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Interview with Sonya Looney – World Champion Professional Athlete

Families in India have been overprotective about their daughters, so much so, that seldom do they realise, they are choking them. Even husbands and brothers need to open their minds. Women have been ignored in a number of fields, be it business, education or sports. Hence, its been a difficult task to find inspiring women cyclists in our own country who are known for their skills on a bike.

While looking up the internet for the same, we bumped into Sonya Looney who is a world-class ultra-endurance mountain bike racer. Sonya’s positive energy and love for life would never lead you to guess she suffers in her races and always is laughing with a grin on her face.

Read Sonya Looney’s experience below which she herself could have never imagined without a bike. We assure you will walk away feeling inspired and more determined after reading Interview with Sonya Looney.

1. Have you ever benefited from your Master’s degree in engineering, when it comes to Mountain Biking?

As a matter of a fact, it does! I think that having the ability to think analytically and in terms of systems has been helpful in both my business and in cycling. Being able to complete a Master’s in EE also gave me more confidence in myself that helps me be more successful with confidence in myself at certain events.

Have you ever had a physical injury while training or racing?

Yes, but nothing too serious. The occasional concussion, a broken wrist, and a broken tailbone but that’s not too bad considering I’ve been racing mountain bikes for 10 years!

Tell us something about your teammate Nina?

Nina isn’t actually my teammate; she rides for the NoTubes Women’s Elite Team. She was my teammate at the Brazil Ride for the race because you are required to race with a partner. I met Nina just before my 20th birthday at my 2nd bike race. She was always a bit of a big sister and mentor to me while I was new to the sport. The officials at Brasil Ride called us the “Smile Girls” because we were always smiling and having fun, even while suffering and winning the race! I believe that having a good attitude, especially when things are hard is important for success and makes life more fun!

Can you suggest us some important stretches that any cyclist should do?

Cyclists have very tight hips and shoulders. I have a few favourite yoga stretches that I like found here.

What are your off seasons like?

It depends on the year. My off-season is very short this year after finishing my season in Sri Lanka in November. My first race of the year will be in Spain at the end of February. Generally, I ride at a lower intensity, run, ski, and sometimes sleep in and have a lazy breakfast instead of a ride! Off-season to me just means that I’m not racing, but I never really take time off of the bike or exercise. I may go 2 weeks without riding a few times a year to give my body a break, but that’s pretty much it in terms of extensive time off!

Would you suggest us some ways to recovery?

BEER! Just kidding! I actually don’t drink your standard “recovery drinks.” I eat when I finish riding; normally something high in carbohydrate when I walk in the door. I have a shower and after that, I eat a bigger meal. For me, consistently getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night is the best way I recover. Massage and chiropractic work has been great for me too. John and Shannon take great care of me at Valeo(my health clinic)! I also like using Elevated Legs Compression Sleeves. I want to get some e-stim (like Compex) to try too!

Any tips for staying fit and fast recovery for someone who has unfortunately met with an accident and has to go through such an ordeal?

Number one would be staying in a positive mental space. Before you get injured, make sure you have balance in your life so that if/when you get injured and can’t ride, you have non-sport related ways to enjoy life. For me, it’s playing the guitar, learning new languages, hanging out with friends, going to the movie theatre, and reading. For faster recovery and better healing, stay off the injury; that tip is something I struggle with greatly. Sonya Looney has raced the Leadville 100 with my wrist in a cast! I don’t recommend that!

29ers or 26ers which one is your personal favourite? Do you enjoy riding more?

29ers for sure!

Sonya Looney switched bike sponsors for 2015 and I’ll be racing a Pivot Mach 429SL. However, I am also getting a Pivot Mach4 which is a 27.5. You’ll never see me on a 26” bike ever again! Off topic, but I’m pretty excited about my new sponsors this year. I’m working independently with all my sponsors, and my project/team is called Freak Show DeFeet, Powered by COOLMAX® ECOMADE. Freak Show is a mouth-watering Cab Sauv from Michael David Winery and appropriately named for me. DeFeet makes the coolest socks and accessory apparel for cycling and I’ve even had the opportunity to create my own socks! COOLMAX® ECOMADE is a special yarn comprising of 97% recycled plastic bottles. DeFeet uses it in some of their products (mainly the Levitator Trail, my favourite mountain bike sock) I’m excited to be promoting a sustainable product, especially because I used to be a solar engineer and was very involved in the “green” community in Boulder. But I digress…!

Would you like to share some expert tips for beginners who find climbing difficult?

Make sure your wheels are set up tubeless and that you’ve had a bike fit.  According to Sonya Looney the position is very important for climbing. Make sure to keep a little bit of weight on the front tire to get traction with both wheels. Lastly, relax. I think people go too hard on climbs and end up getting too tired before they reach time. I ask myself, “Can I ride this pace for the duration of the climb without slowing down?”

