Two-time mountain bike world championship bronze medalist Willow Koerber Rockwell began the 2011 World Cup year at the top of her game, after finishing 2010 second in points. Her motivation to become the best mountain biker in the world that year crumbled, along with much of her sense of identity, when she learned she was pregnant on the eve of the first World Cup race in 2011 and would have to sit out racing.
After spending the 2011 season off the professional circuit, Rockwell gave birth to her baby Raven in the last hours of the year. Now she is once again in South Africa, preparing to line up for the same race where her world had been so shaken the previous year.
All eyes are on Rockwell going into the weekend, where she will show the world how far along she is on her goal to be the fastest mom on the planet.
This exclusive with Rockwell was published in the February issue of Velo magazine, which explored the most unique personalities in professional cycling, and was conducted while she was still pregnant. Rockwell discussed during her pregnancy that she had come to terms with some of the demons of her past and has learned the importance of tuning in to the enjoyment of the sport and embracing new attitudes. At the time, she thought that could be more valuable to her training and results than simply pushing herself physically.
She’s got a half-sleeve tattoo on her left arm, and she’s frequently posed for topless, racy photos — most recently while pregnant. She quotes Voltaire on her Facebook page, and she cites “soul searching and spirit questing” as two of the many things she loves about life. Though she was raised Seventh-day Adventist, she’s spiritual, rather than religious; a recent post on her blog referred to Goddess Oracle Cards and a hematite heart crystal taped to her right calf while she sleeps, to help with cramping. She loves hip-hop, and high heels.
Say what you will about Willow Koerber Rockwell, 34, but there’s no questioning that she’s done it her way. She’s nothing if not multidimensional.
In 2010 she finished on the podium of the world cross-country championship, and second overall in the UCI World Cup series. She learned she was pregnant at the height of her racing career — her husband is former world downhill champion Myles Rockwell — and she’s blogged about having the placenta cleaned, dried, ground and encapsulated into pills.
“Willow is one of my favorite people, but it’s hard to describe her,” said longtime friend, teammate and competitor Heather Irmiger. “She’s out there, but super grounded all at once. She’s very spiritual. She relies on things I can’t wrap my head around, things like crystals, and color therapy, and when you ask her about it, she’s very convincing about it working. Success is believing in yourself and your methodology, and she’s very confident in her methodology.”
Take, for example, the risqué photos she posed for, both for the CyclePassion calendar, and, to a lesser extent, for the October 2010 issue of VeloNews. Though the images wouldn’t have merited a second glance in a magazine like Cosmopolitan, a vocal group within the cycling community expressed outrage.
“I’ve made the choice to be authentic to myself, and that’s worth being judged for,” Rockwell told Velo. “If that brings criticism, that’s ok. You can’t make people who think being sexy is bad agree with people who think being sexy is fun. So what are you going to do? Please yourself. What’s the point of life, if it’s not yours to live?”