Kelli Emmett has a thing for dirt. Whether she’s riding her 300 KTM motorcycle or any one of an array of mountain bikes, the 33-year-old Colorado Springs resident feels most comfortable away from pavement.
It’s a surface that has played a substantial role in her life. She spent a good chunk of her childhood laboring on the family’s apple farm in Plymouth, Mich. When she wasn’t mowing fields, picking apples or pruning her share of the orchard’s 15,000 trees, odds were good she was turning laps on an old dirt bike.
But it wasn’t until Emmett hopped on a mountain bike that she began making what ultimately would become her indelible mark.
“Hated it,” Emmett says of that initial encounter with the sport. “I was like, ‘This is stupid. Why would anyone want to do this?’” It seemed a valid question; Emmett was far more interested in social activities than sports and was a smoker.
Plus, mountain biking wasn’t easy, and after that first ride Emmett had the bumps and bruises to prove it.
Yet, she didn’t quit. Her father, a longtime smoker, made sure of it. He saw mountain biking as a healthy alternative to cigarettes. He knew that in order for his daughter to adopt this new habit, she would have to kick the old one.
By the time she crossed the finish line of her first race in Michigan, she was hooked on mountain biking and had given up cigarettes. Within two years, Emmett — a “nonathlete” who was booted from a high school weightlifting class for not participating — had reached the pinnacle of racing.
As a professional mountain biker, Emmett has built an impressive resume. In her first season as a pro, she finished top 10 in World Cup and parlayed that success into her first contract. She’s a member of the Giant Factory Off-Road team, and her long list of accolades includes 2000 National Collegiate Champion, 2007 Single Speed World Champion, 2008 Sea Otter Classic Champion, 2010 Downieville All-Mountain World Champion and 2006 and 2010 Super D National Champion.
“It changed my life,” Emmett says of riding. “I just fell in love with it. It pushes you always.”
And Emmett pushes herself — with the work ethic gleaned as a girl picking apples for “hours on end.” Those hours now are spent in the saddle, testing her technical skills with quick descents through Williams Canyon, fine-tuning her cornering techniques at Pueblo Reservoir and building her endurance with long rides to Hanover.
“I think all pros have those moments where you have to get out on a ride or do a workout when you are really not motivated,” she says. “For me, I just have to think about my goals for the season and what I want to achieve.
“I know it isn’t going to happen by not training.”
In 2011, those goals are defending her crown at Downieville, finishing top three at nationals, and winning the Leadville Trail 100 — a race that has surged in popularity since Lance Armstrong first competed three years ago.
Emmett has raced several ultras but never Leadville. And while 100 miles at an elevation of 10,000 feet and higher might not sound like fun, Emmett is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s an amazing show,” she says. “I know it’s going to be a long, hard day for sure. Sometimes those races, you just set a pace, put your head down and go. It will be a cool adventure.”
It’s been one adventure after another for Emmett since moving to Colorado Springs in 2001. She likes to, as she says, “mix it up” when it comes to racing and training. She owns enough bikes to lose count and she competes in multiple disciplines for Giant — her favorite being the Super D, a cross-country downhill race that requires endurance.
Although she spends an estimated 25 hours on her bike during peak summer weeks, Emmett looks for other ways to stay fit and race-ready.
She joins the parade of hikers on the Manitou Springs Incline. She embarks on backcountry skiing trips, where strenuous ascents simulate the climbing required in mountain biking. She jumps on her motorcycle and rides her favorite mountain biking trails.
Emmett even takes her road bike for a couple of spins each week. As with many mountain bikers, it isn’t something she looks forward to, but she understands the purpose.
“Mountain biking can be very physically fatiguing, which can accumulate if done too much day after day,” Emmett says. “So it is easier to get in more miles and time on the road bike without the additional fatigue.”
Those long, sometimes windy rides aren’t memorable — “a little boring,”
she says with a laugh — and on one occasion led to trouble.
Drafting behind a friend on a road bike, Emmett was pulled over by police in Tucson, Ariz. The officer issued a ticket, with make and model designated as “Specialized 10 speed,” for riding 21 mph in a school zone.
Maybe that’s why she has a thing for dirt.
—MCT (c) 2011, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.).
Birth date: April 7, 1977
Disciplines: Cross Country, Short Track XC, Super D, Marathon XC
Primary strength: Descending
Primary weakness: Climbing — “People think because I am a little smaller, I must be a great climber. Well, don’t be fooled. I am much better on rolling courses with short climbs. ... Cyclists usually say it takes 10 years to develop your weakness, so any day now my climbing should improve!”
Unusual form of crosstraining: Dirt bike riding — “We ride a lot of the same trails. It helps with learning how to corner better.”
Passions that don’t include two wheels: Cooking and reconnecting with friends
Other places you’ll find Kelli: Coaching one of her 10 clients or working at the Center for Creative Leadership
Favorite food: Apples — several years of working on the family apple farm didn’t sour Kelli on her fruit of choice. She still eats three a day.
Quotable: On Colorado Springs resident and friend Katie Compton joining Giant — “It’s great! I have been the only woman on the team for the past four years, so I can’t wait to have someone to talk to about feelings. I get a little tired of the dude talk sometimes.”
iPod playlist: Tegan and Sara, Mumford & Sons, M.I.A., Jurassic 5