Olympics

My unlikely path to the Olympic dream

How I went from a late start in the sport to making the USA Cycling Olympic long team.

Editor’s note: Erin Huck is one of six women on the USA Cycling Olympic mountain bike long team. Former world champion Kate Courtney is assured a spot, and two U.S. women will join her in Tokyo. 

Mine was not the most auspicious start.

I started racing mountain bikes in my late twenties, and I didn’t exactly ‘burst’ onto the scene, quit my job, and become famous. Instead, I raced for fun and prioritized my career as a mechanical engineer.

I enjoyed the balance of racing and working; eventually earning a role as an engineering program manager, while also experiencing almost imperceptibly steady improvement as a bike racer.

So, needless to say, my goals didn’t include the Olympics. Not at first.

In 2012, after a strong performance at the national championships (top 10?), I earned a non-funded, discretionary spot on the world championship team. I jumped at the opportunity to fly to Europe and race with the stars and stripes across my chest for the first time.

I was in awe of the experience. There were fans all along the course. There was a team van, a warm-up area, a mechanic, and a soigneur (who thought I was a new under-23 rider, bless his heart). I was a part of Team USA for the first time and it was incredible.

That experience changed my trajectory, and planted the glimmering Olympic seed in my mind.

Fast forward to today. I am in Tucson, Arizona, entering the final day of a team camp for Team US-Slay — our nickname for the women’s Olympic long team. For the past six days, Hannah Finchamp, Chloe Woodruff, Lea Davison, and I have been training together.

Team US-Slay: (l to r) Chloe Woodruff, Lea Davison, Erin Huck, and Hannah Finchamp in Arizona.
Photo: Allen Krughoff

It’s been a mix of fun moonlight recovery rides and brutal workouts where we are focused on ripping each others’ legs off. And it’s all been with the goal of making the other rider the best she can be.

It’s an interesting concept; one that hasn’t been explored within the USA women’s mountain biking team before. It’s an individual sport, we compete against each other; why would we train together with the goal of making each other better?

I think it was Lea’s idea initially. The past year has been tough, to put it mildly. As athletes we rely on plans. We target events, create goals, and work towards those goals. As the events got postponed, then canceled, it wreaked havoc on our ability to perform as athletes.

So, Lea proposed that we take matters into our own hands. Let’s have a training camp where the focus is intense race-like efforts; let’s work together to push each other and become stronger. Her philosophy has always been that we have the rest of the world to race against. Why focus on racing against each other? Instead, let’s build each other up so that we are all more successful. Plus, it’s more fun!

And she’s right. Being a part of Team US-Slay has been one of the most special opportunities I’ve experienced in my life. Each woman on this team — Lea, Chloe, Haley, Kate, and Hannah — has been a part of making me the athlete that I am today. They have pushed me, congratulated me, consoled me, and occasionally ripped my legs off.

It is because of them that I am strong enough, confident enough, and capable of chasing my goal: to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. At the end of the day, we are all vying for the same spots. But I believe we share a similar mindset: may the best women go, and we will know that the final team represents the full team. Because we worked together, we can all share the success of Team US-Slay.