Hi! My name is Ethel Karinen, I am currently a Junior in high school and have been racing mountain bikes for about eleven years. This is my second season racing in the National Interscholastic Cycling League (NICA), and my first season racing in the Varsity category.
This organization (NICA) develops mountain biking programs for student-athletes across the U.S. and helps support leagues for high school mountain bikers. I began racing in NICA races with the 906 Adventure Team last year and it has been a great couple years of learning and growing. I hope that by reading about my experiences, you will see what racing is all about: hard work, perseverance, and most importantly, just getting outside and having FUN!
NICA Race #1 Lowe’s Creek
The NICA season opener was held in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, at the Lowe’s Creek Recreation Park.
This year I moved from the Sophomore category to the Varsity category, the biggest change being that Varsity does three laps instead of two. Going into this weekend, I was told to smile and ride fast, and I planned to do exactly that, knowing that if you put in the work, the results will come.
However, racing always throws curve-balls when you least expect it, and well, let’s just say it makes for a good story.
Our team always pre-rides as a group on Saturday, the day before the race. After arriving at the venue, I headed out on course with two of the 906 Adventure Team coaches and the rest of the high-school racers on my team. If you read my blogs from last year, you’ll know that this course was definitely my least favorite, so going into the pre-ride I was trying to focus on the good that I could pull out of this course- and unfortunately not finding much.
About four miles into our first six mile lap, I came around a corner a little too lazily and hit a small root the wrong way, turning the left handlebar into the lower part of my abdomen. I hit the ground with quite a bit of impact and after sitting up, I saw one of my coaches, Todd, come around the corner. I began to get up and brush myself off, trying to explain what I thought had happened. I thought I was fine just a little bruised up, so I asked if we could keep going. Upon picking up my bike, however, we noticed that I had knocked my stem out of line with my tire. My coach handed me a tool to straighten it out, and as I began, I noticed that everything was slowly going black.
Suddenly, everything was spinning, and I couldn’t stay upright. I took a step back from my bike, falling into my coach who caught me as everything went black. After helping me to the ground, all I could hear was the ringing in my ears and in the blackness my first thought was why me? How am I going to race tomorrow?
After a few very scary minutes of ringing, spinning, and fuzziness, everything slowly began to subside, except for the pain in my stomach. I didn’t finish my pre-ride and was instructed to just rest, ice, and see how I felt the next day.
However, the curve-ball had not dropped yet. When loading my bike into the car, I noticed that the skewer wouldn’t come out of my fork. After trying many different things, a few coaches and teammates were able to pull it out, and that’s when we realized the whole bottom shaft of my fork was bent out of alignment. So, my fork was not race-able, to say the least.
I wish I could say that through all of this I was smiling and positive, knowing that it would be okay, but I wasn’t. Inside all I could think was my whole race is ruined, five hours of travel to mess up on a tiny root, you need to pay more attention, Ethel. So, sitting there looking at my bent fork, the whole situation felt hopeless. But, as they say, all was not lost. After talking to my older brother about my fork, it turns out that some friends that are also avid mountain bikers live right in Eau Claire, and might be able to help out. After showing them my fork, it was decided that it wasn’t going to go back to its original state, as the right tools were not readily available. But, they then proceeded to offer me one of their Top Fuels to ride. If you’re reading this, Parker & Jamie, you guys rock!
So, I had a bike to race the next day. The only question was if I would be able to perform, physically.
The next morning, I woke up extremely stiff on my left side, and my whole body was sore. I did my best to smile and after a couple hours and many strips of KT Tape later, I was feeling like I could get through three laps of racing.
10:30am: High School girls warmed up together, and nerves were kicking in strong.
10:50am: All the Varsity and JV girls go to staging, and I tried to focus on how I want to perform and receiving lots of encouragement from coaches and teammates.
11:00am: Ten minutes to start. National anthem. All I could think was just three laps, that’s all.
11:10am: Count down from ten. GO, go, go. Hold your line through the start, watch where everyone is.
After the start, everyone was grouped together in the two track, but about five of us were slightly ahead going into the single track. About halfway through the first lap, I was sitting in a strong group of five girls, and I knew that someone was going to make a move, and it was going to be soon. On the next two track section, two of the girls began to move out of the group, and I knew I had to stay with them. Unfortunately a group of three got a little ways ahead and I was sitting in 5th place. Towards the end of lap one, I passed one of the girls that had broken away, on the side of the trail with a mechanical. I was now in 4th.
At the start of lap two, I saw my opportunity to attack on the girl in front of me, and I took it. I felt okay, and I was going hard, thinking about how fast these girls were.
Middle of lap two: my abdomen was in some serious pain, and I kept thinking I want to come out of this knowing that I left everything I had on this course. Every time I turned onto double track, I could see 2nd place in the distance.
Faster, make sure your lines are clean.
Lap three: People yelling “she’s only twenty seconds up!” I hammered. I hurt. Towards the end of my last lap, I heard “she’s just around the corner, she’s only got sixteen seconds on you!” With very little of lap three left, I gave everything, just trying to close the time gap. I finished 17 seconds behind 2nd.
This race hurt me. A lot. But would I change anything about how the weekend went? No. Sure, it would have been nice to not crash, to not break my fork. But those are solvable problems. I would have missed out on a lot of learning if I didn’t experience the things that I did. Mistakes make you better, not worse.
I would like to end this with a special thanks to my mom, coaches, teammates, and Jamie & Parker McColl. This weekend really wouldn’t have been possible without you.
Thanks for reading! Onto the next!