to other women. So when I’d see another woman ride a feature, it helped me realize that I could do it too.

Today, I no longer believe in the contrived notion that men are more skilled by default or have more natural talent than me. I busted through that mental barrier, unlocked my true potential and now, I love leading the guys down technical descents! My hope is that the “I can do this too” culture I’ve found though mountain biking extends far past technical riding to things like being an entrepreneur, a scientist, or a World Champion. I hope it inspires us to set big goals (no matter the subject) and actually go for them.

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The more I do, the more I realize I’m capable of.

Every time we challenge ourselves, a deposit is made in the confidence bank. For me, there came a point where I realized that the ceiling I built for myself could be broken. I started taking on the world’s hardest mountain bike stage races and with each race I won or completed, I wanted more. The self-belief started to snowball into other areas of my life. What if I decided to change careers, for example? I was still working as an engineer, but I wasn’t satisfied in my field. In fact, I never truly liked engineering, I just loved math, science, and being challenged. So, I jumped ship for a sales and marketing position in the bike industry.

Five short years later, I punched through another ceiling: I quit my marketing job, wrote proposals for and negotiated my own sponsorships, and hatched a speaking career talking about life lessons through my adventures around the world. The more I do, the more I realize I’m capable of and I am always hatching new bold goals for myself. Without the confidence I found through cycling, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

When I look at my body, I focus on the amazing things I do with it rather than its imperfections or the numbers on the scale.

The bike not only incubated a growing seed of self-belief, but it healed me in other ways. It taught me to be independent and, to this day, continues to nurture my own self-acceptance. Knowing I can race for seven days across an entire country, for 100 miles straight, or even just get out for adventures around my hometown is powerful. It is a reminder that I am strong and healthy. When I look at my body, I focus on the amazing things I do with it rather than its imperfections or the number on the scale. It’s helped heal the inner struggle with perfectionism and self-criticism. Now, I focus on being the happiest and most curious version of myself instead of being perfect.

Mountain biking has given my life meaning that extends far beyond race results; it’s taught me who I want to be and what I’m capable of. It’s plugged me into an incredible and supportive international community that makes me feel at home no matter where I am. My hope is that–in reading my story or challenging yourself to something new–you’re left thinking, “Hey–I can do this too!”

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