She's Jolanda, the Accidental Bike Champ

Jolanda Kuster Van Ooyen hopes her experiences as an "accidental" mountain-bike racer will prove inspirational to other young mothers and young people in general as she sweeps her class at events throughout the Northwest.

It started back in 1991. After she had already ridden 26 miles to Farragut Park to watch her husband, Randy, compete in an Earth Day race, he and some friends talked her into competing. Giving in reluctantly, she proceeded to win her event.

Since that day Van Ooyen has won nearly every Western regional event she has entered, last year placing first overall in the senior expert division in the Washington-Idaho-Montana (WIM) Series, sanctioned by the National Off-Road Biking Association (NORBA) as the Inland Northwest Regional Championship. In the series of nine races between April and September, she placed first in six of the races, second in one and fourth in another (overcoming such obstacles as flat tires and faulty equipment), and won the finals after changing a tire on the first lap, then pulling seven minutes ahead of her closest competitor by the third and final lap.

Her lean physique -- she weighs 120 pounds at 5 feet, 7 inches tall -- and soft-spoken humility belie the 30-year-old's physical power and focused will.

"I like to push myself to the limit," she says. "I love to climb". So it would seem: The day before giving birth to her daughter in 1993, she rode up Schweitzer Mountain and back, and now she frequently plops 2-year-old Jenny in the baby-carrier and heads up Schweitzer or out to Garfield Bay, around Bottle Bay and back home to Smith Creek Road, west of Sandpoint, "just for the exercise."

But, at least she isn't in denial. "Sometimes I tend to over-train. I get hooked on the endorphins," she said with a laugh.

Last year Van Ooyen was sponsored by The Outdoor Experience (Team O.E.) in Sandpoint, but this season attracted a national sponsor, Merlin bicycles, and hopped onto the semi-professional circuit. Although the racing season was still young as of springtime this year, Van Ooyen had already captured first at an American Mountain Bike Association Race in Salt Lake City, and second at an AMBA race in Idaho City. From all indications Jolanda is primed to keep on climbing,

-- Steve Sparks

Back to Contents Page -- 1996 Summer Sandpoint Magazine