Serious Sisu: Heather Irmiger
We are so thrilled to feature professional mountain bike racer Heather Irmiger as a woman with Serious Sisu. The 35-year-old is a professional athlete with Trek Factory Enduro. She is a diverse and talented athlete with results including multiple U.S. National Championships, a Single Speed World Championship, and other podiums the world over. She not only loves riding on two wheels but also working with younger mountain bikers climbing the ranks. She is a huge inspiration and motivation to girls. However, if you are not sure what Enduro biking is, it is well worth watching this short clip and have a think about encouraging your daughter to have a go at mountain biking.
Please can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?
I live in Boulder, Colorado with my husband, Jeremy, and dog, Crash. These days, we spend our Spring and Summer's traveling to Enduro events throughout North America in our Airstrea. I am beginning my 10th season as a professional mountain bike racer with Trek Bikes. 8 of those years were spent racing Olympic discipline cross-country all over the world. I have won multiple National Titles, a World Championship Title and notched top 10 World Cup race results. Since 2013, I have been competing in Enduro and focusing more energy on coaching and sharing my love for two wheels.
I grew up going on family trips to Moab and Winter Park with my family. My mom is the true mountain biker in the family and would take me out and coach me through the basics. I loved trying to keep up with her on the descents :)
Can you please tell us a little more about your journey. When do you think it went from being something ordinary to something with “sisu”?
That's a great question and one that has often stumped me in the past. I believe it is difficult to answer because, to me, when you're doing what comes naturally to you, your passion, this is something with "sisu". We all have a creative flow that is waiting to be unleashed, and I was very fortunate to find my expression through riding my bike. I look back now and don't know what it was that I did: all I can say is that I followed my heart and did what felt right. When you can be honest with yourself, whether your passion is being a professional athlete or becoming a leader of an organization, things unfold very naturally and the "when" just happens. There are challenges along the way, but there is an underlying ease when it's what you're "meant" to do.
What has been your greatest achievement?
I have quite a few race results that I'm certainly proud of: XC National Champions, Single Speed World Champion, numerous victories, and podium but my greatest achievement has been having a long and amazing cycling career. Riding your bike for a living isn't always as fun and easy as it looks. While it has been a dream job, the challenges to my physical body, my emotions, my mind, my spirit, have been extremely intense. I'm very proud of what I have accomplished over the years as a woman pushing myself to the max.
What does a typical week look like for you?
During the Spring, my training and riding volume begins to increase. I am still doing a bit of functional strength conditioning at The Alpine Training Center (a gym focused on conditioning for mountain athletes) as well as 4-5 mountain bike rides a week. Now that I've transitioned to the Enduro discipline, I spend far more time focusing on skill work (cornering, drops, jumps) than endurance training workouts. I'm also coaching a junior camp twice a week and love spending some time doing mellow hikes with my dog.
What attracted you to biking?
I LOVE being out in nature and immediately fell in love with the bike as a way to explore a wide variety of terrain. I love the sounds and smells associated with riding a bike on a rocky trail in nature.
What was your family's reaction to your choice of sport?
My family has always been incredibly supportive. As I mentioned, riding with my mom was what ultimately got me into the sport. And, while I went to college and even had a "normal" job for a couple of years, when I decided to quit my job to become a full-time professional my parents were very happy for me. They have been to many events ringing their cowbells and cheering.
What have you learned about yourself through biking?
So, so many things. I've learned discipline and work ethic - to not give up when something feels too hard...the feeling of overcoming a difficult day on the bike or winning a race is a rush of satisfaction that many people don't give themselves access to. In all the ways I've learned to be tough, I've very much learned to be more yielding and soft. There are so many things you can't control when it comes to racing: getting sick, changes in travel, unexpected results from your training plan, mechanical issues - these hurdles are all inevitable and receiving them with flexibility and a willingness to learn is an absolute must. I believe that the lessons I've learned on my bike are key lessons that are applied to life every day: be amazing, be adaptable, be open, and smile. Don't take life too seriously - if you think you can control it, life will quickly show you who is in charge ;)
Do you have any goals that you want to achieve with your sport?
any of my personal goals have evolved from results and titles to sharing the love of being on a bike. I've won some amazing competitions and am happy with what I've achieved. These days, watching a rider learn a new skill and smile or yelp with happiness on their bike is all the gratification I need. Also, I have a goal to ride in incredible areas - places I never got to go because I was racing somewhere different.
What piece of advice would you give to our young SisuGirls?
Don't ever give up or drop out of something that you've started, especially if this "thing" is something you're passionate about. Once you give up once, it's difficult to not get addicted to going the easy route. That said, be confident and know when you're pushing your mind or body too far - stay mentally healthy and push your limits but not at the expense of your health.
What is something that you know now that you wish someone had told you when you started biking?
I wish I had known earlier that nothing is black or white. I always thought that if I trained exactly THE perfect way or ate THE perfect diet that I would see the perfect results. What works one day doesn't necessarily work the next - learn to tune inward and become more flexible. Sometimes you need to push harder, sometimes you need to rest more. Sometimes you need to eat more veggies, sometimes you need more water...there is no formula. Listen to your mind and body and be sure to understand that what works for one person may not work for you. And, that what worked for you last season, may not work this season.
What makes you wake up each morning?
Breakfast :) I always go to bed thinking about breakfast. On a deeper level, everything! I love this life!
What and who inspires you?
I'm inspired by people who don't always have to wear a hard and tough shell. I've often had an "I can do it myself" attitude and really look up to people who are willing to give AND receive.
What is the piece of advice you ever received?
Rest. People truly don't rest enough whether it's from training, a daily job or being social. I sleep 8-10 hours a night, meditate and practice yoga. You don't always need to be on the go...more is not always better.
Finally, who do you think has serious sisu?
I tend to focus less on one particular individual and more on anyone who is willing to try new things and not worry about failing. People with this characteristic have serious sisu. I'm so impressed with a brand new mountain biker who wants so badly to learn that she isn't concerned about what people will think if she falls behind or crashes. Those willing to learn have serious sisu. No one is perfect, and I think those who are happy to improve without trying to be perfect are full of sisu.