By: Cindy Abbott, pro mountain bike racer.
I never thought I’d become a professional mountain bike racer.
The term “professional athlete” might elicit thoughts of billionaire NFL football players, Olympians, and superstars who are larger than life. But I am a professional athlete, and I am not larger than life.
My full-time job is not riding my bike; my full-time job is as an arborist. It’s a highly dangerous and tiring occupation, leaving little energy for the training needed to have a side career in professional mountain bike racing.
“How far can natural talent really go”, I continue to ask myself, as another workout opportunity passes me by. I crank out the miles as I can, trying to push my tired body as much as possible.
Finding the positive, I realize my work is at least a workout in itself, similar to a CrossFit workout people pay for; after all I haven’t been this fit since training for USAC MTB nationals in 2014.
What I’m getting at here is the fact that being a free agent professional athlete is challenging, especially in the bike industry, and especially as a female.
Cindy’s rig, a Juliana Strega, aka:"The Green Machine"
So, how did I get here?
If there’s a conventional path to racing mountain bikes, my path likely followed it. I was playing college soccer, and after 17 years of dedication to the sport I decided to quit and pursue the adventure sports that I had fallen in love with as a kid.
I started mountain biking 11 years ago and jumped right in with racing. My first foray into the sport was through an Xterra off-road triathlon. I quickly learned that I loved the mountain biking portion - and hated the running and swimming.
This discovery combined with my all-in nature, prompted me to sign up for my first mountain bike race at the 2008 Teva Mountain Games in Vail, CO. Yes, a Texan who was brand new to mountain biking had signed up for her first race ever with over 8,000 feet of climbing, high altitude, and the logistical nightmare of flying her mountain bike tightly packed in a box. Needless to say I barely got my bike put together in time for the race. Although I came in last place, I learned a lot about pushing myself past the pain in my legs and the burning sensation in my lungs.
Dropping a monster road gap in Bentonville, AR.
There were many more races like that first one, where I constantly found myself wondering, “Why am I even doing this?” Yet I kept pushing on, and did so over the course of 8 years, particularly in XC mountain bike racing, which was probably the most masochistic sport I have ever done, second to running.
Then in 2014 I won my first USA Cycling mountain bike national championship. It was at this point I started to wonder if XC mountain bike racing was still for me. My favorite style of riding was more like ride down this steep, gnarly stuff, really fast and meet your friends at the bottom for beers, rather than ride 25 boring miles until you cough your lungs out of your chest and meet your friends after for a protein smoothie.
It was right around that time when Enduro had taken a hold of the South, and everyone I knew was getting into it. Ahh, finally my favorite style of riding had a name- Enduro! So I traded in my spandex for baggies, knee pads, and goggles and I took a break from XC MTB racing for a couple of years to focus on riding my bike for fun, in addition to working on mountain bike advocacy for women.
Wheelie Wednesday with my awesome high school mountain biking team.
Then in 2017, being my usual all-in self, I signed up for as many Enduro World Series qualifier races as I could, with the goal of qualifying for the World Series in 2018.
I made the mistake of pushing the limit past my skill level with a terrible crash that cost me 11 broken ribs, internal bleeding, punctured lungs, and broken vertebrae. That gap jump nearly cost me the ability to ever walk again, much less ride a bike.
Thanks to a fairly quick recovery, I pushed forward to a wrap-up successful 2017 Enduro race season with multiple 1st place finishes (and a maxed out credit card from traveling the country for the races). Most importantly, I accomplished my goal of qualifying for the 2018 Enduro World Series.
I realize that I have some odds stacked against me, like being a Texan with little to no elevation to train with when other pro racers come from towns with significant elevation. And the biggest hurdle, the lack of financial resources needed to truly compete on the world stage. At times, it can feel hopeless knowing that I have the talent worthy of international-level Enduro racing, but might never get there due to the cost of racing at this level as a free agent. Time will tell.
Footage of the gap jump crash that rocked my season.
So, what’s next for me?
- Road tripping to California to race in my first-ever Sea Otter.
- Working to raise financial support for my upcoming Enduro World Series races.
- Racing USA Cycling Enduro Nationals.
- Continuing to support the Austin mountain bike community as a high school mountain bike coach, mountain bike instructor, and advocate for women’s cycling.
Racing my mountain bike has given me more than the opportunity to break all of my ribs in my body - it’s given me lifelong friendships, life lessons, travel, and an incredible journey that proves life is better on two wheels.
About Cindy Abbott
Cindy Abbott is a native of Austin, TX and has dedicated her life to adventuring in the outdoors! She started shredding the dirt on 2 wheels over a decade ago, and hasn’t looked back. She is a professional mountain bike instructor, director of a women’s non-profit mountain bike skills group, high school mountain bike coach, and advocate for promoting women’s mountain biking. Her favorite type of riding is anything with steep, rocky gnar or Pacific Northwest flow.
Although she has gained success as a professional mountain bike racer, she is also an established rock climber with over 15 years of experience as a professional climbing instructor. Whether on the dirt, in a tree, or climbing on a cliff, Cindy loves the joy that outdoor adventure brings, and hopes to share that joy with many more humans along the way! You can follow Cindy on her adventures over on Instagram.