ECCC Ask-A-Pro with Spencer Paxson
Steven Hopengarten of the ECCC News Network recently caught up with Prestigious ECCC Alumnus Spencer Paxson, who had a break out year on the Professional Cross Country Mountain Bike Circuit, claiming a top 10 at the 2010 US Pro XC National Championships, was selected for the 2010 UCI World Cup Finals team as well as the 2010 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships team.
Who are you, where are you from and how old are you?
I am Spencer Paxson, 25 years old from Trout Lake, Washington.
You’re a prestigious ECCC Alumnus, so you must have studied something cool at a fine university, what did you study and where?
I graduated from Middlebury College with a BA in Geography, minor in Biology and Spanish. It was a great place to go to school.
When did you start racing?
My first bike race ever was the Gorge Games XC in Hood River, OR in 1998. I was thirteen with knee-high cotton socks, floppy bike shorts and my dad’s old Trek 850. I entered the junior sport men race. I’d say I first got serious about racing the year after racing the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) mtb series, especially at Mt. Hood Skibowl.
What did you think of the collegiate scene at first?
I’d been racing bikes quite a bit by the time I got to the collegiate scene. The mountain bike races were a familiar, laid back atmosphere, much like what I’d grown up with in Oregon. I enjoyed the enthusiasm of other riders who were coming out to race for the first time, seeing them get psyched about bike racing.
Were there any other riders, or teams that made an impact on your ECCC experience?
I was lucky to be at Middlebury with a core of awesome bike riders. Ted King, Lea and Sabra Davison were a big part of my time there. We all shared similar ambitions for balancing school and full-time race schedule in the summer months. Since the Middlebury Club was fairly small, the four of us would often travel together to far-away races. The UVM team was kind enough to let some of us Midd crew tag along, especially on trips to nationals.
How did you survive all those long drives to ECCC events?
Midd set us up with some pretty posh minivans. Didn’t have an ipod back then, so good mixtapes were key.
What were some of the highlights of your collegiate career?
Working with my friend Hubert to start Middlebury’s first bike shop and teaching mechanic classes was very memorable. The shop has since taken on a whole life of its own thanks to the hard work of successors so I can barely take credit anymore. Serving as Midd Cycling Club President and getting lots of friends psyched on riding bikes for the first time was also a great part of the collegiate riding years. On the ECCC side of things, a silver at DII Nat’ls in Seven Springs, PA, 2004, silver and bronze at DI Nat’ls 2006 and 2007.
What brought you to the northwest after college?
I grew up in Washington and Oregon, so I’d probably have come back anyway. What brought be back specifically was a job opportunity as a GIS Analyst at Ridgeline Energy. Great job and opportunity to use my degree from Midd…pheeeww
How was the transition out of the collegiate scene to the domestic Pro scene?
In terms of the actual racing, I was excited to have more time in the spring to dedicate to race travels. It was always hard to get away with a full class schedule. I had already been hitting much of the domestic Pro scene before and during my time at Middlebury. There was an added stress of wondering how I would finance the race career, where I would spend most of my time, if and where I would get a job, health insurance…all the other concerns that were always present but easier to overlook during college. Once college was done, I really thought about my intentions with racing. Would be it something I’d continue to do on the side, or would I follow a more professional route…or both??
So, you’ve had a string of great results this season on a national level, notably the the Pro XC national championships, what did you do differently leading up to this season that has made such a difference?
I set my sights high at the beginning of the 2010 season. I’d figured out a balance between work and racing that seemed to work well. I joined the local Keller Rhorback road team in the spring and did a lot more road racing to boost my fitness amidst the full-time work schedule, racing myself into shape on the weekends. I also received lots of support from Portland, Oregon’s Team S&M, managed by friend and Kona factory racer Erik Tonkin. We’d been working on a two-year plan starting in 2009, and a top finish at Nationals and birth to the Elite Worlds team was part of that. It also helped to have lots of experience racing and being self-coached, being able to recognize when something worked well.
From what we understand, you’ve been working as well as racing, how are you balancing the two?
Yes indeed. I work a full 40-50 hour week at Ridgeline Energy (www.ridgelineenergy.com) Ridgeline is a utility scale wind energy development company of about 26 employees based in Seattle, WA. I started as GIS analyst and was recently promoted to the position of Permitting Specialist, where I help to manage various environmental, land control, and construction permit processes for the company. The job is amazing. I realize how lucky I am to have a job where the work is stimulating, my coworkers are great, and I make enough money to be financially independent. It was too great of an opportunity to pass up when I started in 2008. I was serious about cycling at the time, but in terms of a racing trajectory, I wasn’t pointed immediately at anything like a Pro contract, so going to Ridgeline was a no-brainer. I immediately made it a priority to try and balance the two. The 2009 season was a good test. I worked very hard at my job without asking for anything, and tried to take as little time off as possible for racing. I think in 2009 I only took off 8 days of work for race travel, long weekends here and there. I would work overtime and get comp-time instead of overtime pay, that way I wouldn’t have to burn vacation days. Workouts are before and after work, much easier when the days are long. In the spring, I race the road every weekend. I’ve figured out that I can get in shape on an efficient training schedule averaging about 12 hours per week. This year the company has taken a keen interest in my racing pursuits, and have become very supportive of my race career. 2010 was really a Cinderella-story season. I would not be where I am today without my time at Ridgeline.
Do you think that you’ll become a full time pro after this season?
That’s a good question. I guess it’ll depend on what my goals are, and whether I want to step away from my current balance of work and racing. In my mind, for an elite XC racer, any focus beyond strong performances on the domestic scene is ultimately aimed at the Olympics. That sounds like a total pipe-dream right now, but last year, making it to Elite Worlds sounded like a pipe-dream, too. Now that I’ve held down a career-oriented job for two years and have achieved respectable success on the bike, I’m less apprehensive to enter into the unpredictable and vulnerable world of pro bike racing. Thing is, I have a pretty good idea of what’s on the other side of the fence. Perhaps more time to ride my bike, travel to races, but more to worry about in terms of supporting myself. I also feel like I still have a ways to go if I’m gonna keep setting a high bar for myself. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years of balancing racing with everything else. In my mind, I am a full-time “elite-amateur” because I treat my racing like the job, albeit the fun one.
Noticed that you got selected to the World Cup finals squad and the World Championships squad, how big is this for you?
Being selected for the Worlds team was one of the most amazing, gratifying things I’ve ever experienced. It also adds some legitimacy to the race resume. Making the team was a complete honor. It feels even better to know that I pulled it off amidst my current balance of things, that it was lofty goal I wasn’t sure I could ever achieve.
In what ways did your collegiate racing experience contribute to your success?
Racing in college was the first time I really had to figure out a balance between racing and other major responsibilities. School work was pretty hard at Midd, so I figured out a way to feel good about bike racing without getting bogged down by seeing it in opposition to everything else going on. The whole balancing philosophy has stayed with me ever since and has been a huge part of getting me where I am now.
What advice do you have for up and coming ECCC racers for success on and off the bike?
It’s all doable. School doesn’t have to take a back seat. There’s so much time to pursue the big-time races after you get school and some job experience on the resume. It makes for a less stressful state of affairs further down the road.
What do you think are the greatest merits of collegiate racing?
The friends you make, the laid back atmosphere where all kinds of new people get into the sport.
Do you have anything at all you’d like to share with the world?
Go ride a bike!
Spencer Paxson is a “Professional” Mountain Bike Racer for Team S&M Young Guns, be sure to check out their blog (http://young-guns-racing.blogspot.com/)