Written by Carmen Kuntz.
This summer, Canadian DH rider Kristen Courtney placed first at the Mont Tremblant Canada Cup, first at the US Pro GRT, and second overall in the Canada Cup Series.
With several podium finishes in national and international Downhill races, 2014 has been a big season for Courtney. She’s battled injuries and the top female racers in the world and is back in saddle, feeling great and ready to finish the season strong.
We caught up with Courtney in August to see where her brains, speed, and passion come from.
Mountain Life: How did you get into DH?
Kristen Courtney: I’ve been an avid cyclist my whole life, but that has taken different forms over the years. I was a pretty passionate cross-country rider from the time I was a teenager to my mid-20’s, but just before my 25th birthday, I got hit by a car riding my bike downtown Toronto and was left with a chronic back injury. Afterwards, I wasn’t able to spend the hours on my bike that I used to without being in pretty severe pain. As counterintuitive as it may seem, DH was the solution. Because a downhill run doesn’t last more than a few minutes, and because of the different body positioning on the bike, I found that I was able to ride DH with a lot less pain than x-country.
ML: When did you start riding downhill competitively?
KC: My first time riding DH was at Bromont in 2006. It was raining, and freezing cold… there was still snow all over the hill, and I was riding a 5” travel x-country bike. By the end of the day, I was so cold, wet, bruised and miserable that I announced to the guys who had dragged me there that I was never riding DH again. But after my car accident in the fall of 2006, and a long winter, spring and early-summer of not being able to ride x-country, I was dying to get back on a mountain bike. I tried my first Ontario Cup DH race in 2007, and I was hooked.
ML: Describe the perfect DH racecourse.
KC: The perfect DH course starts out on a nice wooden start-ramp to help you get up to speed quickly, and then takes you into the woods for some moderate-speed, moderately-technical turns and features to help you get your flow on. After letting you get warmed up, then it should drop you into a rocky, technical section to test your skills and keep you on your toes. After making it through the tech, then it should open up into some higher-speed berms and jumps to have some fun and finish off on.
ML: How do you prepare for a race?
KC: I do a lot of gym training in the off-season to stay in shape: a combination of weight training, spin classes and yoga. So when it comes to race season, there’s not a lot of physical preparation that goes into it, other than making sure to get enough sleep and to take care of any injuries that may have occurred.
A big part of this game is psychological for me though. There is limited training time, so you want that time to be spent dialing in your lines – not getting yourself over mental hurdles associated with being scared to hit a certain jump, or a steep technical section at full speed. Now that I’ve raced most venues before though, that’s less of an issue for me.
ML: How do you balance life as a professional athlete and life as a lawyer?
KC: I don’t know if “balance” is the right word, (laughs). It’s been a bit of a wild ride these past few years, and to be honest, there hasn’t been much “balance.” Just a really, really busy schedule…
For my first couple years of practice, I worked in the public sector in Ottawa. My work was heavily dependent on the parliamentary calendar, which just so happened to mesh quite well with my race schedule. From October to December and from February to May, I didn’t mind working regularly till midnight or later. But Parliament doesn’t sit in the summer, so that’s when I was able to take a lot of time off. Recently I have been working as an independent contractor. I do legal research and other pieces of files for other law firms. It has worked out great in the sense that I’ve been able to fully commit to all the travel and such a full race season.
ML: Why race…why DH?
KC: I race because it pushes me to improve. If you’re not racing, it’s too easy to say, “Aw, I don’t want to risk it,” or to not focus on improving the skills that you’re lacking in.
Also, I just plain love it. Racing downhill scares me. But overcoming that fear and hitting a feature perfectly is an amazing feeling. The travel, the awesome people, and the beautiful mountains… they’re not so bad either.