Jenn Jackson took XC MTB by storm in the last couple of years: last summer, she won U23 Nationals in Canmore… But she started as an XC skier, not mountain biker. But after facing burnout in skiing, she shifted focus, and found a new love with mountain biking. Her story is a lot different from the Shred Girls who’ve been riding since childhood, and that’s what makes her super rad and super unique: she learned how to ride just a couple of years ago!
So, let’s chat with Jenn.
(You can also listen to Jenn’s story on The Consummate Athlete Podcast for even more of her awesome advice!)
Why did you start riding bikes? Why switch from XC ski to XC MTB?
To begin with, riding was a bit of an escape from being a skier. I had some serious race-burnout in 2016; and that had been coming off a training season where, even though I was making big improvements, I was losing my vision and goals of becoming a world class skier – whether I really wanted to do it, and if it was worth it. So I decided to take a step away from the ski scene, work on my own terms to find closure as a skier, closing things out in 2017. During that training season, I guess I caught the bike bug. I started riding with friends I’d made at the shop I was working at; I was having fun, meeting more new people, and discovering something I enjoyed and was keen to get better at.
What was your favourite part?
I like the diversity and sense of camaraderie in the cycling community. There are so many people riding bikes, and everyone has fun with it. Whether a person is trying to race at the highest level, get category upgrade, or set a best time at their local night race, everyone knows the feeling of having a great ride. There is something to learn from everyone; elements of racing bikes and elements of a well-rounded life with bikes.
What was the hardest part?
Risk assessment. Cross country skiing is a fairly low-risk sport… So quickly going from the safety of snow, to riding fun local trails, to racing some pretty tricky courses and features (Baie Saint Paul, Hardwood, Canmore, Mont Sainte-Anne…) was enormously stressful at times. Not having experience to draw on makes it difficult to find confidence to try features that I know people far more skilled and experienced than me still find challenging. Barring a few exceptions, it’s been mostly mind over matter though – or maybe ignorance and survivalism over awareness and skill 😅
What made you choose to focus on MTB?
I feel as though I stumbled into it more than actively choosing to focus on mountain biking. I think I met the right people doing the right thing at the right time, and was having fun just growing into the sport. Then, after some prodding and encouragement from friends and my brother, committed to more racing, snapped up some results, and started to see a bit of potential in myself to do better.
What was the best tip or trick you’ve ever been told?
Keep it between the ditches.
On the bike… I don’t have a lot to draw from, but I’m pretty proud of how I rode at Nationals – keeping my head calm and on straight, and keeping my breakfast down. I also take pride in trying, like really trying, to make something happen at the Canada Games, even after the race was clearly slipping away from me.
Goals in cycling?
Keep it between the ditches.
Challenge to do better.
Advice for other younger girls interested in riding?
Be playful, have fun. Riding doesn’t have to be about racing, but racing is a great way to connect with other girls your age who share the same excitement for the sport as you. If you want to get better, find riders who are better/more experienced than you. It might feel intimidating, but everyone was a beginner at some point, and everyone has the potential to improve – no matter what level they’re currently at. The willingness to learn is the greatest skill you can develop.
Have you made friends through riding? Advice for talking to other girls/guys if someone is super shy?
Absolutely. I don’t think I’d enjoy riding as much as I do if not for the people I’ve met. Well, one of the nice things about mountain biking with other people is that it’s difficult to hold a conversation on the trails, so even if you don’t talk much while you’re riding it’s not awkward silence. Most of the talking is when you stop after a section of trail, or before/after the ride – and then it’s easy to rehash stories and share the experience.