Ramos, 14, joins the pro mountain bike ranks
Loftier goals and dwindling challenges told Amber Ramos it was time to stop spinning her wheels and push the pedals to a level unthinkable for someone her age.
Like Serena Williams, Nadia Comaneci, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Capriati before her, 14-year-old Ramos has been breaking down age barriers throughout her athletic career.
Starting next weekend at familiar Mammoth Mountain, Ramos will shed her amateur innocence and climb into the arena of professional mountain biking reserved for 20- and 30-year-olds. A National Off Road Bicycling Association committee interviewed Ramos at last month’s national in Deer Valley, Utah, and notified her by mail Tuesday that she has been cleared to race at mountain biking’s highest level.
“It’s what I’ve been riding my bike for. It’s always been a dream,” said Ramos, who needed to petition NORBA because the minimum age for turning pro is 17. “It really didn’t require that much thinking because I’ve been thinking about it so long. My parents kept me from doing it for a long time. Actually I wanted to do it last year.”
Her parents, Jan and Reve, obviously have some reservations about turning their high school sophomore loose in the professional ranks, but they don’t want to see their daughter’s ambition suppressed.
“At such a young age I’m almost apprehensive. I love my daughter,” Reve said. “I hope she finds the fun in it instead of the pressure.
“By all rights she could have turned pro last year. You know what? She was running out of ambition. Hopefully this will respirit that goal of hers of going to Athens’ (Olympics) in 2004.”
Jan is comfortable with the decision because the family won’t lose a daughter in the process.
“She is still going to have us around for a while. She can’t get rid of us yet,” Jan said. “I think she’s ready. If she doesn’t keep going, I’m afraid she’s going to lose interest.”
As is has been with her other class ascents, Ramos needed the change of pace.
“It was hard keeping motivated because I’ve been racing the expert category since I was 11,” Ramos said. “I was just getting kind of bored, not bored so much with the competition, just more of the level.
“I really wanted to move up for something more to train for. Of course the money is nice, but I didn’t move up to pro for the money.”
Nothing in her past says that she’s getting in over her head:
— At 8, she was invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
— At 9, NORBA mandated that she get an expert license after jealous parents complained that she was sandbagging by winning time after time in a class that didn’t suit her ability.
— At 11, she rode her bike across Nevada – 500 miles in five days.
— At 13, held the national cross country and mountain bike championship titles for juniors 18 and under simultaneously. Last year, she also won seven of the eight NORBA national races she competed in, finishing second once because of a flat tire.
But what really distinguished Ramos as a pro was how she fared against pro riders in various races last year:
— In the Downieville Classic, an 8-mile climb and 22-mile descent, Ramos beat 80 percent of the men and all of the female entries, including pros.
— At Sierra-at-Tahoe’s Huckleberry Hustle, Ramos beat pro racer Audrey Augustine, who was fifth at Mammoth last year.
— In setting the course record for the second successive year in the Claim Jumper in Austin, Nev., Ramos bested all of the pro women.
“When your kids get excited about something, it brings the whole family together,” Reve said.
Ramos hopped on a mountain bike at 8, but she only focuses on the sport during the spring and summer. The rest of the year is devoted to running and skiing, sports that don’t suffer because of her mountain biking prowess.
As a freshman last year at South Tahoe High, Ramos was the Nevada girls state cross country runner-up and fifth in the 3,200 meters at the state track and field meet. In between her running seasons, Ramos squeezed in a runner-up finish at the U.S. Junior National Freestyle Skiing Championships and was fifth at the seniors nationals in the first run before a rare fall on the second run took her out of medal contention.
To understand what separates Ramos from many athletes, look no further than her pain threshold and determination. At the previous NORBA national last month in Deer Valley, Utah, Ramos tore a hamstring muscle during a hillclimb race. Instead of seeking the comforts of a stretcher, Ramos used her healthy leg to pedal across the finish line for second place.
Moreover, Ramos has spent the past several weeks hammering the hamstring rather than babying it. During that time she has looped Lake Tahoe four times, accomplishing the 72-mile ride in four hours.
“I wonder what normal people do sometimes,” Ramos said. “I ride my bike around the lake when I’m hurt, I guess. At times I think I’m giving up so much, giving up friends. But sometimes I think this is cool. What other kid can say that they rode around the lake today or that they rode to Fallon? Lots of kids say they went to parties last night, but I don’t think I really give up anything, I just exchange.
On Saturday and Sunday, she’ll ride to Fallon and back.
“She has to be healthy or I won’t let her race,” Reve said. “Sometimes she pushes her body harder than she knows.”
Like a child who moves to a new school district, Ramos won’t enter pro racing without some fears.
“It’s definitely going to be nerve-racking,” she said. “I’m going to be out there with a highly competitive field and I could get left in the dust, you never know.
“But I’ve learned through my experience if you prepare and do everything you can do to get ready for a race, it’s impossible to lose. The only thing that you can do is you can get beaten, and there is a big difference between the two.”
If her history tells us anything, Ramos won’t be satisfied racing in the pro ranks for the next decade.
“I don’t want to end up 37 years old and still racing my mountain bike,” she said. “I want to get done what I can as a kid and use my youth to my advantage, then get on with my life after biking.”
There is a fine line between him pushing me and him motivating me. Sometimes I feel like he’s pushing me, but when I look back he’s just trying to keep me from getting hurt because it’s not a child’s place to go race an expert-pro level race. You have to be ready for it because there are so many risks that you are taking. He has really helped me learn that you have to prepare for everything you do, whether it’s racing or giving a speech.
I don’t think I’ll burn out. I don’t want to keep doing this for that much longer. I don’t want to end up 37 years old and still racing my mountain bike. I want to get done what I can as a kid and use my youth to my advantage, then get on with my life after biking.
26 mile races last year; this year, 16.
Sponsor: I want to find something not in the bike expo area anymore because those people change so much. One day they’re working for Schwinn and the the next time I see them they’re working for some gear-shifting company. I want to find someone like Oreo or M & M or maybe someone in Tahoe, one that can be loyal …
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