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Athlete Feature: 16-year old MTB Standout Haley Randel

By Sofia Marin | In Athlete Interview | on August 28, 2019

At just 16 years old, Haley Randel is making her mark in the mountain biking world. In 2019 alone, she’s racked up an impressive number of victories and podiums, including selection to the 2019 MTB World Championships Team for the United States, a gold medal at USA National MTB Championships in the Team Relay, and international success at several UCI Junior MTB cross country and short track races. 

The Bear Development rider is bubbly, talented, hard-working and absolutely fierce on the bike.

An untimely crash just weeks before the World Championships means she won’t get a chance to race and represent Team USA this year. It was a big blow, but you’ll see the young rider does not give up easily. She already has her eye on 2020.

“A champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.” – Serena Williams.

We talk to Haley about her 2019 season and get an inside look into the mind and heart of a young champion.

What is your favorite part of mountain biking and racing?

HR: The adventures that my bike takes me on. I get to travel to different places on my bike that I wouldn’t be able to get to otherwise. I like getting to experience the world from the perspective of a bike.

What kind of courses do you enjoy the most?

HR: I really love technical courses that require good bike handling skills and long, sustained climbs and covering long distances.

What has been the highlight of your 2019 season?

HR: The whole season was so amazing, it’s hard to choose. Being selected for the Worlds Team has been the biggest highlight. It proves not only the hard work I put in for Nationals, but all the effort I put in for the whole season that led up to that. 

What are your other top accomplishments of 2019?

– Winning the Team Relay at USA Junior MTB Nationals
– 5th at my first international race, the Junior UCI Race Bear Mountain Canada Cup
– Winning Downieville
– Feeling so good at USA MTB Nationals and placing 4th in Cross Country

What do you think contributed to your success this season?

HR: A lot of hard work, dedication, and an amazing coach. I really focused on the fun part of racing and kept it super fun and exciting.

I have a really strong support network through my team Bear Development and all the people and sponsors who are a part of it. They’ve done so much to support me this season.

Haley and her 2019 USA MTB Team Relay National Championship teammates of Bear Dev.

Is it hard being just 16 years old and racing against 17- and 18-year old girls?

HR: It’s so hard. It’s really frustrating to know that I’m racing girls that are in college and I’m not even half-way through high school.  It’s really hard mentally to get around the mental block that I’m so much younger and they have a lot more experience and training than I do. 

But it motivates me to do better. I’m able to inspire myself. I think: If I do so well against these girls, I can do anything.

What has been the most difficult part of this season? 

HR: My crash leading up to Worlds has been the hardest part of the season. To get so excited to go to Worlds and not being able to go. It’s really hard mentally more than anything. 

I was super excited to have the experience regardless of my result and the course was going to be fun and technical which I like. I was looking forward to it more than anything, and it’s really hard to see that all disappear so fast. 

Is there anything that helps with the disappointment?

HR: Because of my selection to go to Worlds, I know I’m capable of getting on the Worlds team. I’m really happy that so many of my friends still get to go race and represent Team USA. I’m definitely looking to go next year and I’d really like to focus on some early season races and carry the momentum forward.

I’ve been told I’m going to Europe for some races in 2020, so I’m looking forward to that as well. There’s always going to be more to come; it’s not like it ends here. 

When a race gets super hard, what kinds of things do you tell yourself to keep going?

HR: I’m usually too focused to remember these things. A lot of the time, I tell myself I’m almost there and to stick with it. I count down the laps. I tell myself: You’re not gonna die.

I usually think, Ride for Tate. Tate was a teammate of mine who was killed by a car earlier this year. He can’t do it anymore so you have to race for him. I think, Don’t let him down. 

What’s it like traveling and racing across the country and internationally? Any challenges?

Young Pilot. Haley’s hobbies include flying airplanes and fox hunting.
“I really love the adventure and travel. It’s hard to explain the feeling of flying.”

HR: It’s so fun. It’s the best thing ever. Especially when you get to go with a ton of people you like, which is the case because I have such amazing teammates. Sometimes it’s hard to find food that works for you, especially in foreign countries. You have to be able to cook for yourself. I’ve gotten really good at packing and unpacking my bike. 

What is your dream goal when it comes to cycling?

HR: Racing MTB World Cups and going to the Olympics. Just getting to race them would be special enough. Winning or podiuming would be totally incredible.

A Word with her Coach, Sofi Marin

Coach Sofi with a young rider at the 2019 USA Cycling Talent ID Camp

In addition to Haley’s reflections on her 2019 success, we caught up with her AchievePTC Coach, Sofi Marin to ask her a few questions:

Is there anything that has surprised you compared to what you expected from coaching Haley?

SM: I am continually impressed by Haley’s positive attitude. I’ve never met someone who enjoys riding their bike so much! It’s very inspiring. She does a really good job of appreciating her progress and successes along the way and is not super fixated on results. She goes out and does her very best, and finds joy in the process.

Many talented athletes feel disappointed if they don’t get the win. But Haley will be enthusiastic about a strong performance no matter the result. If she doesn’t have the ride she wants, it motivates her to work harder and keep striving for her personal best. I see this as a fundamental trait of long-term success and happiness in the sport. 

What’s been your approach to coaching Haley this season? Has this changed from when you started until recently?

SM: Haley makes my job easy. She is very coachable and willing to learn and try new things.

My approach to coaching Haley has been consistent from the beginning: Support her as much as possible, guide her, and let her development unfold naturally and easily.

She is a talented and hard-working athlete; I guide her but I don’t push or pressure. I want her to have a long and successful career in the sport and that means I take extra special care with her during these early development years. The first priority is always to make sure she is having fun. The second is to focus on progress rather than perfection.

What type of tools do you use when coaching Haley? Does she use a heart rate and/or power meter?

SM: Using power and heart rate can sometimes be distracting and detrimental for the athlete, especially during the early years. First and foremost, I want Haley to become very in tune with her body. We will use heart rate as a way to cap the intensity on certain efforts but that’s about it.

I prefer for her to develop a strong relationship between her mind and body as the foundation of her future riding. Plus, it keeps her happy to be in the moment rather than looking down at a screen!

What do you want to accomplish with her over the course of the next 12 months? What’s she capable of?

SM: Over the next year, I hope to see Haley develop further and gain more experience racing at the national and international level.  Now we know she has what it takes to make the World Championships team, so we will target that as well. I’d like to see her step into a leadership role with her high school and Bear Development team, as well. The number one priority will be to make sure she is happy and enjoying riding her bike.

Haley is capable of anything she puts her mind to! I can’t predict the future, but I can say that I think she has the qualities of a champion and I will absolutely support her dreams and ambitions. 

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