Who is your role model in Mountain Biking and why?

This may not be the answer you’re expecting, but my role models are not the world champions or the famous people in cycling. They are the people with families and full-time jobs who ride and race their bikes.

They are the people who got 6 hours of sleep and are on their bike at 5 AM doing intervals on the trainer inside and need to get the workout finished before their kids wake up so they can get them ready, take them to school, then go to work themselves. The amount of commitment, time management, and determination to ride regularly and juggle a family and a job is very inspiring for me.

Sometimes I struggle to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to training or to get up early and go ride; it’s at that moment when I think of the person who has to do that every single day.

What’s so special about the Yak attack that you keep coming back?

It’s a rowdy adventure mountain bike race! I love seeing the difference in topography, weather, and even culture from the lower altitudes all the way to Thorong La Pass at nearly 18,000’. It’s beautiful as the sun comes up as you’re ascending to the top of the Pass and it’s a humbling experience trying to carry your bike for 3+ hours. The views from the heart of the Himalaya are unforgettable. I’ve won it twice and would love to go back many more times! Also, this race attracts a certain type of person; a person who is kind, down to earth, strong-willed, self-sufficient, and very much in love with the outdoors. I like making friends with that type of person.

What is your opinion on endurance cycling in India? Do you think India has a lot to offer for endurance cycling?

I honestly don’t know much about riding in India, but I am definitely intrigued! I had never met a mountain biker from India until I raced the Rumble in the Jungle in Sri Lanka this past November. There were several riders from the Indian Army. They were very strong but underequipped in terms of bikes and shoes. Some guys were faster running their bikes than riding them uphill and actually passing people who were riding! I am excited to see how well they do when they get equipment more comparable to what other racers are using and I applaud their efforts! I am also curious to know if there are any female mountain bikers in India!

Sonya Looney Interview

How does it feel to race a mountain bike across the world?

It feels like a dream come true. All I have ever wanted was to see the world from my mountain bike. I kept pursuing my goals despite being unconventional. It was really hard for a lot of friends and family to understand how I could possibly leave my engineering career behind and pursue bike racing, something that should be happy. For Sonya Looney, it’s a full-blown career and reaches greater success each year! I’ve met more amazing people than I could have imagined and ridden more miles on more continents than I ever thought possible. It has taught me that anything is possible. We are so much more capable than we can imagine. The only problem? I just want to see more!

What are your goals for the future?

Continue to push my limits, get more people riding and travelling on their bikes(whether it be to the next town over or across the world), continuing to be on the cutting edge of stage racing, and continuing to get faster. Sonya Looney admit that sometimes I think of that white jersey with rainbow stripes! I’ve also been enjoying growing my motivational speaking career. This will be a breakout year for me because I get to be a keynote speaker at non-outdoor industry-related conferences.

Tell us your perspective on overcoming extreme challenges on difficult terrain? How do you manage that?

When things get extremely difficult, I tell myself that I will succeed and that nothing is permanent in life. So, if it’s too hot, if the climb is too long, if my body is in extreme pain if I still have 100 miles to go; I remind myself that I’ll get there as long as I move forward and the pain I feel will not last. Positive self-talk is very powerful compared to negative self-talk. I think at times I have overcome difficulty and it helps me get through the current challenge. I also simply try to enjoy it and have a sense of humour. I laugh through my frustration, I laugh at how ridiculously hard things are sometimes. Otherwise, you mentally break down and give up.

Tell us something that endurance racing has taught you in life?

We are capable of so much more than we think. Instead of saying, “I wish I could do that, “ I say “I am going to go do that” and I follow through. Coming up with a goal or a dream and executing on that goal has brought experiences I could never have imagined. The hardest part is figuring out how to make your goal happen. It’s taken a lot of patience and creativity to get where I am today, but I love the journey!

Endurance racing has reinforced the importance of perseverance and determination in my daily life. Don’t give up, keep working on it one step at a time and things will happen. Our setbacks are what teach us the best lessons, not our successes. It’s how we deal with failure and disappointment that shapes our view on life.

During the interview with Sonya Looney, she also stated that “I often find it easy to stay positive, but I think for those that struggle with being positive, don’t victimize yourself. Take responsibility for your actions, don’t think “poor me” and don’t expect people to hand stuff to you. You have to work for it, believe in yourself, and you can do anything!”

Special Thanks to Sonya Lonney.

Sonya Looney Instagram here

Written By

Abhishek Tarfe is a Certified Bike Mechanic from Park Tool School. He enjoys teaching people how to cycle and loves going on multi-day tours. Besides, he loves dogs and coffee. Follow his madness on Instagram

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