Cashmere man enjoying a ‘cool’ journey
Saturday, May 7, 2011
In his own words
Cashmere native Stephen Ettinger has been keeping a blog on his mountain bike racing and world travels. Here are some excerpts from some recent entries:
Title: “The third fastest” (at Pan American Championships in Colombia)
Date: April 5
“The course was primitive … very representative of a deeper relationship between much of Latin America and Europe. It lacked the refinement of the European courses, but had the same soul. It was steep, technical and rocky. It wound up through the forest, a wrenching climb, and we were rewarded with a fast and exciting decent.”
Title: “Thursday night, somewhere between Houston and Bogotá”
Date: April 2
“I love the view out of an airplane window. I don’t so much enjoy looking at the ground; the cars, roads and farms creating a magnificent mosaic. It’s the clouds that consume my imagination. The thunderheads.
“Right now I think I am over the Gulf of Mexico, en-route to Bogotá, or more specifically, Chia, Colombia. It’s magnificent out, a golden glow, shining through the haze at 40,000 feet comes through my window. The thunderheads seem to be scraping the mesosphere … looked that one up on the dictionary (I’m currently in the stratosphere). The sky itself is a deep purple as night falls on the lower atmosphere, and I can see a perpetual pink strip of sunset higher up … into the bright blue of springtime evenings and afternoons.”
Title: “Eighth-grade English projects, idols and the realization of dreams”
Date: March 28
“I must have been 14 when, for an eigth grade English class project, I wrote (to) Roland Green, the reigning mountain biking world champion. The letter was to be written to a celebrity of sorts and while everyone else was typing letters addressed to Hollywood and teen idol Britney Spears, I wrote to a cyclist that no one else at Cashmere Middle School had ever heard of. He ended up writing a letter back, scratched out on a piece of computer paper, which ended up on my bedroom wall, alongside signed posters of Roland’s Trek-VW teammate Bishop, a younger Adam Craig, GT posters of Todd Wells, and I think I probably had a JHK edition too, from his days on Polo-RLX.
“I ended up meeting Roland Green later that year at the Schweitzer Mountain NORBA race in Idaho. I think he won the XC in front of Ryder Hesjedal… I caught up with him briefly before the podium ceremony and told him how I admired him, and refreshed his memory about the letter. That was the weekend of my first Junior Expert Race, too. I got lapped and caught by the girls, finishing 21st I think, probably DFL.
“Right now I am flying back to Denver after an incredibly successful weekend in Fontana. I guess 8 years have gone by since that letter. Todd Wells is sitting across the aisle. It’s humbling to consider him a friend now, along with JHK, Sam Schultz, Craig and Bishop, too. He is rocking a custom shirt he got for winning US XC, Short Track and Cyclo-cross nationals in the same season. A pretty impressive feat. Someday I hope I can achieve something of that magnitude.
For more, click here.
— Compiled by Steve Maher, World sports editor
Stephen Ettinger file
Birth date: April 28, 1989
Disciplines: Mostly Olympic format cross country and short track
Main strength in the sport: I excel on courses that have a lot of short, punchy climbing. I can sustain uphill efforts well, but also have the power that many pure climbers do not have.
Main weakness in the sport: I am not a very good technical rider. The dry Wenatchee Valley doesn’t have the slippery roots, rocks and mud that I encounter on the East Coast and often in Europe.
Passions that don’t include two wheels: I spend a lot of time Nordic and telemark skiing in the winter and still consider the North Central Cascades my favorite. The Rocky Mountains and Alps just don’t invoke the same feeling inside of me. I always try to spend a few weekends backpacking in the fall, whether it be in Washington or my new home in Montana.
Favorite meal: Taco wagon asada and carnitas tacos. Whenever I am home, I make a concerted effort to eat as much taco wagon as possible. Dead serious. My favorites are down on the south end of Mission Street.
