The ultimate balancing act
Local woman juggles teaching, pro cycling career

Marisa Asplund charges toward victory in the Durango Wheel Club’s Mercy criterium earlier this month. Asplund, who splits her time between a professional road racing career and a full-time teaching job at Escalante Middle School, is favored the female pro division of year’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic./Photo by Sergei Rodionov

by Renee Johns

Many Durangoans are familiar with the balancing act of reconciling work with play. While many of us struggle just to keep up with an eight-to-fiver and squeeze in the dry cleaners, local woman Marisa Asplund juggles two careers and still manages to fit it all in. But Asplund doesn’t hold down just any job. By day, she teaches eighth-grade middle school, and by weekend, early morning and evening, she trains for her career as a professional cyclist. It is the marriage of these two full-time careers that sets Asplund apart and easily earns her the title of “multi-tasking phenomenon.”

While growing up in Kansas, Asplund took up biking at the age of 16, a hobby that eventually transformed into an undeniable talent. “My initial interest in biking was a gradual one,” she admits. “The biking scene was just starting to take off, and I was reading about it a lot and thought, ‘Why not?’”

Asplund, 29, recalls saving up $400 in order to buy herself her first mountain bike, a Specialized Rock Hopper, which got her started in the world of mountain biking in 1994. She did the mountain biking thing for about four years before making the transition to road. That proved to be a wise move, but one that had

Asplund not only retraining her body and building up her endurance, but also retraining her brain. “Mountain biking is a very solo effort,” says Asplund. “With the road, you’re working with a team, and you all have to pull together in order to excel. It’s like a moving chess game.”

Asplund made the move in 2000 from Kansas to Colorado, where she has lived ever since. Coming from the flatlands of Kansas to the mountains of Colorado provided some notable differences. “The rides are simply beautiful here,” notes

Asplund. “I also noticed that motorists are extremely understanding and tolerant of cyclists, which makes the training atmosphere much more pleasant.”

Becoming accustomed to the difference in elevation was gradual but proved to be a non-issue that barely registers with Asplund now, some six years later. “I don’t recall having much of a problem,” admits Asplund. “When I moved to Salida from Kansas, it was just a process.” A process she still goes through when competing at sea-level, where, thanks to an abundance of oxygen, her legs often give out before her lungs. “At sea-level, I first feel it in my legs and then in my lungs,” Asplund explains. “Here, it is the reverse, and when I first come back from sea-level competitions, it takes me about a day’s worth of recovery time.”

Upon moving to Durango, Asplund attended Fort Lewis College, where she honed her cycling skills on the college’s cycling team. During this time, she also managed to earn a teaching certificate and a degree in earth sciences.

“My mom was a teacher and while earning my degree, teaching just seemed like a good fit,” says Asplund. So while her students are dining on tater tots and cartons of milk, Asplund sucks down protein drinks and power bars. Although pursuing a teaching career while being a professional cyclist does make for some tight scheduling during the school year – like 5 a.m. training rides and grading papers while riding a trainer – it offers some major benefits come summer, when she is free to race and travel. “There are constant levels of activity in both jobs, which I can appreciate,” indicates Asplund.

In the end, the two endeavors compliment each other quite nicely and allow Asplund some recoup time in whichever area she made need it: emotional or physical.

“If I perform poorly in a race, I don’t have time to stew about it. I have to be back in the classroom and completely switch my focus,” Asplund smiles. “On the flip side of that, if something is stressful for me at work, there is no better way to alleviate that then to get on my bike and go for a ride.”

Asplund makes balancing the two appear effortless, although things did not always run so smoothly. A couple years back, Asplund was with a women’s cycling team, which did not provide a good fit for her. She admits that her performances were not up to par. “My first race with the team was just terrible,” reflects Asplund. “I actually ended up being asked to leave the team; it was a difficult time for me.”

That being said, Asplund is the first to note that this turn of events boded well for her in the long run. “I had to dig myself out of a hole, and I knew I had potential as a cyclist,” says Asplund.

“Potential” is an understatement. Asplund refocused and joined Team TIBCO, named for a software company. Through the team, she coincidentally also met her fiancé, cycling coach Steve Owens. Just this past month, Asplund was the female final stage winner for the infamous Tour of the Gila race in New Mexico, with it being only her second year as a pro. “My coach Rick Crawford just looked at me back in March and said ‘You’re ready to win Marisa, now you are ready,’” Asplund recounts.

It is this kind of support that Asplund is offered by friends, family and community that she tries to return to her students in the classroom. “I am a big proponent of never underestimating yourself and of having big dreams,” says Asplund. “That is definitely something I try to teach my students.”

This weekend, with the Iron Horse looming and Asplund slated as the female favorite to win, she has turned not only to stepping up her training but also to preparing herself mentally. “I have been working a lot on positive affirmations and building up my confidence,” says Asplund.

Working with the psychological aspect of training and athletic competition has become a big part of her focus this year. “I think that confidence and mentally believing that you can do something is 50 percent, with the other 50 percent coming from being physically prepared,” shares Asplund.

This year’s Iron Horse will offer Asplund some tough competition, but for the most part, she said she has been able to push aside the mental stress. “I’m nervous, but it’s a good nervous. I found out last week that one of my rivals has signed on for the race, too,” grins Asplund. “We have competed head to head before, and the outcome will be exciting.”

Asplund notes that as a kid, her favorite subjects in school were music and art. She admits that mountain biking, and biking in general, was only something that interested her later, as a teen. Looking at her now, a pro cyclist competing on an elite level while teaching geology to her “middle schoolers,” is both inspiring and a testament to how life throws curves that eventually lead us in the direction we were meant to go.

“If you would have told me I would be here when I was racing at the collegiate level, I would have said ‘No way,’” adds Asplund smiling. “I know it sounds cliché, but I believe everything happens for a reason, and there really is no limit to what you are capable of.”

Somehow, working the eight-to-fiver, having to pick up the dry cleaning, stopping by the grocery store, feeding the dogs, cleaning the house, paying the bills and climbing Mount Everest all seem within reach when speaking with Asplund. Perhaps, after all that is done, there will even be some free time to sit back and reflect on the accomplishments. •

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