The Mind Of A Champion

The Mind Of A Champion

Last Thursday, Cafe Velo hosted their first Ladies Night. It was an evening of wine and cheese, bike maintenance tips, product samples, and socialization with like-minded women. The best part for me was hearing from nine other local female athletes on their ‘Journey to Competitive Cycling/Triathlon.”


The first to speak was Alison Dunlap. She’s the 2001 Mountain Bike World Champion. Being a part of the Women’s Mountain Biking Association of Colorado Springs and just being in the Colorado Springs cycling community, I’ve met her before, but I’ve never heard her story.

Alison Dunlap and Coach Nicole after the 2011 Susan G. Komen Ride for the Cure in Fountain, CO. Photo by Tim Bergsten of

Alison Dunlap and Coach Nicole after the 2011 Susan G. Komen Ride for the Cure in Fountain, CO. Photo by Tim Bergsten of


She started road riding in college (here at Colorado College in Colorado Springs) and was the only female on the road team. That takes some mental strength in itself. She told of getting lapped just about every race her first collegiate season. But she stuck with it, worked hard, and got faster, and started winning.


She won enough to make it onto the US National team and compete in the 1996 Olympic Road Race. While that didn’t go as well as she’d like, she loved riding and switched over to mountain biking.


She found herself in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney in the women’s cross country mountain bike event. A tree got in the way of her and a podium finish, but it was at that race she knew she had what it would take to win. Her next goal was the 2001 World Championships set to take place in Vail, Colorado the following September.


This is the part of her story that struck me. After the Olympics, her mind was completely on the World Championship Race. Everything she did supported that goal. But not only her physical training – she prepared by visualizing herself winning. She was the world champion in her mind, and just had to get there. She pictured everything about that race that would happen with her winning, even a victory salute. She borrowed a world championship jersey and medal from a friend and slept with it the night before the race.


While that might seem a little over the top, that’s what champions do. They believe 100% of what they are capable of achieving. But for most it’s not a cocky confidence – they are still nervous before the start. Maybe even more so with the magnitude of what is on the line. They don’t always sleep well the night before a race, just like everyone else!


She did win, and it was a special victory because the race took place on US soil 4 days after 9/11.


Yes, World Champions are gifted athletes, but we can take the lessons from the behavior of the champions like Alison, and apply them to our own experiences. Be a champion in your life.


1) Set goals for yourself and in the context of your environment (family, work, etc) figure out what it takes to get there.

2)  Believe in yourself and push YOUR limits, whatever those might be. It won’t be easy and might be scary, but think of the reward.

3) Visualize positive outcomes to your events. Very few people podium, but based on your training, you should know what a great performance FOR YOU will be. Get it in your mind, over and over!

Happy Training and Racing!

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Nicole Odell


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