I started mountain biking (if you want to call it that) in 1988 in Norfolk, VA. There was an old trash dump behind one of the dorms (I was attending Old Dominion University) that we would ride. The “big hill” was around 30-40 vertical feet and I thought it was massive! I never thought I would be able to make it to the top without stopping to catch my breath! I still remember the first time I made it to the top, what a great feeling.
In the spring of 1993 I wanted a new mountain bike. Being a pro snowboarder who thought I should never pay retail for anything I tired to find a deal on a new bike. I met a KHS sales rep who told me to find a KHS dealer and join the Farm Team and I would get a bike for 10% below wholesale plus another 10% back if I went to five races.
As soon as I moved to San Diego I stopped by the local KHS dealer and he put me on the Farm Team and told me to come back in a few days and meet this woman who was also on the team. So a couple of days later I meet this tall woman covered in dried mud named Marla and we made plans to go riding. I remember thinking, “Walt said this girl is an “expert” so she thinks she pretty fast. I just moved here from high altitude (Aspen, CO) and I am a pretty fit pro snowboarder so go easy on the girl, I don’t want to hurt her self-esteem”.
On the way to the trail (some where in East San Diego) I was hungry and much to the amusement of this Marla woman I stopped at Taco Bell. She asked, “are you sure you want to eat that right before we ride?” Well, we got to the trail and she proceeded to kick my butt all over the place. She would be doing circles waiting for me at the top of every hill and say, “you’re doing better that most of the boys I ride with”. To this day I don’t know if she was telling the truth or just being nice. Getting my butt kicked by Marla really made me respect women athletes.
A few weeks later she asked me if I wanted to go to a race with her in Temecula. I replied, “sure, I should probably race expert because I used to race BMX”. She did her best not laugh and convinced me to try beginner first because I could always move up. Now I was really excited, I was going to win my first race! (at this point I have never seen a cross country race and think that everyone goes pretty hard on the climbs then coasts the descents while having fun and catching a little air).
So we drive Vidalia (Marla’s polkadotted VW camper) to Temecula, pre-ride the course and get some sleep. The next day I am shaking from excitement and nervousness while we register for the race. As my beginner class lines up for the start I look around and I am one of only two riders without shaved legs and the only one without clipless pedals. This is the beginner class?! A couple of the guys have calf muscles the size of grapefruits! The gun goes off and I have never suffered like this in my life! So much for coasting the downhills, this is a 12 mile sprint. I start near the back of the back and gain a little energy every time I pass a racer with shaved legs. I am so beat down from pushing myself so hard for an hour and a half that when I cross the finish line I don’t care what place I am in. Until this race the longest athletic competition in my life was the mile and half run during the Presidential Fitness Test in high school.
I ended up 13th out of 26 and to this day that is my proudest moment in sports. I didn’t have long to celebrate though. As it turned out Marla was having a great race too, she had moved into second place behind Factory KHS rider Mia Stockdale. Unfortunately Mia wouldn’t let Marla pass so an impatient Marla went for an off trail pass endoed and broke her collarbone.
Having never competed in an endurance sport I was hooked after this race. I moved back to Aspen that fall and continued coaching and competing in snowboard events but missed the endorphin rush of aerobic sports. The following spring I “retired” from snowboard competition and devoted my energy to mountain bike racing.
In 1995 at Marla and Toby Henderson’s urging “you aren’t going to get anywhere racing expert” I upgraded to the pro class. My first major race was the 1995 Vail NORBA National. There were over 150 pro downhill racers from all over the world signed up. I was practicing with all of the guys I read about in magazines and really not sure if I belonged in the pro class. With so many racers back then they had a qualifying run and only the top 50 qualifiers went on to the finals. I qualified 48th! I made the finals. This was a big boost of confidence and decided to quit my job and start racing fulltime.
Little did I know this would be an addiction that would leave me $6,000 to $7,000 in debt after every summer for the next eight years.
My coaching career started at Wisp Resort in Western Maryland where I was one of the snowboard directors in 1990. I coached myself and a few teammates who competed in the mid-Atlantic region.
In 1991 I moved to Colorado to train with team Breckenridge. The coaches were really good technique coaches but actually hurt many of their athletes’ mental game and self-esteem. The coaches would say things like, “are you sure you are a pro, that run really didn’t look good”. Having these lousy coaches was frustrating and made me realize I could do a better job.
The next season I trained with Nick Colavito in Aspen who was a much more positive coach. I was fortunate in that I learned both how to and how not to coach from these coaches. In late summer 1995 I was hired as the head snowboard coach of the Steamboat Springs Winters Sports Club. The winter Sports Club’s mission was to use sport as a metaphor for life and to help create happier/healthier human beings. With this mission in mind they defined success as doing your personal best (ie. not winning). This really fit my philosophy and I really enjoyed coaching the team.
I was in for quite a surprise when I found out how serious this job was. This was demanding full-time job (with a part-time salary) with a lot of pressure and late night phone calls from parents. It was also an extremely rewarding experience. Seeing kids grow more confident and having their parents’ thank you for helping them grow felt really great. During my three years there I learned a lot about coaching, took a lot of coaching courses from USA Skiing and Snowboarding eventually become a Level II coach.
During this time I was racing downhill mountain bikes in the summers and coaching in the winters. My passion for snowboarding was declining as my passion for mountain biking was growing. At the end of my third season I decided to move to Boulder where I could train all winter and start coaching mountain bike racers. That was in 1998 and unfortunately I found very little market for my coaching skills. I kept plugging away at coaching while racing and working as a bartender for the next six years until I was able to coach full time in the fall of 2004.