Steamboat’s Meg O’Connell helps CU cycling club win national championship
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs native Meg O’Connell did what she could with an injury.
She took fifth place at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Missoula, Montana, helping the University of Colorado-Boulder’s club cycling team win a national championship.
Primarily a distance runner, O’Connell needed a way to exercise with a torn hamstring. She started cycling since it uses different muscles and causes less impact on the hamstring.
Going into her one-year masters program in business analytics and cyber security at CU, O’Connell was already looking for a new, healthy social outlet, and the mountain biking team seemed like a good fit.
“Being a student, you don’t have a lot of free time,” O’Connell said. “If I can hang out with people and get a workout in, that works out way better. Mountain biking is an incredible way to do both.”
O’Connell opted for the endurance cross country discipline, one of the less technical disciplines of mountain biking because she doesn’t like “dropping off rocks.”
As a runner, O’Connell loves the feeling of exhausting her resources, finishing a race breathless. She’s run five full marathons.
“I always joke with my friends,” O’Connell said. “My favorite race would be to bike up to the top of the hill, get in the gondola and not have to bike down.”
Training for a mountain bike race requires no definite workout regimen, weightlifting program or anything else but mountain biking. Her love for the sport grew from riding her bike.
O’Connell’s placement in Missoula came as a pleasant surprise. She had stayed in the front of the pack through the first lap of a two-lap course and thought she had run out of steam.
“When I figured out where I was, I wasn’t sure I could hold it together the second lap,” O’Connell said. “I ended up having a faster second lap and caught a couple more people.”
O’Connell emotionally crossed the finish in fifth place, seeing the teammates she would join atop a podium in the distance.
“I knew it was my last collegiate race,” O’Connell said. “We started crying; we’ve all come so far. The pinnacle was that I had made improvements as a biker, and my teammates were all there for it.”
Despite holding her own in a field of elite riders, O’Connell doesn’t plan on continuing a competitive career. What got her into the sport was its community aspect and she encourages others to try it.
“Never be afraid to go on a mountain bike ride,” O’Connell said. “People are afraid that their skills aren’t as good, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to entry.”
O’Connell has started running once a week, but she continues to mountain bike, hoping to participate in events like the Steamboat Stinger, which offer both running and mountain biking races.
Now that her collegiate career is over, O’Connell is looking to find a job near the mountains, so she can continue to enjoy the sports she loves.
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