Books you’re reading now: “Jailbird” by Kurt Vonnegut; “Landmark,” a book about the new health care legislation, written by the editors of the Washington Post; and “All the Pretty Horses,” by Cormac McCarthy
What’s on your iPod right now: Monsters of Folk, Crystal Castles, Theophilus London
Best memory of the Wenatchee Valley: Again those mountains. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one. This winter my girlfriend, Karina, and I had an incredible ski tour up by Arrow Head, near Stevens Pass. It was crystal clear. It kind of epitomized what I love about home. ... Another good one is getting lost between Tronsen Ridge and Camus trying to make a loop from my house, up Devils Gulch, across Mission Peak into Haney Meadows, and then down to Camus. It was like six-and-a-half hours of riding my all-time favorite trails. ... Finally, my family and I have done a lot of backpacking in the Central Cascades. Once we took a week to do the Enchantments loop, climbed Prusik Peak with my Dad and best friend Allen, and bummed around up there. I love that basin, it is one of the true treasures we have in the Northwest. And way cooler than anything in Yellowstone.
— Compiled by Steve Maher, World sports editor
The endorphins have kicked in as Stephen Ettinger manuevers over the steep primitive mountain biking course in the forests above Bogotá, Colombia.
He knows he has the legs for these Pan American Championships. He tightens his helmet strap some more in the sticky 80-degree heat, puts in a couple digs and soon finds himself in a top position.
It’s about to get better.
As Ettinger churns away at the pedals, closing in on the finish, he looks around and spots hundreds of people yelling and screaming in Spanish, pounding metal barriers, waving flags.
Around them stand fruit vendors and wood-fired grills to feed the hunger; open-air bars to quench the throats of the friendly.
He crosses the line in third place, with two Colombian riders ahead of him.
Cheers of “U.S.A. ... Go Gringo!” arise, only to be drowned out by those of “Va Va Va ... Colombia! Colombia!”
A smile envelopes his face.
This is Ettinger’s world.
One big adventure.
Over the past couple years, the Cashmere native has been on an exhilarating journey as a professional mountain biker, posting top finishes in national and international races and parlaying that success into a spot this year with the BMC Mountain Bike Racing Development Team, an off-shoot of USA Cycling.
And all the while having his eyes opened to various cultures.
“I get to wake up every day, train, race and ride my bike in cool places and see a lot of new things,” Ettinger says.
Last year, Ettinger was on the road for 160 days. This year, the 22-year-old Montana State University senior estimates his days away will exceed that number.
He has taken to writing a blog about his races and adventures. He has found he has much to tell people. Particularly his American friends.
“You go to races in Belgium and there are 30,000 people. ... They find ways to make it a big event with beer gardens, food, family things,” he says. “In places like Colombia, they are so excited we are down there, so excited we are in their country. Smiling. Gracious.
“It’s a cultural thing. Bicycles play a much bigger role in people’s lives than they do in the United States.”
Mountain biking has been a part of Ettinger’s life since he began tooling around the hills and canyons of the Wenatchee Valley as a kid. His mother, Jill LaRue, recalls her husband and Stephen’s dad, Tom Ettinger, using a tow rope to get him up hills before they’d go on rides when he was 8 or 9.
He won his first state championship as a 12-year-old. By his mid-teens, he was racing throughout the Northwest, along with his dad, who would compete himself in adult divisions. It was the perfect father-son adventure.
“They had a great time,” LaRue says. “They’d take long road trips and travel.”
Bigger success soon followed.
In 2007, Ettinger finished seventh (and the second American) among juniors (18 years and younger) at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, and was named to the USA Cycling’s national team.
In 2008, it was another seventh-place finish at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships but this time in the U23 (under 23 years of age) category.
A year later, he took third place among the U23s at U.S. Nationals. Later that season, he captured the Division II cross country and short track cross country titles at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in Truckee, Calif.
In 2010, riding as a pro for the first time, the 6-foot, 145-pounder ended the season as one of the top under-23 riders in the country. He raced in the World Cup in Europe, was seventh at the Pan American Championships, third at U.S. Nationals, and the top American (34th) in the World Championships in Quebec in September.
It was his first real go-around at mixing it up with North America’s top cross country and short track racers.
“I finished the season as essentially the top young American,” he says.
That success convinced Ettinger he needed to devote more time to the sport if he was to ever reach his true potential. So this past winter, he took off school at Montana State to train in the Tucson, Ariz., area and in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Being a member of the BMC development team has allowed him to concentrate on training and racing. He no longer has to worry about how to afford getting to the next big race.
