What It’s Really Like to be an Olympic Mountain Biker

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what their work lives entails. This week, Canadian mountain biker Emily Batty—who will be going for gold at the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio—gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

Ishani Nath
Mountain Biker Emily Batty

Emily Batty is ready for lift-off (Photography: Francisco Garcia)

Age: 28

Career highlights: Won bronze at the 2016 mountain bike world championships, gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games, and competed in the 2012 London Olympics

Length of time racing professionally: 6 years

What drew you into the world of competitive mountain biking? I have two older brothers who took an interest in it when they were teenagers and my parents were super on board. They bought a motorhome and we would drive across Canada and the U.S. and make an eight-week trip of it. It became a family affair; Mum made the reservations and took care of the logistics, Dad was the mechanic, I was the feeder during the race, we all had our roles. I started racing myself when I was 11.

Is that considered young to be racing down a mountain? Biking is actually ageless. Toddlers who are barely able to stand are learning to bike and adults that are really wanting to get active, but need a low impact sport, are getting into it as well.

What made you turn pro? Going outside of your comfort zone is what it’s all about. As soon as I gained some skill and some technical ability, I just kept challenging myself and going for bigger rocks. It’s so fun for me that it’s hard to call it work. I just feel like I get to be along for the ride.

What’s your training schedule like? I eat, sleep, live and breathe my sport. There are so many aspects to being a top-5 ranked athlete in the world, you have to improve in every corner that you can otherwise you’ll just get left behind. Training is extremely rigorous but then recovery is even more demanding. Since the season starts early in March and goes through September, I have to have such a grand level of fitness in the early spring, and I’m not able to get that training quality at home in Ontario, so I go to Tucson, Ariz. from November to February. On an average day, I’ll eat breakfast, do emails, respond to logistics and interact on social media—which I’m mildly obsessed with (Twitter @emilybatty, Insta: emilybatty1)—and then I’ll be training anywhere from two to five hours on the bike. Then it’s recovery food, recovery shake, straight into compression boot pants, foam roll, probably eat again, another recovery session, more social media, and it’s already bedtime.

Mountain Biker Emily Batty

(Photography: Francisco Garcia)

When you’re training, what’s your diet like? I really don’t change for that time of the year like a lot of athletes do. I eat a lot of organic grass-fed lean meats, I’m huge on smoothies, not juicing but just blending the whole vegetable. For breakfast I go for your classic oatmeal, banana and berries—and coffee, of course. I’m also gluten-free entirely, because I find it helps my immunity and I don’t seem to be as affected by lack of sleep when I travel.

How do you get in the zone before a big race? I get organized: get my helmet, my shoes, and my number pinned on my jersey—everything has to be in order in a structured space so I’m able to find my things when I need them.

There’s a big build up to races like the World Cup. It’s like a wedding, you prepare and prepare, and then all of a sudden, in the last couple of hours, everything happens so quickly. Being organized the night before allows me to be present and calm in the morning. If I’m relaxed when I get to the start line, I’m able to smile because I’m not thinking or worrying or stressing about what’s about to happen. That’s usually a good head space.

You’ve described yourself as a “girly girl,” why is that? In my sport it’s so gruesome, 90 percent of the time I’m covered in mud and sweat and that’s my normal.  When I take off time, I want to be shopping, gardening, into fashion and makeup. I love those things and that’s who I am. I want to help enforce that women can be women and still be into athletic, messy sports if they want to.

How are the Olympics different than other competitions? It’s the pinnacle of what I’ve spent a decade trying to achieve. It has the most eyes on it, the most spectators, the most press and coverage, and the most self-pressure that the athletes bring themselves because the biggest title is on the line. And of course, we only get one shot every four years to accomplish that. To be an Olympian once in a lifetime is a big deal.

What happened at the London 2012 Olympics? Going into it, everything was bang on; fitness-wise and mentally, I was ready to go for a medal. Three days before the Olympics, I was on the course pre-riding and there was a fast downhill section where you pick up a lot of speed, going like 30-40 km/hr, and there were two rocks that you get some air off. I went into them not being in the moment. I knew the course so well so I was already thinking ahead and lost focus on where I was. With that speed and momentum, I went over the bars. I landed on my shoulder and it compressed forward and I broke my collarbone and a rib.

What did you do when you got up? It took several moments for me to realize something was wrong because of all the adrenaline. It wasn’t abnormal to hit the ground that hard and get up and keep going, so that’s all I knew to do. I was kind of embarrassed for a moment, but as I rode away, there was this pit in my stomach that I’d never felt before. A medic on the sideline saw my snow-white face and insisted I go to get checked out. I was immediately in denial and emotional. My husband, who’s my coach, was there and a lot of my family and friends. It was something that I never anticipated having to face.

Had you ever been injured before? No, I’d never been injured before and haven’t been injured since—touch wood—so this was traumatizing and heartbreaking.

How did you bounce back after that injury? I had three days of crying nearly 22 hours a day—I was so emotionally drained. But, my goals just shifted. It never dawned on me that I wouldn’t be competing. The dream of a medal was ripped away, but I saw it as still as an opportunity to rank in top 10 or top 5 [she finished 24th]. I learned so much about myself in London, and what I can overcome.

Mountain Biker Emily Batty

(Photography: Francisco Garcia)

How are you feeling about competing in Rio? I’m so looking forward to it. I race on August 19 and it comes fast. In this sport, we race with the same women for seven or eight races a year, so you learn a lot about your competition. When it comes to the top 10, we’re only 1 percent apart in fitness, so it comes down to who perfected every corner of their job to have the best run. I’m definitely looking forward to my second shot at a medal.

Do you have a lucky charm? I have a very close-knit family, but my job takes me away from home a lot. My mum gave me a necklace that she wore when she was dating my dad, almost 40 years ago. I wear it, and it’s a way for me to stay connected with her.

If a woman wanted to be a professional mountain biker, what attributes do they need? It’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone and not feeling awkward. Just embrace it. It’ll take a bit of time, but you’ll see improvements grow so fast.

Who do you look up to for inspiration? From a perseverance standpoint, my mum. She is battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and has been for 10 years. Her cancer is incurable, but she is one of the most successful patients dealing with it.

(Video courtesy of Hello! Canada)

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