Swimmer today, cyclist tomorrow

by Rebecca Jensen

As a junior in high school, Mara Abbott (’08) was over-trained and unhappy. An avid and dedicated swimmer since grade school, Abbott had just discovered her natural talent in mountain biking. She spent a season traveling and racing for the MTB Chicks team while still swimming full-time. It was then that she realized that she “wasn’t happy because you can do two sports and be good but you can’t do two sports and be great … I wasn’t willing to compromise.” Abbott quit mountain biking to focus on her first love, swimming.

Some years later, Abbott is happy both swimming and riding for Whitman. In order to be happy, she said, “I have to make a distinction. From October first through Conference I am not a cyclist; I am a swimmer. The day after conference, I am a cyclist.”

It also helps that Abbott has found some clarity regarding her life plans: “I know that when I graduate I am going to be a cyclist.” Only in her third year of road cycling, Abbott has numerous collegiate and U23 national titles to her name and has been picked up by the prominent professional women’s cycling team, Webcor.

Abbott chose Webcor over other teams because their team values aligned with her own. Webcor supports her desire to finish college and remain active in collegiate cycling. The team also has mentors that Abbott looks up to, such as Christine Thorburn. Thorburn stood atop podiums at both the Olympics and Worlds while studying to be a doctor. She currently runs her own clinic while racing for the team.

Racing for Webcor will present another balancing challenge for Abbott. She described riding for Webcor as an employer-employee relationship: “If Webcor says that I’m going to do something, I do it.” She will be missing at least 2 collegiate race weekends to race for them around the country, but her values are still uncompromised. “They support me being in school … and they know that collegiate cycling is important to me and they want me to go to [collegiate] nationals.”

As a collegiate cyclist, Abbott is looking for more challenges. In her first year in college she won the road race and individual omnium at Collegiate Nationals in addition to contributing to winning the women’s team time trial and overall team title. In her sophomore year, Abbott went completely undefeated in the collegiate arena (save one conference race that she gifted to a teammate) by medaling gold in every event possible at Nationals.

“I wonder if there is a point at which I should just say it’s time to move on … but I love it. I love the experience of being on the team. It’s a ridiculously good time. So there is no reason not to do that.” Meanwhile, Abbott will be getting her challenge by racing with the Men’s A field this season which “feels like a better fit.”

Until the Conference Championships took place earlier this month, Abbott focused on being a swimmer. She said, “Nothing matters except for swimming. It’s such a pure experience … to see how fast I can swim.” Then on that following Monday, she became a cyclist again.