Update: From classroom to trails: An Interview with Vanessa Hauswald

Three-time World Cup overall champion and creator of Juliana Bicycles Juli Furtado, right, will be the guest of honor for the MCBC Dirt Fondo ride from the Marin Headlands to the top of Mt. Tam and back on Sunday. (Gary Perkin photo)

UPDATE:  9/3/2014 Former world champion to be guest of honor for mountain bike fundraiser By Tim Menicutch IJ correspondent – Other guest riders at Sunday’s MCBC Dirt Fondo include Vanessa Hauswald, 38, a resident of Petaluma and the executive director of Northern California High School Cycling.

Mountain biking is fast becoming a popular local high school club sport.  Over the last decade, this sport did not grow on its own.  It takes individuals with dedication, passion, and drive to organize and motivate teenagers to get involved.  Vanessa Hauswald is such a person.  This former 12th grade teacher at Casa Grande High School is now Executive Director for the NorCal High School Cycling League working in what she calls her dream job. I first learned about her after watching a very touching and inspiring video of her mountain biking which led to this interview.  In this interview, you are going to learn how she has overcame a significant personal challenge and turned her love for teaching from the classroom to mountain trails.

Wayne:  Vanessa, thank you so much for your time to tell us your story.  Tell us about your experience growing up in the wine country and riding in your youth?

Vanessa:  I was born and raised in Napa Valley, CA where my parents had us riding and touring bikes since we were in elementary school. He started out by bribing my brother and I with pancake breakfasts, so we would ride from Napa to Yountville or St. Helena, pig out and return happy. We graduated to doing more touring…I celebrated my high school graduation with a two week bike tour through the Scottish Highlands, and since then our family has toured the CA coast numerous times.

Wayne: What happened when you live in Colorado that made mountain biking turn into a passion for you?

Vanessa: Everyone in Durango rides a mountain bike, so I joined the fun and never turned back.

Wayne: Why do you mountain bike opposed to road cycling? Vanessa: I ride mountain and road bikes; however I prefer mountain biking because you can get further into the backcountry. You can see and do things on a mountain bike that 90% of society never does or sees.

Photo By Paige Green
Photo By Paige Green Photography


Wayne: Tell us how you turned teaching 12th Grade English to becoming Executive Director —-reading and writing to teaching mountain biking?

Vanessa: Teaching is a profession that translates well to most other jobs. Most teachers use leadership, public speaking, patience, critical thinking, and perseverance on a daily basis and these things serve you well in professional as well as personal life.


Wayne: You were a 12th grade English teacher at Casa Grande High School – how did you make the jump from being a teacher to a profession in mountain biking?

Vanessa: I absolutely loved my job as a high school educator; however, I also really loved coaching mountain biking to teens. Teenagers don’t have that many opportunities to unplug, get outside and challenge themselves and mountain biking provides these things. When I was coaching the mountain bike team I was able to put both of my passions together: education and cycling. So, when the position of Executive Director of the NorCal High School Cycling League became available it just seemed like the perfect fit for me, even though I had never studied non-profit management.

Wayne: Tell us how the development of an English student differs from a Mountain bike student?

Vanessa: They don’t really differ that much. Both require focus, attention to detail, patience and hard work. I guess the main difference is that you usually don’t bloody your elbows working on an essay.

Wayne: You have personally been faced challenges with your battle with cancer.  How has this changed your view on life what life lessons do you share with the young riders?

Vanessa: Cancer has made me that much more appreciative of the little beauties in life: patterns in nature, a sunny afternoon, the coastal breeze, a good conversation. Cancer has also reminded me that our thoughts have an enormous impact on our mental and physical health, and we are in control of the way that we think about, and perceive, all situations. I’m a glass half full kind of person so I work on passing along these simple truths to the teens I work with.

Wayne: When did mountain biking first become a high school sport?

Vanessa: It’s not a high school sport in CA. It is a club sport, similar to lacrosse.

Wayne: How has the sport grown in the past decade?

Vanessa: The NorCal High School League was the first high school mountain bike League in America. It was founded in 2001 with 25 student-athletes. In 2014 the NorCal League has over 800 athletes, and there are now 11 other Leagues across the country, which were all modeled after the NorCal League. It’s booming!

