By Dylan Zorn (Redwood High School)
Marin county is the world’s epicenter for mountain biking, with Mill Valley mainly credited for the birth of the sport. The county has produced a multitude of world-renowned mountain bikers, the most recent being Vaila Heinemann. Heinemann,17, a Redwood High School student, already established herself as a dominant racer by winning the California state championship for individual racing as a freshman. Currently, she ranked 11th in the U.S. and 67th in the world for junior women’s mountain biking.
Heinemann has been around biking for the majority of her life, which is largely attributed to her parents. “My parents got me into biking when I was really little”, she said. “I was already riding without training wheels since I was 2, and I would always be biking on bike paths and spending a lot of my time outside just riding around.”
Heinemann explains how her first high school season developed her passion and drive for riding. “I wasn’t really riding seriously until my freshman year of high school when I joined Redwood’s mountain biking team. My coaches really pushed me, and I saw a lot of growth in my riding during that season, which is pretty short. At the end of [the season] I won the state championship, which is when I knew riding was something I wanted to pursue”
Subsequent to her freshman biking campaign, Heinemann has ridden with several well- recognized programs, taking her riding to the next level. Most recently, she joined Bear National Team, a program whose members have been invited to race in the World Cup, World Championships, and USAC Road Nationals.
“Bear [National Team] is the most incredible thing that I’ve ever been a part of. We are a fairly young team, but our coaches treat us like we are adult professionals. The program has allowed me to take my riding to a place I ever thought possible. We have about 10-12 big races every year, which are all great opportunities to improve.”
Heinemann’s experience with the Bear National Team has taken her all over the country, as higher caliber events are typically held outside of California. Most recently, she competed in Arkansas in April at the prestigious Roam Rally.
“Arkansas was a really fun race. The terrain we biked on was pretty tough, but nothing we haven’t practiced before. Several of our riders finished really well, which was great to see,” Heinemann said.
Heinemann believes that she has a bright future in the sport with her skills. “If I’m able to do well in the next upcoming races I can go to Europe. Those races really help younger riders like me get a lot of experience, especially in unfamiliar trails. One of my teammates on Bear will be in the Olympics this year in Tokyo. I’m hoping soon enough my hard work will pay off and allow me to compete in events like that.”
Haley Randel, who is a Mill Valley native as well as one of Heinemann’s teammates on Bear National Team, acclaimed Heinemann’s aptitude for biking. “Vaila is just one of those standout people who everyone loves and looks up to [on Bear]. Even though she competes in a younger age group, her mentality and work ethic are so mature. If she can continue progressing, she’s gonna be special.”
Heinemann plans on continuing to train with the Bear National Team as she completes high school and will see what the future holds for her in biking. Her great accomplishments at a young age are the beginning of a promising career.
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