News & Stories

Anwatin Ski Team Dominates Mountain Bike Trail

Even the crystal blue skies and summer sun could not have beamed brighter than the faces on the Anwatin Ski Team. With medals catching the morning rays and wide grinned smiles to boot, half of the Anwatin Ski Team was walking away from the Birch Bump Mountain Bike Race with hardware, and all were wearing the sweat, dirt and joy found on the mountain bike trail. “I was impressed,” commented their coach John Swain who coaches the Anwatin Ski Team year round. “They did a great job.”

The Anwatin Ski Team’s mountain bike season kicked off as soon as the snow disappeared. “Mountain biking is great. It is an exciting way to exercise and inherently challenging and rewarding,” offered Swain. “And it is most similar to skiing in that it is technically, physically, and mentally challenging. When you are mountain biking there is no room to think of anything else.” Swain, who is new to mountain biking in the last few years, enjoys it as well. He remarked that the athletes often talk him into more mountain bike practices then he initially plans for the week. “I probably do too much mountain biking with them,” said Swain, who tries to incorporate multiple ski related cross-training activities, like running and roller-skiing, into their summer schedule, “but they love it.”

Their hard training was put to the test over the past two months as they hit the Minnesota mountain bike circuit for the first time. Since then the team has participated in 3 races: two at Buck Hill as well as the City of Lakes Tri-Loppet.

They experienced their first challenges at the season opener at Buck Hill. “Everyone was having a tough time in warm-ups,” recalled assistant coach Mary Luoma. “The evening was hot and humid, and the kids hadn’t properly hydrated throughout the day.” Muaj Xiong’s chain popped off and Mike Xiong, who usually feels at home on the mountain bike course, said he got tired and had trouble breathing. “A lot of people didn’t want to race after warm-ups. But we rested and decided we could race,” Luoma said, and the team concurred. However the steep and hilly course that cut back and forth on the downhill slope was demanding. “Those kids were not beginners!” exclaimed Anwatin racer Raequan Wilson when commenting on their competition, “Those kids were fast.” The mass start meant that novices started on the heels of experienced racers. When asked, “Would you do it again?” by his coaches, Mike replied “Yeah, if we go from top to bottom!”

By the time the next Minnesota Mountain bike series race came along, the kids were ready. They had all completed the City of Lakes Tri–Loppet, a continuous paddle, run, and mountain bike event that took the athletes around 3 hours to complete. After experiencing that, a 20 minute mountain bike race seemed like a cake walk.

Ready to get back to Buck Hill, the athletes reconvened last Sunday at Theodore Wirth Park where a 15 passenger van was waiting to take them to the Birch Bump, a race in the Minnesota Mountain Bike series. The 11 racers were abuzz with excitement, looking forward to getting back on the trail that had stumped them a few weeks ago. The course was set up in the opposite direction compared with the previous race, setting the stage for a complete turn of events. Warm-ups went well and the morning was cool thanks to rain the night before.

The Anwatin team approached the start line. The announcer was administering “call-ups”, inviting leading racers in the series to assume front row positions given their performance in previous events. No one from the Anwatin team was called up because they had not raced much before, so they assumed positions in the second row. The gun went off, and the racers were off.

Positioned part-way up the first climb, Coach Swain was looking for his athletes. “I saw Raequan halfway up the hill and I shouted “You have to pass now!”  He could see the focus on Raequan’s face and he knew the trail would only get narrower, making it difficult to pass. Nearing the end of the race Raequan had nearly caught the leader. Ten seconds behind and with one turn to go, the leader took a dramatic crash on a pivotal turn. But what could have been the race winning moment for Raequan, only produced more wreckage; Raequan crashed too. To make matters worse, his chain popped off. Coach Swain reminisced, “It was all very dramatic.”

But soon, both cyclists were up and riding again with under a minute to go. Raequan put the hammer down through the finish line taking first place among 13 and 14 year olds. “It was cool,” he said as he modestly shrugged off his accomplishment.

Raequan was not the only one with exceptional performances that day. Kaozong Vang won the girls 11 – 12 age group finishing more than 5 minutes ahead of everyone in her age category. Mike Xiong also took third among 13 and 14 year olds.

“They were definitely in the zone,” coach Swain concluded. With their wheels spinning, the athletes are already talking about their next race: the Single Track Attack in Elk River on July 31st. “I’m really proud of them,” said Swain. “They are only getting faster and more confident. It will be great to see what they can do next.”