MARA ABBOTT’s first sporting passion was swimming and although competent in the sport she soon realised she didn’t have what it would take to compete at the level she dreamed of.
By chance, and with a little encouragement from her peers, she took up cycling at college. The rest is history and she went on to forge a successful career in the sport. She has gone on to compete and win around the world and live the life of a professional athlete.
Here Mara talks to us about her cycling journey and where it has taken her as well as sharing more about her lifelong passion for swimming and more recent interest in yoga.
When did you start cycling and who were your biggest inspirations and mentors at the beginning?
I started cycling with my collegiate club team at Whitman College in 2005 – so probably the upperclassmen there were my first mentors (Laura Valaas, Jane Rynbrandt, Sam Johnson…) I didn’t really start with the intention of taking cycling professionally, so I didn’t have that mentor or goal in mind from the start… the process just sort of evolved.
My swim coach Grant Holicky from high school was probably my first mentor as an athlete, and in that regard he may have had more of an impact on me than anyone at a level of elite cycling. Similarly, watching the girls on the swim team in high school (Kristin Lahey, Madeline Rovira, Michelle Faurot) who were so committed and successful (I was committed, but not so successful) taught me a lot about how to handle myself as an athlete.
When did you realise you had a real talent for the sport and what were any early successes you had?
In college I was still convinced that I wanted to be a swimmer, despite any evidence that that was going to work out for me, but in my first year racing collegiately I won collegiate nationals in the road race in Lawrence, Kansas, so that was a pretty good indicator!
I remember my first big, big win was the Oak Glen stage at the Redlands Classic in 2007, I was floating on air with potential for probably a month after that. I think it was that race that made me believe what others had been telling me, that I could really have talent in the sport!
Tell us about Giro Donne* and how it felt to be the first ever US cyclist to win it?
There isn’t anything really comparable to the Giro – my dad actually got to come and see it last year because he spontaneously found a REALLY cheap ticket to Europe the week before. I was so glad that he did, because after the race he told me “There is absolutely no way to describe this experience.” He was dead on – there is no way to describe the chaos and the magic and the bizarre disorganisation and passion of the Giro. Winning it felt like nothing I can explain, nor may ever feel again. The closest to magic I have ever been in real life.
*the race changed management in 2013 and has been the “Giro Rosa” for the last 4 years.
What have been your other biggest successes in cycling?
I was the National Champion in the road race in 2007 and in 2010. I won the Tour of the Gila seven times, was on four world championship teams and placed fourth at the Olympics in 2016 in Rio.
Tell us about your swimming achievements and also your passion for yoga?
I never really had any swimming achievements to speak of – though I cared for it a lot! I swam for RallySport Athletic Club in high school (never managing to qualify for the big regional meet) and Whitman College Division III (never even getting to attend nationals!)
I began a daily yoga practice right at the end of college, so around 2007 or 2008. Since then I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing teachers, most constantly Shannon Paige here in Boulder. I’ve done four teacher trainings, and I don’t teach regularly but the community and the practice were something wonderful and important to me as an athlete!
What are you currently training for and what exciting competitions and projects are you looking forward to in the year ahead?
I retired after the Olympics, so I am done!