Student earns professional mountain biking license

Ellen Holmes

While it may be winter, one can find senior Cooper Dendel doing one of three things: biking to class, snowbiking or otherwise finding ways to exercise outside.

Cooper Dendel, a senior, celebrates taking a first place in the Fat Tire Festival in Copper Harbor this September.

Dendel, an elementary education major who received her professional racing license last week after two years of competitive mountain biking, is, afterall, preparing for a heavy mountain biking race schedule in the coming 2013 season.

Dendel was convinced to enter her first race when she was a freshman at NMU by a former math teacher in her hometown of Harbor Springs, Mich. That year, she took first place in the sport division of the Cry Baby Classic at Nubs Nob.

Afterwards, Dendel was introduced to Bob South, owner of No Boundaries Outdoors in Boyne City, Mich., who offered Dendel a team jersey and invited her to become a member of the shop’s race team in the upcoming Iceman Cometh Challenge.

“At the time, I had no idea what the Iceman was,” Dendel said. “I was like, ‘30 miles, I don’t think so.’ I had just finished a 12.5 mile race and was done, and I couldn’t imagine 30 miles. They said I had to do it, it wasn’t really a choice at that point, so I signed up.”

After taking another first place finish in the 15-to-18-year-old women’s division at the Iceman, Dendel adopted the saying, “If you win your category, you have to move up a category.” It became her motto, pushing her to win in her division at nearly every upcoming race.

After that, Dendel spent the summer of 2012 as a member of the Marquette-based Quick Stop-Culver’s team, competing in the Wisconsin Off Road Series (WORS) across the Midwest, The Fat Tire Festival in Copper Harbor and remaining a participant in the Iceman, which runs from Kalkaska, Mich. to Traverse City, Mich.

With the WORS series races, Dendel said she grew in confidence and ability. By taking the first place podium in her first WORS category one race—which is one level below the Pro (Elite) class—Dendel was quickly moved up to the Elite class where she competed in three more of the WORS series races.

The technical singletrack that makes up the Fat Tire Festival has become a specialty for Dendel, which led to her goal for the 2012 season of placing first overall for women in the race.

In September, Dendel met that goal. In November, racing against 2012 Olympic bronze medal finisher Georgia Gould in the Iceman, Dendel again competed in the Elite division and took seventh place.

Yet Dendel doesn’t see biking in her free time as training and maintains the aspect of fun that has kept her in the sport for this long.

“I wouldn’t say I really train more or less,” Dendel said. “I’ll go out and ride, mostly by myself, and keep going until I’m tired and I want to head home.  I don’t have a bike computer, so I don’t know how far I go.  It’s all about having fun.”

Next season, Dendel will begin her pro career, which will allow her to race outside of the country and be placed in new divisions.

She will continue racing for the Quick Stop-Culver’s team, and is looking forward to doing as many local races as possible.

“I love the trails around here, and it’s just fun to compete on your home territory,” Dendel said.

Dendel is looking forward to her first race of the season, the WORS Iola Bump ‘N’ Jump, which takes place in Iolo, Wis. on Sunday, May 5.

“To prepare for next season, I get to class by bike, snowbike two to three times per week, downhill ski five to six days a week and eat Culver’s frozen custard to keep my sponsor in business,” Dendel said. “I even have the five-day forecast on my phone for the next five flavor-of-the-days.”