Wayne:  Tell us the story on how the Casa Grande High School Mountain Bike Team came about.

Vanessa: Casa had a mountain bike team for a few years in the early 2000s. My friend and co-coach Scot Wigert, and I, revitalized it in 2006 and it has been going strong, under Scott’s fabulous coaching, since then.

Vanessa Hauswald Tuning Up Bike
Image From Kitsbow.com Video

Wayne: How many Petaluma high school riders are participating now in the sport? Vanessa: They have a great team this year of about a half dozen kids. They are working hard to grow their team for the 2015 season.

Wayne: Tell us what character transformations you see in teenagers from the first ride to finishing their first race on a mountain bike?

Vanessa: I see kids bettering their eating and sleeping habits and I see major boosts in individual levels of confidence both on and off the bike.

Wayne: Is there any upcoming new talent that may be a hopeful in the sport of mountain biking?

Vanessa: We have numerous student-athletes who are racing on the national and international level. We’ve also got recent almuni who are demonstrating magnificent success on the professional cycling circuit. However, we focus on the development of strong bodies, minds and characters in our teens and not on how “fast” our riders are. We’re developing lifelong cyclists who love the sport and make good life choices.

Photo by Julian Bikes
Photo by Julian Bikes

Wayne: You are now Executive Director non-profit NorCal High School Cycling League – What makes this your “Dream Job”?

Vanessa: I work with teenagers and mountain bikes in a rewarding and challenging field. I get to ride my bike to work, and often get to ride my bike FOR work. Weekly, I hear from parents that cycling has changed their childrens’ lives for the better, and has helped their entire family to become more healthy…these things make it my dream job.

Wayne: Why is it so important for you to get as many kids on mountain bikes as possible?  What lessons can they learn from this sport?

Vanessa: High school mountain biking is a coed, all inclusive sport. There are no benches. There are no cuts. If you come to practice and work hard, you play. I can’t think of another high school sport that can claim to be this inclusive. It is also team, and an individual, sport, which is very unique. What lessons can be learned? Lots! Perseverance, confidence, health, patience, grit, and joy are some of the ones at the top of the list.

Wayne: For people who are not familiar with National Interscholastic Cycling Association (N.I.C.A.), can you tell us what that association is and what it means to young riders?

Vanessa: NICA is our parent organization, and they support us in numerous ways. They are working to bring high school cycling coast to coast by 2020.

Wayne: Have any local high school riders moved on to college level riding?

Vanessa: Lots!

Wayne: NorCal has many great programs for youth riders.  Tell us about the programs the kids can take advantage and experience through NorCal?

Vanessa: Our 11 race series; winter camps, summer camps, skills clinics, Wilderness First Aid courses, Coach Certification programs, scholarship programs, fun rides and more.

Vanessa Hauswald Video
Image From Kitsbow.com Video

Wayne: NorCal is a non-profit and completely relies on funding from supporters?  What benefits does NorCal bring to our community that would cause a person or business to take interest in making a donation or sponsor it?

Vanessa: Both schools in Petaluma have high school mtb teams: Casa Grande and Petaluma High. However, the NorCal League reaches all the way down to Fresno and up to Mendocino. We believe that being a sponsor of the NorCal League gives companies exposure to a broad and diverse market, and it has tangible positive impacts on the health of the kids in our community.

Wayne: Petaluma seems to be fast becoming a bicycle town – do you see more and more people transition from four to two wheels as a choice for transportation?

Vanessa:  Unfortunately, I don’t know if I agree with that. I ride my bike to work everyday and I hardly see anyone else commuting on bikes. Our downtown parking garage is full of cars and bike racks are empty. The “road diet” that was implemented on Petaluma Boulevard is really great for cyclists, but there are still way too many people driving under 5 miles to work and to the store.

Wayne: Where is your favorite place to ride in Petaluma? Vanessa: Helen Putnam Park.

Wayne:  That’s one of my favorites parks too, and thank you so much for your time.

Vanessa:  Thank you for the interview.


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