Trek World Racing’s Willow Koerber, who is four months pregnant, will be visiting her teammates at the Windham World Cup in Upstate New York this weekend.
Koerber, who found out she had was pregnant just one day before the opening round of the 2011 World Cup season in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa will be back in the team environment for the first time since April. She will be signing autographs and working on some of her promotional plans for the remainder of the year, including the completion of a book.
Singletrack.com recently caught up with Koerber to find out how things were going off the bike and with baby on board…
Singletrack.com: Literally a matter of hours before World Cup #1 in South Africa, you confirmed that you were pregnant. How difficult was it to decide not to race that day?
Willow Koerber: Deciding not to race was not difficult. As soon as I saw the test result the “warrior” switch went off. I felt responsible for new life and my safety as well. You cannot start a World Cup distracted in any way. You will crash, believe me — 100-percent focus is key. I had raced the week before at the South African national and finished second to Irina Kalentieva despite nearly passing out in the middle of the race. I had been tired all week. It wasn’t like I was feeling great and had to decide if I was going to win or not. It was nothing like that at all. It was maternal instinct kicking in immediately. I am proud to already be a good mother.
ST: You spent several weeks in South Africa prior to World Cup #1 in Pietermaritzburg. How was your season preparation going?
WK: My preparation was going very well. I knew exactly how to train this winter and I was looking forward to the 2011 season.
ST: The new season had you on a new team, Trek World Racing, with your focus on World Cups, the mountain bike world championships and, ultimately, the 2012 Olympics. Describe how that focus was helping to dial in your mindset and fitness to take on the world’s elite XC racers.
WK: Just knowing that I didn’t have to travel as much this year was a big relief. It’s hard to focus on the World Cups when you’re expected to compete in races across the U.S. as well. Last year I was so tired at the U.S. races, it was almost silly that I was there. It takes an extraordinary amount of effort physically, mentally and emotionally to be at the top in the World Cups. You need time to decompress and recover to do your best.
ST: For anyone, let alone an elite athlete preparing to race and with set goals laid out, getting the definitive “yes” on a pregnancy test is overwhelming, exciting, scary — you name it. What went through your mind?
WK: Shock, amazement, numbness. I continued to stay numb until I got home. It was very hard in every way you could imagine. I had to walk around like I was OK, and inside I was falling apart.
ST: Your child is due in December. Soon after the pregnancy announcement you mentioned that you were contemplating being back on the World Cup circuit the following spring. What are your thoughts on that now that you’ve had more time to think about things?
WK: My perspective on racing has shifted dramatically. My struggle with racing has been the lack of perspective. Racing was the center of my world and the center of my self-worth. That is way too much pressure to carry on your back. To sum it up, I used racing as a substitute for love. Now that that mess has unraveled within me, I can see that racing without that baggage will finally be fun. There was a reason I was always second or third, — I needed to win far too much. I can only imagine that amount of love that will be in my life. It has already increased. When I return to racing it will not be because I have to. I will be free of that, I already am. It will be because I am really freaking good at this, and because I want to kick butt after baby. That sounds fun.
ST: After announcing your pregnancy, you spoke to former world champ Gunn-Rita Dahle — who is now a mother and racing again. What do her experience and thoughts mean to you when contemplating a racing future?
WK: She told me that no gold medal or rainbow jersey compares to the experience of being a mother. That was enough right there to get the perspective gear to kick in. The fact that she still loves to compete was inspiring. She could have “comeback” way sooner, but her focus was on peaking for the 2012 Olympics. She had the luxury of a little more time. I don’t need time; I’ve had plenty. Coming back quickly excites me. I don’t need to train that much to be fast. Really, I think this is going to work out in my favor! If you can’t think like that you are lost. Believe me, it’s been a tough month. There is no point in being anything but positive.
ST: Your partner, and soon-to-be dad, Myles Rockwell, is a former DH world champion; you’re an accomplished cross-country racer. Any kicks from the baby? What kind of legs does the kid have?
WK: We joke that he is going to have a tennis racket, a baseball bat and a golf club to play with and that’s it. All I know is this love child is going to be amazing and he can do whatever he wants…
ST: Any weird culinary cravings during the pregnancy?
WK: For a while there all I could think about was salt and vinegar potato chips and chocolate cake — gluten free at least! I let myself have a little and then I was over it. I decided that was the key; have a few bites and then I would realize it wasn’t gold dust or anything.
ST: Prior to moving over to Trek World Racing, you were on the Subaru-Trek team, which was racing exclusively on 29ers. As you were prepping for the season on the new team, what bike/bikes were you planning on riding? 26, 29 or both?
WK: I was planning on racing the Trek TopFuel (26 full-suspension). The 29er does not have an engine on it. I made that bike fast. Last year I found myself in a few compromising situations where I wished I had a bike that fit me better. I was lacking confidence in a few technical sections. I chose to race the TopFuel with the mountain bike world championships in Switzerland in mind. That is the bike I needed to win.
That being said, I looked at the schedule for next season and the courses we are racing on are not very suited for a full suspension. With the Olympics as my main focus, next year I will be racing a 29er. From what I have seen and heard, the 29er is the bike for that course. I personally think that the race comes down to the rider — always. It is silly to take that away from the athlete. One of my main motivations to race a different bike this year was to have people stop saying that I was fast because I was on a 29er. There were plenty of other people on 29ers who were not leading the World Cup. I understand that this seems to be the topic of discussion in the mountain bike world, but really, a bike is not going to win the gold medal for you. What I like to say about any choice is that it is not what you choose that matters most, it is the energy behind your choice. Simply, if you believe in your bike, your bike will work for you.