The moves have paid dividends. In early March, he finished sixth in the short track and 10th in cross country at a U.S. Pro XCT round at Bonelli Park, Calif. He followed that up two weeks later with a third in the short track and 12th in the cross country at Fontana, Calif.
“This winter I was really focused,” he says. “Those were huge results for me.”
At the Pan American Championships in Colombia on April 3, he stood on the podium after a third-place finish in the U23 category. He was the top American placer.
He was anxious for the first World Cup race of the season, on April 23 at Pietermartizburg, South Africa. He found himself in a top 10 position in the U23 cross country race when his chain balled up. He failed to finish the event.
“... (It) all shattered in 10 seconds when an Australian bobbled on one of the few technical sections, forcing me to backpedal, my chain to bounce off the chain rings, kink and jam in my rear derailleur,” he wrote on his blog.
Those who know him best say Ettinger is not only physically gifted but also highly driven.
His coach, Jason Jablonski, says Ettinger was “a good but not great mid-pack” rider when he first started working with him about five years ago.
“The one thing Stephen came to the table with was a desire to compete at the highest level,” says Jablonski, who operates SET Coaching in Wenatchee. “Stephen is an instrinsically motivated athlete. He’s motivated by how well he can do, by how far he can push himself. He wants to see what his limits are. He will do what it takes.”
Jill LaRue chalks his success up to “one of those personal characteristics,” saying her son has, for instance, the fortitude to put up with the drudgery of relentless training.
“He’s a hard worker,” she says.
Genes may be playing a role, too.
Tom Ettinger was a ski racer as a youth in Bend, Ore., and comes from a family of athletes, His niece, Mariel Ettinger, was a star runner at Stanford from 1999-2002 and later a world-class triathlete and cyclist. Jill’s father, Jim LaRue, played football at Duke and Maryland and later coached the sport for decades, serving as an assistant coach on the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears and as head coach at the University of Arizona from 1959-66, among other stints.
Stephen Ettinger points to his parents as a big influence in his life and doubts he could have reached his goals without their financial and emotional support when he was a teen racer.
He also gives a big nod to Jablonski, winner of the 2005 Xterra World Triathlon Championships amateur title and a former pro mountain biker himself.
“He knows what I am going through, and more importantly he knows what it takes to get my body there,” Ettinger says. “We have it pretty dialed in.”
For the rest of the spring and summer, Ettinger has a mix of national and international events on tap. He told cyclingnews.com that he will be racing at the Dalby and Offenburg World Cups, Swiss Racer Bikes Cup rounds and a Bundesliga round — all in Europe. He also told the website he is looking forward to U.S. Nationals in Sun Valley, Idaho, and the U.S. Pro XCT finals in Missoula, Mont. Then it’s the World Championships at Champéry, Switzerland in September.
His immediate goals are to to be picked up by a pro team and to end up on the “long list” of seven to 10 riders being considered for the two or three spots on the U.S. Olympic team that will compete in the 2012 London Games.
As a member of the BMC Development team, he gets all of his expenses — including food, lodging and travel — paid for. He also gets to pick up race winnings.
But the amount pales in comparison to what he could earn on a top-notch pro team. Many first-year pros earn $50,000 or more. Ettinger says he frequently races now against guys making $250,000 a year. The top racers internationally earn close to $1 million annually.
His thoughts never stray far from school, however. He is majoring in premed at Montana State and carries a 3.75 grade point average. He hopes to get his bachelor’s degree from the Bozeman college next year.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity I have right now. I love what I am doing. But I won’t be able to do it forever. I have every intention of finishing school.”
Jablonski believes Ettinger can “easily” make the U.S. Olympic Team within a few years if he decides that’s what he wants. Most of the world’s best mountain bikers are in their late twenties to early thirties.
“I don’t think he’s reached his peak,” says his mom. “He can probably go as far as he wants to go — as long as he enjoys it.”
That he is doing right now as he races the world’s paths on his bike.
“He talks about how fun it is,” Jablonski says. “He sends me pictures sometimes, like ones of this little training route he was doing in the Swiss Alps. I’m so happy for him.”
Stephen Maher: 664-7154
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