Nick OntiverosI rode a bike sans training wheels for the first time when I was three. But because the tallest hill in New Orleans is man-made Monkey Hill (approximate elevation: 40ft), my early years were not filled with mountain biking. But all was not lost. Instead of dodging trees, I dodged tourists on the sidewalks of the French Quarter. Instead of descending mountains, I descended the levies of the Mississippi. Instead of bouncing over rocks, I bounced down the set of 16 stairs in Jackson Square. (And I learned to look both ways before crossing the street.)
At age 13, when my family moved to Taos, NM, I enrolled in an after-school mountain bike program where I received my first cycling award, the annual Field Institute of Taos Turtle Award. This award is given to the rider who, learning to ride with clipless pedals, spends the most time stuck on his or her back, still attached to the bike. Although I “turtled” multiple times, I remember with some discomfort the event that clenched the title. On a trail called Horse Thief (also known as Close Your Eyes and Hope for the Best) the rider in front of me stopped and I “turtled” into a cactus.
Two years later, I raced my first race as a Junior Beginner in Angel Fire, NM. After finishing in 2nd place I decided I was ready to race Junior Expert. I was not. 20 miles into the 30 mile race, I ran out of water. It was at this point that I learned that mountain bikers are nice people. Another racer gave me a water bottle so I could finish the race (in 3rd place because all but three racers quit).
This helped me understand what mountain biking is all about. And now, even though I really like to win, I try to gasp a word of encouragement to every rider I pass, never pass a stopped rider without making sure he or she is okay, and believe that sportsmanship is just as important as results. As a Pro rider, I am in a unique position to share my love of mountain biking and support riders new to the sport. I always try to hang out at the race venue before and after my race to cheer on the other categories and meet people. If you ever see me at a race, stop and say “hi.” I’m always happy to hang out and swap stories over a cold Santa Fe Brewing brew.
Now, 10 years, 16 bikes and more than 250 races after that first one, I have stood on the podium at Junior Expert, U23, Semi-Pro, Collegiate and Pro Mountain Bike National Championships. I have graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in Computer Science, started a graphic design and web development business, and travelled on four different continents. Along the way I’ve met tons of great people and continued to fall in love with mountain bike racing. And I only “turtle” every once in a while.