Mara Abbott '08 climbs to success in cycling world
WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Taking the U.S. cycling world by storm over the past several months has earned Mara Abbott, a Whitman College senior, a spot on the pages of two national sports magazines.
Abbott, who hails from Boulder, Colo., and also excels in swimming at Whitman, is featured in the "Faces in the Crowd" section of the Aug. 27 issue of Sports Illustrated .
And, of much more significance to cycling enthusiasts, her smiling photo graces the cover of the latest issue of VeloNews, the journal of competitive racing. Inside the magazine, a piece written by associate editor Fred Dreier recounts Abbott’s meteoric rise to the top of the U.S. cycling. It also describes her as "one of America's top hopes to bring home a medal" from the 2007 UCI World Championships, slated for late September in Stuttgart, Germany.
Abbott, who discovered competitive cycling in her first year on campus, has been a driving force behind Whitman’s highly successful club cycling team, which won the National Collegiate Cycling Association’s Division II championship in both 2005 and 2006. Abbott captured the last two all-around individual championships while winning or sharing the national collegiate crown nine times in various events over three years.
Only in recent months, however, has the 5-foot-4 dynamo established herself as one of the very best cyclists in the nation, collegiate or otherwise. Competing in her first season for Webcor Builders, one of America’s top professional teams, Abbott surprised even herself by stringing together an impressive set of victories. She won a stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic as well as New Mexico’s Tour of Gila stage race, and she triumphed in the North Boulder Park Criterium and Iron Horse Bicycle Classic criterium and road race. After finishing a close second at the Montreal World Cup to Italian great Fabiana Luperini, Abbott won the U.S. women’s road race national title in mid-July, outsprinting defending champion and 2004 Olympian Kristen Armstrong.
Despite her surge into international cycling prominence, Abbott dismisses any notion of foregoing her final season of collegiate swimming to concentrate biking. Her VeloNews question-and-answer segment includes this exchange:
VeloNews: So you've decided to finish you 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 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. Even though I'm lucky enough to find something that I make it my career, that doesn't mean I should necessarily give up everything else in my life. .
VeloNews: So what's so great about swimming anyway?
Mara Abbott: The part of swimming that I love so much is when you're in shape enough you can feel hundredths of a second in your stoke. You can go swim pace and say, ‘that was a tenth of a second slower.' because you know exactly how you should feel in the water and you can feel the minute stroke changes. I think that's one of the reasons I loved swimming more than cycling was because I never had that connection with cycling. But every time I go out on a long ride, I fall in love with it a little bit more. You start to have those days where you can tell when your legs are good or not good. I can have that intimacy with the sport, and that's something that I've always loved about swimming. The more that I ride my bike, the more I am able to love it. I grow to know myself more on the bike.
Jenn Blomme, the varsity swim coach at NCAA Div. III Whitman, is thrilled to have Abbott back for her final season, which gets underway in late October. "She’s a wonderful person who has a tremendous passion for everything she does, which I think is key to her success," Blomme says. “Mara obviously has a natural talent for cycling, but she’s also one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached."
Abbott, an economics major, missed part of her junior swim season while studying in Mexico. But she returned in time to place fourth in the grueling 1,650-yard freestyle at the Northwest Conference Swim Championships.
Abbott ranks fourth on Whitman's list of all-time best times for the 1,650-yard freestyle. She also ranks in Whitman’s top 10 in three other events.