Editor’s note: This is the second in an ongoing series of articles following elite USSA athletes and their offseason endeavors. Read other Summer Side Projects here, and check back with SkiRacing.com for more throughout the summer.
SALT LAKE CITY — X Games gold medalist Jen Hudak isn’t the type of girl who wants to sit in the gym and spin a stationary bike.
In halfpipe years, The 26-year-old is no spring chicken, and injuries have at times set her back. Mountain biking, the Utah resident says, has been an effective and fun way to stay fit during the offseason, while rehabbing some of those nagging injuries.
“I grew up back East. I was a ball-sport person. I played soccer and lacrosse, and then I skied in the winter,” said Hudak. “I started riding when I moved out to Utah, just kind of exploring around. I didn’t know anything about the sport, equipment or bikes — I still don’t really. But I love being in the mountains and it was just another way to explore during the summer. You get a little bit of that adrenaline rush aspect, so it appealed to me from the start, but I wasn’t very good.”
Hudak has come along way, and while she hasn’t yet topped the MTB World Cup podium like she has in halfpipe skiing, a victory in Utah’s Mid-Week Mountain Bike Race Series Expert Division isn’t too shabby.
“There are huge benefits (for offseason training),” said Hudak. “For me, I would just rather be outside training. It allows me to get strong and be in the sunshine, which makes me happy. With all the injuries that I’ve had over the years, biking has been the most consistent thing for me to be able to rebuild strength in a way that doesn’t stress my knee.”
Hudak was just coming back from knee surgery last winter when she fractured her tibial plateau in mid-February and was put on a non-impact program by her doctor.
“I think biking is what has allowed me to turn the corner in these last four or five months. I’m starting to feel like normal. I’m trusting my knee again. And crashing,” she said with a laugh. “You realize you’re getting back to normal when you can crash and feel OK and the first thought isn’t, ‘Oh my god, how’s my knee?’”
Hudak said there’s definitely a training benefit to taking risks and having that sense of adrenaline during the offseason.
“I want to always push myself in whatever I’m doing, so if I’m sitting inside on a bike, I can just zone out; my mind wonders. When you’re on a bike and you’re outside and you have obstacles that you need to navigate, it forces you into that zone of full attentiveness. And I’ve enjoyed racing because it’s a timed thing; it’s not judged, which I really appreciate. You’re either the fastest, or you’re not. But to get in that competition mindset in the offseason is really beneficial.”
For now, Hudak’s focus is on cross-country mountain biking, but she’s open to the possibility of downhill riding because she thinks it might ultimately suit her body type, perhaps in a competitive setting.
“The trails in Park City, the single track, is just amazing,” Hudak said. “I am realizing that I am better in downhill. My fitness is good, but I’m just a bigger girl to be cruising along uphill really fast and I don’t have a super light bike. I’m not allowing myself to get a downhill bike for a little while because I think that could be trouble, but I try to go as fast as I can downhill.”
Story by Geoff Mintz
Photos courtesy of Jen Hudak
Read other Summer Side Projects here.