Mara Abbott '08

Mara Abbott won her second women's Tour of Italy on July 7, 2013. (Nicola Ianuale).Mara Abbott ’08 won the Giro Rosa bicycle race in Italy on July 7, 2013. The Giro Rosa is one of the most prestigious races for women. “I can finally say I managed to do it! Thanks goes to my team, the public and all those who believed in me,” Abbott said. “Now I’ll have an ice cream, pack my stuff and fly back home where I’ll celebrate with my family and friends. I’ll be back to the Giro to try to be the best once again and to feel the warmth of the Italian fans.”

Abbott already had many other cycling successes on her resume including winning the 2007 US National Road Title, winning the Tour of the Gila and representing her country at the World Championships, as well as being the first American to win the Giro Rosa in 2010.

Abbott started competitive cycling at a time considered to be late. Her main sport since childhood in Boulder, Colo. had been competitive swimming. But at Whitman, during swimming’s off-season, she started riding with the cycling team because she didn’t want to be without a daily sport. She says she “missed the structure and rhythm of having a competitive sport as a daily focus.”

But she discovered she might have real talent in the sport, and won a national collegiate road title four months after she first raced a bike. She won U.S. nationals the next year.

Despite her surge into international cycling prominence, Abbott dismissed any notion of foregoing her final season of collegiate swimming to concentrate biking, according to a 2007 VeloNews interview. Her question-and-answer segment included this exchange:

VeloNews: So you've decided to finish your final year of college and your final year of swimming. Why continue to swim when you've become a world-class cyclist?

Mara Abbott: Swimming is important to me because it's something that I've always loved to do and been passionate about and it's been a focus in my life for over half my life. After college most people stop swimming unless you're going to be an Olympian or a triathlete. Because I'm still young as a cyclist I don't see any reason not to swim one more year. For the last few years I've done the swimming and cycling thing together.

VeloNews: But don't you feel that getting off your bike for five months to swim will hold you back as a cyclist?

Mara Abbott: Maybe it's not the best thing in the world for me right now as a cyclist, but it's something I've done in the past and it's worked out okay and I don't feel rushed to all of a sudden commit myself to be 100 percent a pure cyclist. I still have to finish school and swimming is a part of school, and in the big picture one year isn't that big of a deal. It's a way of having balance and doing things that make me happy.

Jenn Blomme, the varsity swim coach, was thrilled to have Abbott back for her final season. "She’s a wonderful person who has a tremendous passion for everything she does, which I think is key to her success," Blomme said. “Mara obviously has a natural talent for cycling, but she’s also one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached."

Abbott ranks fifth on Whitman's list of all-time best times for the 1,650-yard freestyle, and eighth for the 1,000-yard freestyle.

The daughter of an elementary school teacher and a public library employee, Mara said she read about Whitman in the book “Colleges that Change Lives” and decided to visit Whitman. “I felt instantly at home,” said Abbott, who had been searching for a “small, liberal-arts scene.”

“Such a good choice,” she said.

She said it’s “a community of the happiest and most inspired people I know,” and it showed her the sort of life she wanted to lead.

“The period I was at Whitman was some of the happiest times of my life …. and it has shown me that I want to lead a life that is sustainable, with lots of laughter and wonderful friends, following the things I am passionate about and consistently challenging myself intellectually …. Whitman taught me how important utilizing my intelligence is and how exciting it is for me to be engaged in things I really care about.”