Life on 2 Wheels: Sarah Rawley and the mountain bike ‘lady shredders’
Special to the Daily
Editor’s note: For countless Summit County residents, a bicycle is more than a machine — it’s a lifestyle. Every week during the summer, we’ll ask our most adventurous residents, “Where has your bike taken you?”
Often to the chagrin of their far-away families, there are a whole lot of county locals who’ve managed to build careers out of their intense passion for the outdoors. It means a quasi-nomadic lifestyle that’s anything but ordinary, but it is certainly part of the appeal for athletes based in the Central Rockies.
Summit Cove’s Sarah Rawley is one of the fortunate few who has successfully blended her wildly abundant passion for mountain biking with an entrepreneurial spirit, and, more importantly, a huge emphasis on developing an interactive community for women’s biking.
Rawley, 29, helps coordinate the VIDA Mountain Bike Series, with 10 different clinics and special events designed to help boost women’s riding skills, not to mention build a new generation of hardcore female riders living up to the “lady shred” lifestyle Rawley espouses.
Through Mountain Grown Marketing, her local communications and events planning company, Rawley has also been able to turn her well-established love of riding into a career.
“To have a job that’s aligned with my passion is wonderful — I love to be immersed in it,” she says. “I kind of stumbled into racing in college as a way to be adventurous and explore the outdoors, and also something to fuel that competitive spirit.”
A native of Portland, Oregon, Rawley moved to Fort Collins in 2004 to study technical journalism at Colorado State University. A year later, she decided she was interested in getting involved in collegiate-level mountain bike racing but says her first two events might have actually steered her clear of the sport entirely.
“We were up in Beaver Meadows, close to Wyoming, and the home team usually puts together the most difficult course possible to make all the other teams suffer,” Rawley says. “I had just gotten my first full-suspension bike when I went home that year and I thought it was great, but it was actually probably a 32-pound clunker. So I lined up and headed out on flat pedals.”
Rawley was out pre-riding what was indeed a very technical course, making her way through a complex rock garden stretch with the team coach right behind her, when things fell apart.
“I thought it would be easiest to just let go of the brakes and try to get through it and I landed on my face,” Rawley says. “I got up quickly and hoped that nobody saw it and kept going. The coach caught up and when I told him what happened, he said, ‘This girl is a real mountain bike racer.’”
Rawley took second at that first race, earning her a pair of orange Bolle sunglasses — a prize she treasured at the time. She went to Grand Junction the following week for a second race, and there, her rookie luck ran out.
“There were not so many smiles and laughter after that race,” she remembers. “I did very poorly and that was so hard and so demoralizing, but I also loved it. I guess it helps partially being a glutton for punishment.”
Happily, Rawley learned from her experience and came to love mountain-bike racing so much during college that she was able to land a job after graduation with Golden-based Yeti Bicycles, where she worked putting on biking events.
“But my heart led me to the mountains, and after five years working full-time I took a step back and decided I wanted to create my own path,” she says. “And since Summit County was close I relocated here.”
Over the years, Rawley has continued to work with Yeti on its Tribe Gathering bike events. She’s also served as a brand ambassador and done some research and development for the company’s Yeti Beti line of women’s bikes.
Locally, Rawley and a friend founded the Beti Bike Bash clinic and event series in 2010, which has now expanded beyond the Rockies to the Phoenix area, plus events in Vermont and Minnesota.
“We saw the need in our community and are starting to see it all over the country,” she says. “We recently had 400 women at an event in Castle Rock, including 100 junior girls. That’s the fire right there: You see those young girls and you remember what makes us want to develop the sport.”
Rawley still rides as much as she can, opting to use the winter season as “an excuse to the southern hemisphere” for trips that recently included a biking excursion in New Zealand. But, she says that she’s most happy to see the rapid growth of women’s mountain biking at all levels, including the emerging enduro racing movement.
“We have so many hardcore women riders here,” she says. “They want to charge hard, they’re motivated, and they’re not scared. Hitting a five-foot drop doesn’t have to be off-limits. And, the sense of community has never been as strong as it is now. We have a full community of women to ride with. I feel a drive to be part of that community, as these are the people that totally get it.”
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