Written by: Chelsea Marie Hill
Play Hard Give Back (PHGB) and SheJumps – A series of interviews with professional female athletes giving back to aspirational women around the world…
Courageousness, crashes, confidence…not only wheels come full circle for Cyclists like Kristin McGrath.
After a monumental crash, she found racing as a way of healing her cycling spirit. Though retired, she is still in churning her wheels and teaching young women how to “get back in the saddle” when it comes to bicycles. Kristin McGrath, competitive cyclist, appears to never back down from a challenge, particularly it if comes from one of her 7-year-old bike bellas!
“Anytime a girl says, ‘I want to be faster than you!’ I become fully invested in making her goal a reality.” Kristin now works with Durango Devo Mountain Biking. She rides with Strider Bike Devo and the High School Mountain League Kids, freshman through seniors. According to McGrath, these students are “Sweet! They are a huge group of kids with wide range of ability. It’s sick! We have fun every day!”
McGrath also coaches second-fifth grade girls. Personal blows on the bike have actually helped Kristin to carefully coach beginners on how to prepare physically and mentally for jumps and long rides. “The girls will be nearly done with their ride, but their energy level is still so high! I try to harness it, and ride their energy wave. Recently, I asked them about Halloween Costumes – ‘what’s the best animal noise you can make?’ Before I knew it, they were howling like a coyotes down the steep hill through the main trails! They were passing hikers and everyone on the trails and screeching with joy!”
Kristin has worked hard her whole career and navigated arduous highs and lows, not only on trail rides but also in life. McGrath grew up in Durango, Colorado playing soccer and swimming. She pursued a degree at the University of Tennessee, but senior year dislocated her knee and could not tolerate any running. Thinking her athletic career was over she invested more energy into medical school; McGrath needed an organic chemistry class after graduation. Fort Lewis College in Durango, the leading school for cycling, offered the graduate a scholarship to cycle while she studied. McGrath has never looked back, signing a contract with a professional team, later that year.
Photo credit: Casey Gibson
2008 was her first professional year racing. She was invited on the US National Team and was immediately “thrown into the fire” of European racing. The roads were narrow, the peloton was huge, and the pace was very high. “There was much more depth to this race, drawing competitors from all countries. The race was right before worlds and everyone was riding so strong. I crashed out of the race…but I wasn’t discouraged.”
Her biggest crash came the following year when a woman ran a stop sign in Durango. McGrath was t-boned by a truck at 30 miles an hour. She broke her femur and ribs, and sought rehabilitation with a Sports Psychologist. Through patient work and baby steps, Kristin coached herself back into the saddle. “I would visualize riding outside with cars since I could not cycle on the road yet. Instead, I rode the trainer. By riding inside and doing visualization exercises, I could begin with calm roads and gradual increases. Honestly, racing was a relief because there are no cars!”
McGrath was approached by PHGB last year. Throughout her whole career she had worked a second job outside of training. “Throughout my career I always tried to give back. Cycling is a fringe sport. The money is low and I needed to work a second job outside of training. I also volunteered sporadically. I wanted others to know their dreams were always possible and deserved encouragement.”
“My whole platform is to motivate young girls. Therefore, when I found SheJumps, I instantly felt their values were close to my own. Any organization that is trying to get kids to play outside should be supported!”
Presently, McGrath is working with the organization In The Arena, a non-profit organization which supports athletes to give back to their communities. As a part of In the Arena, she coaches Durango Devo mountain biking as well as the Durango Nordic team. She loves cycling in the mountains around Durango, particularly the San Juan’s just North of town. “They are spectacular…and I’m lucky enough to call them my backyard.”
Now retired from professional cycling, McGrath is making a transition into a new career. She is pursuing her second bachelor’s degree in Nursing. Her dream is to work in critical care on a helicopter. “The helicopters in Colorado are responsible for searching the back country along with the normal medical helicopter transport duties.” Kristin continues to cycle with her students and plays outdoors in a myriad of ways, trail running, paddle boarding, surfing and skiing. To keep her body in prime condition, she still nibbles on Fuel and Flow all the time, her favorite PHGB snack because of the delicious candied ginger!
This brave biker was not always a queen of confidence. “Sometimes I felt pressure to be someone else…but I wish I could tell my younger self to ‘Just be you!’ because that is your best self! You are your BEST you! However, having confidence and embracing the parts that are uncertain, growing, or unfinished is the key.”
“When I look at my career, I got to represent my country on such amazing stages. However, it was the little reminders having nothing to do with my racing success that confirmed I was on the right path. It was little girls coming up to me and hoping to ride as fast as me that reassured me I was pursuing my dream and also giving back to the world. Towards the end of my career, I spent a lot of time struggling with ‘why does this matter?’” I was living at the Olympic training center, paid for by donations. I asked, ‘why does that selfish existence matter?’ What I took from it was ‘to be able to go in your life and be the best at something is pretty epic – I didn’t quite achieve that, but I was up there.’ That personal experience, the highs and the lows, gives me so much energy when I work with the kids to encourage them in WHATEVER they want to do! Whether it is biking… art, fishing, cooking…whatever they love, they should put their whole heart into it.”
Kristin did, and thanks to her heart and drive there are little girls crashing, giggling, and speeding their way toward successes and smiles.
Featured image photo credit: Brakethrough media, Jim Fryer