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Chasing Fun to the Finish Line
Join professional offroad cyclist Sarah Sturm on her off-grid adventures with her Dometic powered cooler and essential camping gear.
With podium finishes in some of the top gravel and endurance events—not to mention back-to-back singlespeed cyclocross national championship wins— Sarah is at the top of her game.
But for Sarah, a life built around biking isn’t about her impressive racing resume, her finishing numbers, or a rigid dedication to training. It’s about making connections with others, being challenged, and listening to her own inner voice over the noise of the performance-focused competition scene. And (if her unfailing sense of humor and infectious laugh are any indication) it’s about having fun.
Whether she’s riding the winding mountain trails of her home in Southwestern Colorado, cranking up hills in a gravel endurance race, or loading her bikes, dog, and partner into her colorful converted vanlife bus for an off-grid adventure, Sarah is rewriting the rulebook for pro cycling, on her own terms.
Stepping Off The Path
For Sarah, reimagining her path in competitive cycling meant stepping away from it entirely.
That pivotal moment came in 2014, on the long drive back home from a disappointing performance at mountain bike nationals in Idaho. Sarah was a few years into a budding racing career, but the intensity of the scene was taking its toll. She had built up a very specific idea of what it meant to be pro based on what she’d seen in other athletes: she expected herself to devote herself entirely to training, at the cost of everything else. And when she wasn’t able to meet that expectation, it led to a lot of frustration, and sadness. So when Dylan, her partner, turned to her and asked if she was having any fun, she answered honestly: “No.”
The realization prompted Sarah to make an incredibly difficult decision: to leave the world of racing behind. What would life look like, if it wasn’t built around training hard, performing well, and winning? Sarah wasn’t sure—but she also couldn’t deny any longer that something wasn’t working.
As it would turn out, it was the best decision Sarah could have made. “Sometimes stepping away is absolutely what you need to have any sort of perspective,” she says. “At the time, I remember feeling an incredible loss of identity. But ironically, it allowed me to find who I was within the sport.”
After she stepped away from racing, Sarah transitioned into full-time work as a graphic designer, and she ditched her race bike. In its place she bought a trail bike, and after the 9-5 and on weekends, she explored the mountains with her trail buddies. And what she found (without the impending races, hardcore training schedule, or self-judgment because of a finishing number) was that biking was fun. Like, really fun.
“Up to that point, all of my cycling had been within the bounds of competition,” she says. “Now, for the first time in my life, I was challenged by the terrain, by navigation, by the physicality of being outside on all-day rides. I think it opened the door for exploration, and I think that’s ultimately what kept me in the sport.”
With a completely new mindset, Sarah re-entered competition in 2017, with a series of races focused on fun. Her first race back, she actually wore jorts—a simple reminder that biking could be ridiculous, and enjoyable. And although Sarah is clear that this wasn’t the point, the podium placements and titles did begin to stack up. A year later, she signed her first pro contract. Now, she’s embraced a full-time cycling career—and each ride is a reminder that biking, and racing, can and should be fun.
Sarah is clear that having fun isn’t possible one hundred percent of the time: like everyone else, she worries, stresses herself out, and gets overwhelmed. Sometimes during races, there are moments when she’s puking over the side of her bike, and both legs are cramping, and she’s just lost the podium—or she’s crashed into a cow, which is exactly what happened at last year’s Leadville Trail 100.
The inevitability of just-plain-hard moments is why Sarah thinks of fun as something to pursue, rather than a constant state. Having fun is just one piece of the puzzle, to be balanced with all the other pieces that make Sarah who she is.
Now that Sarah has dived into life as a pro cyclist, finding a sustainable balance between riding and the rest of her life is more important than ever. Sometimes that means making time for her family and her other relationships, and sometimes it means choosing her race schedule carefully, so as not to overcommit. Whatever it is, Sarah constantly checks in with herself to make sure she’s on the right path—her path.
“I think some of the best athletes are the ones who figure out things for themselves—like, what works for them versus what they ‘should’ be doing,” Sarah says.
It’s a lesson that works on and off the bike, and that helps her build a life that’s uniquely hers, one step (and one ride) at a time: “I think if you're not questioning the way things are, then you're not pushing yourself forward.”