by Mariah Parker, Multimedia Editor
To some, the tale of sophomore Eva Wilson sounds like an underdog story: arriving at Warren Wilson with little background in mountain biking, the New Hampshire native returned from Collegiate Nationals on Oct. 30 with a national title under her belt. Now, Wilson tells the Echo her inspiring story and looks ahead to the future.
Q: So when did you start mountain biking?
A: Well, my dad’s been biking since the ‘70s or ‘80s. I would ride with him every once in a while when I was little. It’s funny. My mom told me that once, when I was two, my dad took me out in a burley [small passenger trailer]. He crashed, and the burley got turned upside-down, but I just giggled and giggled.
Q: (laughs) That’s cute. What about when you got older?
A: I road-raced in high school, but they didn’t have a mountain biking team. When I visited Wilson and found out that they had mountain bike team, it was a huge draw; not many colleges have such a well-funded team. I knew that if I came here I would definitely do mountain biking.
Q: Wow, so you came here having barely mountain biked before? That’s crazy. How have you seen yourself grow as a biker since joining the team?
A: When I started, I didn’t really have the confidence to go through particularly technical sections or do drops (a big step-down). I’ve definitely gotten more confident going hard, and now I can do things I had never even dreamt of doing.
Q: What’s mountain bike training like?
A: The schools we race against have huge blocks of time to train, but we have to work three hours a day, which makes things more complicated. I ride every day during the school year, but as a team we ride from 4:00 until 6:30 every day except Monday and go to races pretty much every weekend.
Q: Speaking of races, let’s talk about the big race: Nationals.
A: Collegiate Nationals were held at a ski resort in Angel Fire, New Mexico, which is about two hours from Albuquerque. There were teams from the University of Vermont, Fort Louis College, a bunch of schools from Colorado, maybe 25 teams total. There were four events: for downhill, dual slalom, short track, and cross country. We flew in Thursday night and had to race Friday morning, so we cut it pretty close. When we got there, there were six inches of snow on the ground. We hadn’t trained in the snow at all that season. The elevation there is 10,600, so we were also a little freaked out that the elevation was going to bother us … shortness of breath, not feeling as powerful as usual, stuff like that.
Q: You flew in? How was that?
A: Pretty funny. We brought Halloween costumes because we were missing Halloween, so I was dressed like an ‘80s-cheetah-business woman on the plane. We were all wicked nervous on the way there because we knew we were about to race really hard and put ourselves through hell for a little while.
Q: How did you feel, personally?
A: I was so nervous, so nervous! My coach kept saying, “You’re gonna come back with stars and stripes!” but I also thought to myself, “It doesn’t matter. I’ve made it this far. I won the Southeast conference…” It’s better to go into it calm and excited for a fun ride.
Q: Did you ever think that you might come home a national champion?
A: Of course I wanted to win, but that was my dream, you know, so of course I didn’t go in thinking about that. Anything can happen: a bad crash, mechanical [malfunction]… But I also knew that I had won the conference in the Southeast division, which is the hardest in the country … so I felt really good about that.
Q: So you came to Wilson pretty new to mountain biking, trained really hard, and suddenly you’re the Collegiate National champion. How did that feel?
A: I didn’t even believe it, really. It didn’t sink in until a few days later. [After the race], I still didn’t know if I got omnium [first place in all events]. Then they posted the results on a wall and my teammates went up and looked for told me. When I got back to Wilson, the results were on the inside page and everyone knew.
Q: Did you receive a hero’s welcome?
A: Well, that’s pretty funny, too. Half of the team was on one plane and one half on the other. My plane got hit by a luggage vehicle while stationed on the runway, so we ended up stuck in the Albuquerque airport for another six hours. We didn’t get back until midnight or one, so my reception back to campus was me taking a shower and going to bed. The next day, I wore my stars and stripes jersey to class trying to get leniency from the teachers, but it didn’t really work.
Q: What have you been up to since then?
A: I’m doing a race over Thanksgiving and maybe a downhill race this weekend. I took a week off from riding because our coaches drove our bikes to New Mexico, and so it took a while for to get the bikes back. Mountain biking season is an intense eight weeks, so it’s good to get a break.
Q: Have you been offered any scholarships or sponsorships or anything?
A: Not really. I might have qualified for US Nationals in Idaho next summer, so I’m gonna keep training … After college, it would be great to get on a pro team and get paid to ride my bike one day. For now, I’m just really excited to ride really fun trails for leisure in the next few weeks.