Susann and Louis Nordrum
Corte Madera, Calif.
Susann and Louis Nordrum’s daughter, Josie, raced in the Junior Women 17-18 category of USA Cycling Cross Country Nationals last week in Sun Valley, Idaho. Despite the blur of tasks to keep their athlete in top form, mountain biking has offered much to the family. These veterans of the youth race scene (one of their other daughters also competed in cycling) share some words of wisdom about their experience as parents of kids who hammer on the bike.
Mountain Flyer: How did Josie’s Nationals race go?
Susann: Josie raced Friday in 17/18 and placed fourth.
MF: On which team does Josie race?
Susann: Josie has been with Whole Athlete-Specialized since fall of 2010. Since she did swimming and rowing as well as biking during her freshman year, she had rowing and swimming coaches pursuing her for their elite teams but went for the mountain bike team without hesitation.
MF: In general, what has this “girls racing mountain bikes” experience been like?
Susann: It’s hard for me to say how the experience has been for her. She gets a lot of joy from biking but it takes immense self-motivation to go out on all the rides she needs to do. It can be hard to get up and ready on time to meet up with the team but even harder to go out alone, especially on the damp cold winter days in Northern California. Josie has greatly enjoyed the people she’s met through biking. So many people that give so much of their time and experience, all the help and camaraderie out on the trail and the teammates that are always there for her. Growing up with two sisters, mountain biking has been a great way for Josie to be friends with boys and enjoy their goofy, high-octane energy. They certainly inspire and coach her to her best potential on the heart-stopping technical skills, steep downhills, track stands and bunny hops. Finally, the coaches on Whole Athlete, especially Julia Violich, are always there for Josie in a way that we can’t be as parents. Julia is a great friend and confidante, with experience and advice about racing, courage, discipline and anything else Josie needs to know
Josie got into mountain biking as a freshman because we knew Julia as coach for our older daughter. In just one season, Julia had done so much for Susanna that we just had to make Josie try biking if only so she could meet Julia. Josie found excuses to miss the first two races her freshman season. When she finally overcame her fears and finished fourth in her first race, she was hooked. She took first in every race after that as a freshman and as a sophomore in JV.
MF: What do you see as your role in supporting your daughters in their young racing careers?
Louis and Susann: Parents of racers, are always racing, racing to get this, do that, fix this, and find that, all while artfully not increasing the anxiety of their special champion. The mom role requires top athletic conditioning, as she is the support person for both the racer and for the dad. The dad role is straight forward: live vicariously through his child’s racing and focus on bike gear. Oh, and the dad also coaches the mom on her “simple” support role, wondering what’s so difficult about meals, hotel reservations, race forms, clothing, bug repellent, sunscreen, bandages, pets, team communication, maps, coffee, snacks....
Since Josie’s on a race team, Louis doesn’t get to do the race coaching or gear selection—that’s the coach’s role. Instead, he generously redirects all those secret, race winning tips to anyone within earshot and constantly evaluates other racers’ gear and bike fit, including the 3-year-old on a trail-a-bike.
MF: What’s race day like? Are you nervous for your daughter?
Susann: Race day is a frantic blur of activity to keep everything calm and anxiety-free for the racer, who is trying to warm up while each coach, ride leader, friend and dad-of-someone-else gives her last-minute tips. Oh, and dad didn’t sleep either but tossed and turned all night thinking up a dozen things that he can last-minute coach the champion to victory, if only he had a chance to talk with her.
During the race, as parents, we focus on giving a unified message. It’s important to be consistent so that we don’t confuse Josie in the middle of a split-second decision. What she hears is dad yelling “go faster into those turns, pedal hard” while mom screams “slow down for those turns, take it easy, don’t get hurt!” Fortunately, our daughter has avoided insanity by tuning both of us out, a big challenge for a teenager.
All the while we’re both hoping she finishes rubber side down and at the end if she does, everyone’s happy. Well, that is unless she finished in either of the two “if-only” misery spots, second place or one short of podium. DFL is not a misery spot, but rather honorable since everyone slower either gave up or was too intimidated to show up.
Having a girl racer has some advantages because the girls race first. (Many people think this is because girls are delicate and can’t handle the heat of afternoon. Actually, it dates back to primitive bridges where the women would cross first to test the integrity of the bridge. After the girls’ race the organizers take a count of the casualties and then make appropriate course adjustments.) We get the benefit of waking up at 6 a.m. and wearing all that pricey outerwear. Then while the boys' parents are sauntering in for a cup of coffee and breakfast snack (made by the girls’ parents) we get to worry and stress as our daughter careens around the course. Of course, the payback comes in the afternoon, when we chat and laugh, stress-free while the boys’ parents bite their nails and contemplate the potential benefits of chain-smoking as a stress-relief option. Oh, and the girls’ parents also get to hang around all afternoon waiting for podium. That’s way better than sleeping in.
Mountain Flyer: You took advantage of the Ride Sun Valley Local Bike Festival Local Stoker Rides while you were in Idaho. Do you always get to have that much fun while the girls are racing?
Susann: I LOVED the stoker rides and the super cool folks at Wood River Bicycle Club, Smith Optics, The Elephant Perch, Ninkasi Beer and Summit South Sports. A huge thank you to everyone that put it all together.
Generally, since our daughter is on a coached team we have time to get in our own rides, often on the course. For the high school league rides, we almost always show up the day before and do a preride. It’s always a blast because the courses are always fun, flowy and only 6 or 7 miles long. We can go as fast or as slow as we want and do as many laps as daylight and appetite allow. Josie and most of the racers take it slow, studying each turn, noting the good passing opportunities and checking out the competition. For some reason, having mom and dad ride along and provide ‘help’ with this process has not been her preference.
On race day, I try to volunteer as sweep for the girls races. It seems like a good idea to let them know there is some “old lady” out there on the course. I’m sure that when they see me stagger up to the start area they are thinking, “Gosh, if she can do this, how hard can it be?" Little do they know that I am always behind the slowest rider, sometimes getting lapped and double-lapped by my daughter and the other Varsity girls. I get plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and redo that tricky little rock section four or five times while I’m letting that last rider get some distance on me. Then I fire it up and see how long it takes to catch up again. Racing is so much easier when you’re aiming for last place.
As noted above, having enjoyed an early, adrenaline-rush start of the day, we almost feel guilty about how much fun the rest of the day is. It’s like a big afternoon party, with plenty of food, great people and displays of fantastic athleticism—and that’s just the line for the port-a-potty. Our high school team (Redwood) has a great pit area with the world’s best coffee, burgers, chili and one great dad that brings out ice cream at the end of the day from the cooler in his fifth wheel. We love talking to all the other parents, catching up on the small part of our lives that does not revolve around mountain biking, and swapping rumors about other families that actually have time and money to spend on trips to Hawaii, fashionable clothing and cars that (can you believe this) do not have a bike rack.