Rebecca Gross is Focusing on New Life Priorities, But Still Riding

By: Jim Rusnak, TORRE  August 17, 2023

The pandemic may have shifted Rebecca Gross' racing goals, but she still plans to ride for fitness.

Sometimes, events conspire to shift one’s priorities in life. Such has been the case for Rebecca Gross over the last few years.

Gross became the first American to win a cyclocross world championship on home soil when she took the title at the 2012 Cyclocross Masters World Championships in Louisville, Ky. She also won the 2014 Cyclocross Masters National Championships and was the 2021 Mountain Bike Master National Champion. Earlier in her career, Gross was a two-time Collegiate Short Track National Champion.

So bikes – and bike racing – has played a central role in her life for a long time. Then the pandemic hit, and she decided to embark on a new career. Racing has now taken a backseat to other priorities, but she still finds time to participate in the sport she loves, even if it isn’t in the same capacity as before.

And she’s enjoying it as much – and in many ways, more – than she ever has.

“The last full season of cyclocross I did was in 2021,” Gross said. “I came back over the winter and did a whole bunch of local mountain bike racing, trying to race myself back into fitness. Then in the fall, I decided I needed a career change and opted out of the cyclocross season.

“It’s now a little more casual than in previous years when I trained with full focus. I ride a lot. I ride with friends a little bit more, but it’s not structured workouts. It’s more explore and find the stuff I like to do – mainly seeing stuff I’ve never seen before, trails I’ve never seen before, and finding ways to connect them.”

Gross, now in her 40s and residing in Golden, Colo., is a United States Air Force veteran and holds a Master’s Degree in Sport and Performance Psychology from the University of Denver. In addition to her training as a professional cyclist, she also worked as a coach. She is currently working on getting her commercial pilot instrument rating, a pursuit that takes up much of her time these days.

“I got a private license in 2008, and then it took me a little while to figure out that if I wanted to do something besides focus on coaching and bike racing, I should do whatever’s the most fun,” Gross said.

Shift in Focus

Even though she raced through the 2021 season, Gross’ shift in focus began during the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic. That year, she decided to coach herself. At first, her training went perfectly. She had no obligations to see anyone or do anything. All she had to do was work from home and train on her bike.

“I coached myself to one of the highest levels of fitness I’ve had since 2012, and then every race got canceled,” Gross said. “Then I was like, ‘What do I do with all this fitness now? Well, I guess I’ll just go out on really long rides and have fun.’ And I realized my self-worth wasn’t tied up in my results.”

She still felt good being out on the bike. She was also still coaching kids and felt inspired by motivating them and giving them a social activity to do at a time when they really needed it.

“I was kind of inspired by the pandemic when I realized there was more to life than just bike racing,” Gross said.

She’s now in the midst of a mid-life career change, and cycling brings her a sense of balance. Gross says it’s nice to have less structure now. She feels no pressure to work out, is just happy to ride with friends, and does not worry about getting a certain kind of training ride in. Rather than train for cyclocross, she can now go ride through the aspen trees in the fall when they’re in their golden glory.

When all the races disappeared during the pandemic, Gross realized she could do whatever she wanted – it didn’t matter. It brought a degree of freedom to her riding. But she did realize one thing – riding was still essential to her life.

“If I feel like I should be studying, I have a hard time breaking off to ride because I feel like every hour counts,” Gross said. “And then I find that I don’t function well when I don’t ride. So there has to be a balance there.

“I thought for a month or two there in the winter that I could take some time off the bike, and I just realized that I’m not happy when I’m not riding. I can hike and run, but nothing is quite the same. I can’t not ride bikes—it’s just something I love too much.”

Still Competing

Gross still satisfies her competitive itch from time to time. This past spring, she did the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo and 12 Hours of Mesa Verde mountain bike races with a team. She and her teams finished second at Old Pueblo and third at Mesa Verde.

Going into these races, Gross said she was probably the least prepared in her training than she has ever been. Still, in a post on social media after the Old Pueblo race, she wrote that you learn something about yourself every time you line up at the start.

“I just really love being there and being part of the community,” Gross said. “There are so many generations of people at this point that I’ve inspired. It’s amazing to revisit all these different people from the different times of my life when I was racing collegiate or the kids I’ve coached who are now teenagers. That makes me just so excited to be out there. I want people to see that if you race, it’s not fleeting. You don’t have to do it once and then stop. You can keep participating and keep revisiting this family forever.”

Cycling is Still Important, but Goals and Perspective Have Changed

When Gross started riding and racing in college, it helped her feel active and independent. A native of New York, she attended college in Alabama and didn’t feel like she fit in. Cycling was her escape to get out into the woods and feel good about herself again.

Then, throughout her life, she moved around a bunch in the military before landing in Colorado. Riding always felt comfortable and familiar. It still does.

“If I’m having a bad day, or there’s a lot to think about, or a lot to study, and then I go ride, and it all kind of feels like it comes back together, and I have a semblance of control over my life,” Gross said.

She still has goals, but they’ve shifted from their former competitive focus. Her No. 1 goal is maintaining fitness because she likes going out on long, hard rides.

“I want to be able to maintain my fitness, and I want to be able to feel good about my effort in a race,” Gross said. “The team races have become more appealing over the years. Because I’ve realized I don’t really care so much about how I finish on my own. But finishing with a group and feeling great about it is super fun and inspiring. I still love getting out there. “

So even now, as she pursues a new career as a commercial airline pilot, she has no plans of ever giving up her life on the bike.

“I plan to do this for the rest of my life – 100 percent,” Gross said. “As long as I am capable, I will. I want to show people that you’re never too old. Maybe you get lapped, and maybe you get pulled early, but being able to start with them and being part of it all – it’s so cool to keep throwing yourself into the mix. It keeps you feeling young.”