Former mountain bike pro finds passion in teaching, but looks to race again.
By Kat Jahnigen
Eagle-Vail resident Mia Stockdale has done seemingly everything in the world of sports – but through all her endeavors, racing is her passion.
She taught sailing at the lake where she grew up on in Iowa and worked as a personal fitness trainer. You might find her helping customers at the Vail Nordic Center, or teaching Nordic skiing, but in her 25 years in the Vail Valley, she hasn’t lost her love for competition.
Her athletic pursuits began at a young age she began racing sailboats and water skiing competitively.
“When I moved back (to Vail), I started racing mountain bikes professionally, pretty much right away,” says Stockdale. “I started at the beginner level, then I upgraded and pretty quickly jumped into the pro ranks, kind of self-sponsored. Did that for a year, then I got my first sponsor.”
It’s a passion that, unfortunately, Stockdale has had to put largely on-hold for the past ten years as she struggled with her health. Her racing and training schedule was grueling, combined with work, and it soon all caught up with her.
“When I finished racing, I was teaching spinning at the Vail Athletic Club, then going out and riding hard and running hard, and I kind of buried myself in the ground as far as my health goes, got really run down,” says Stockdale, who was then diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. “It’s been a ten year process – I’ve pretty much had to quit racing. It’s something I just love, and it’s been really tough to not be able to.”
Sharing the passion
Thankfully, Stockdale has had other outlets for her athletic passions. She began the Vail Mountain Bike Camps in 1996. The program began as a series of women’s clinics, before Stockdale joined forces with a local schoolteacher and began focusing the clinics on instructing young mountain bikers.
”For me, doing clinics – both the women’s and the kids’ camps – was really a perfect fit. I’ve taught something, of one sport another, since I was 16 years old,” she says.
Another endeavor Stockdale undertook was running the retail, rental and instruction at the Vail Nordic Center with longtime boyfriend Shane Sluder. The Nordic Center has seen success in those years, under the couple’s management. As Stockdale says, her management style is “kind of strict,” while Sluder is “the softie.”
“I’ve always Nordic skied since I’ve been out here,” says Stockdale, who learned to Nordic ski when she started doing winter triathlons 25 years ago. “It’s only a five-month lease (at the Nordic Center), and it’s pretty all-consuming in the winter. I love it, and we’ve really built up the Nordic community and put our hearts and souls into it.”
Molly McGee, manager of Vail Nordic Center, has worked with Stockdale for five years during the winters - plus three summers working at the mountain bike camps. Surprisingly, McGee is not a competitive mountain biker.
“She knew that I loved instructing and working with kids,” says McGee, “So she worked with me on my personal mountain biking skills. It’s one of her best skills – she likes to sit you down and tries to figure out what you love to do and why, and then figure out how to incorporate those skills into your work.”
Vail Mountain Bike Camps has also sponsored a team of young racers during the summer for the past four years, offering the kids’ camps and, one step up, a race academy program.
“It’s hard to keep up with some of them!” says Stockdale who often does the Vail Recreation District’s Mountain Bike Race Series alongside her students. “It’s just nice to give them an opportunity to progress in their sport, spring boarding them into the next level, if that’s what they want to do.”
“It’s funny now because the kids who came fifteen years ago are now in their mid-20s,” says Stockdale. “But they’re still mountain biking, and they love it. It’s just neat to turn them on at a young age.”
Stephanie Dow, a winter resident in Vail, who has taken private Nordic lessons and clinics from Stockdale for the past three years, calls her an “awesome” instructor.
“When she teaches you, she explains things in different ways so you understand, so that it connects with you,” says Dow. “She teaches all different levels – she’s not intimidating. She’s got great enthusiasm for the sport, she motivates you. She’s really positive.”
Back to the start line?
In the off-season, Stockdale and Sluder do a significant amount of traveling, often heading to Mexico for a month to surf.
“I’ve lived in the mountains for 25 years, and I love it, but I could see moving to the ocean somewhere down the road, just for a change,” muses Stockdale. “I’ve talked for a lot of years about doing surf camps, that’s something we’ve thought about. But that’s my vacation spot – I don’t know if I want to work when I go down there!”
And as for racing, Stockdale is excited that she’s been feeling good enough in the last couple years to begin testing out the competitive waters again. She’s tentatively begun doing some mountain bike, Nordic and snowshoe racing over the last year.
“Being an athlete in the valley, and everyone else is competing and you don’t, it’s been one of the hardest challenges of my life. It’s been fun jumping back into racing, but I’m still not there,” she says.
Having done well in both business endeavors – the Mountain Bike Camps and the Nordic Center – Stockdale attributes her success to doing something she’s passionate about. “I can’t imagine not being in a job that I’m passionate about. I feel really lucky to be able to work in two fields I feel so passionate about, because then it seems like it’s not work at all.”