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This past weekend was the Whiskey Off-Road, the first race in the Epic Rides Series of mountain bike events. There, I rode the amateur race, watched the pros, and talked to a lot of interesting people. Willow Rockwell (née Koerber) was one of those people, and she was in Prescott, Arizona because the race was dedicated to her. For each race, Epic Rides picks a notable person from the history of mountain bike racing to honor. Previous editions were dedicated to Alison Dunlap, Ned Overend, and Joe Breeze, for example. Rockwell won two bronze medals at mountain bike world championships during her career. Nowadays, she’s a mother of two and a Cosmic Artist and Intuitive Astrologer. Here’s an excerpt from my chat with the always energetic Rockwell on Saturday at Whiskey.
VeloNews: What did you think when Todd approached you to see if you’d like to be the person this race is dedicated to?
Willow Rockwell: It was actually interesting because Todd just sent me an email through Facebook. And he was like, ‘I have something to ask you about mountain bike racing.’ I did a message back and said, ‘Actually I’m so out of the loop with biking that I don’t know if I can help you.’ And he was like, ‘I think you can help me.’
We talked on the phone and he was just like, ‘We want to honor you as a legend in the USA world of mountain biking. I was like, ‘Well holy s—t, thanks so much. F—k yeah I’ll get there!’
VN: Had you talked to him before?
WK: It was a long time ago, either 2009 or 2010 in Vegas. S—t goes down in Vegas, right? I was having dinner with other people and then Todd came up and he wanted to pay me to come race the Whiskey.
I was like, ‘Oh nah, nah I’m a World Cup person, I can’t do the Whiskey.’ The schedule was so tight, you have to train for a certain length of time and all that stuff. And I was like, ‘No I can’t do it but thanks so much for asking.’ We had remembered we had talked, but that was so long ago, like seven, eight years ago.
But yeah so it’s kind of awesome. As soon as he presented it, I was like, ‘Hell yes, thank you so much. I feel so honored.’ Because I’ve been out of the scene for a really long time, raising my daughters.
VN: So this is the first bike race you’ve been to in years?
WK: Yeah in like seven years, since I retired. I mean I retired and I was done done. … That period in my life was done. My body said, ‘I can’t.’ I had a little baby to take care of. The energy wasn’t there. Honestly, if the energy is there, I’m going for it. If it’s not there, I’m not going to bang my head against the wall. It was pretty clear that door closed for me, and that there was something new for me to explore.
The last seven years have really been about raising my daughters … really appreciating myself for who I am outside of racing, or winning. Which is such a blessing. I wish that for everybody. And then even the young people coming up, racing or winning is not your worth. Your worth is invaluable. It’s way beyond that. If you want to do it because it lights you up, please do it. But don’t do it to prove to yourself to anybody else that you’re amazing or that you’re worth it, because you just inherently are. It’s your birthright.
VN: So it wasn’t a hard decision to come down for this.
WK: No, it wasn’t. Todd had me on the phone — he’s a pretty convincing guy. He was like, ‘We really want to honor your career.’ I was like, ‘Well oh my God, thank you. This is kind of random after seven years.’ It was an easy decision. Yes, I’ll be there.
I’m stoked, I’m having so much fun. It feels like the old days in a way because you connect with people you wouldn’t have met anywhere else and it’s kind of surprising. The people you find and connect with. The people that are like, ‘Hey you do have something to say. We do value your energy outside of racing a bike.’ And that feels really nice to me. I just think at the core, we all are that and we all have that. I’d like to activate that energy, I like to inspire in that way.
VN: Did you realize it would be like this coming down here?
WK: Yeah, it did surprise me, because I didn’t realize how many people, like amateurs and stuff. It’s huge. Which is sort of the core of things, actually. I think as a pro, there’s a tendency to think that’s the only thing, but mountain biking is so much bigger than pro racing. It’s a lifestyle. So, for me getting back into it it’s more like a lifestyle. My kids want to ride on a bike path with their mom to get ice cream. I can ride a bike — it doesn’t have to be traumatic and fast. Bikes are supposed to be freeing and fun, ultimately.
Rasputitsa gravel race raises $19k for Little Bellas
Vermont gravel race Rasputitsa did more than just challenge 1,300 riders with an epic, muddy, snowy course back in late April. The race also raised $19,000 to support Little Bellas, a Vermont-based organization with chapters in 13 states that works to get more girls outside on mountain bikes. Since 2007, 2,700 girls have ridden with the program. In part, Rasputitsa was able to raise this money with a raffle to give away a custom-painted Specialized Diverge.
La Vuelta al Huascaran to circumnavigate Peru’s tallest peak
If you’re a little bored with the same old mountain bike races in your region, perhaps it is time to take a trip to South America. Just make sure to pack your supplemental oxygen because La Vuelta al Huascaran will cover 115 miles with over 16,500 feet of elevation gain and two high passes over 15,500 feet above sea level. The two-day event, September 22-23, also offers a shorter “Tourism” category that will cover 61 miles, although still at very high altitude. Both routes circumnavigate the 22,205-foot Huascaran mountain.
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