Find out how she went from living in a one-family village in New Zealand to competing on a global level.
Photo: Casey Brown / Instagram
If you haven't heard of Casey Brown before, get ready to be seriously impressed.
The badass pro mountain biker is a Canadian national champion, has been hailed the Queen of Crankworx (one of the world's biggest and most revered mountain-biking competitions), is the first woman to complete the Dream Track in New Zealand, and holds the record for biking the fastest (60 mph!) and farthest without brakes. (Yes, that's a thing.)
While getting to the level she's at today has been anything but easy (all those badges of honor take grit), biking has been a part of Brown's roots ever since she was a little kid. A lot of that had to do with where she grew up: a remote area in New Zealand—and when we say remote, we mean remote.
"When you're a kid, you don't even realize how different it is to live so far from the rest of civilization," Brown tells Shape. "We were an eight-hour hike from the closest road, so we were used to being active and exploring the wilderness around us." (Related: Why Michigan Is an Epic Mountain Biking Destination)
Being in such an environment helped instill fearlessness in Brown from a young age. "It taught me so much about trusting my instincts," she says.
Just to get around, Brown and her siblings either had to walk or bike—and they much preferred the latter. "Living in such a remote location, bikes were a great way to get around and explore the surrounding wilderness," she says. "We used to set up all kinds of crazy obstacles in the forest and really push our limits on those courses." (Don't leave all the fun to Casey. Here's a beginner guide to mountain biking to help you get started.)
But she didn't really think about going pro until 2009 when, sadly, her brother committed suicide. "Losing my brother was a huge turning point in my life," she says. "That's what gave me the drive to take it to the next level and try and make a life out of biking. It seemed like every pedal stroke pushed me through the grieving, and it felt like I was closer to him in a way. I think he would be pretty stoked to see where I've taken my life." (Related: How Learning to Mountain Bike Pushed Me to Make a Major Life Change)
Brown had her breakout year in 2011 when she placed second at the Canadian Championships and 16th overall in the world—and after years of hard work, she was crowned the Queen of Crankworx, dominating all 15 events in 2014. She placed second in 2015 and 2016.
It might seem crazy, but that's quite a long time for someone to stay up on top in the brutal, injury-prone world of mountain biking. Her secret? Never giving up. "I've broken my pelvis, lost teeth, split open my liver, broken my ribs and collarbone, and have knocked myself out," she says. "But injuries are just a part of the sport. When you're going full speed down a mountain, you're bound to slip up every once in a while. If I got hurt and just gave up, I would never know what I could accomplish in the future." (It may sound scary, but here's why you should try mountain biking, even if it terrifies you.)
That's where the importance of training comes in as well. "For this sport, it's important to be strong and durable," she says. "Crashes can happen, so during the off-season, I spend up to five days a week in the gym, training for one to two hours. My program changes often, from bike-specific balance exercises to heavier squats and deadlifts. On top of that, I do a lot of yoga and spin bike workouts."
As her season comes to an end, Brown has a lot of exciting adventures up her sleeve, including a recent one in unfamiliar territory. "In August, Coors Light invited me to try something I've never done before with a ride across New York City," she says. "It was my first time there and I was out of my comfort zone. It was such a cool experience and it just reinforced how important it is to keep pushing myself to have as many new experiences as I can." (Related: The Best Fall Bike Routes In the Northeast)
"I've got a few other things coming up, including a five-day traverse across the French Alps followed by a two-day enduro race [that's endurance, BTW] in Spain, and finishing up my competition season in Finale Italy with a one-day enduro ending on the Mediterranean," she continued. "I'll be spending the rest of the fall in Utah, riding and digging, focusing on jump progression."
“Want to thank @CoorsLight for the amazing opportunity to explore NYC for the first time, take an awesome ride around Manhattan and make some new friends along the way over a cold one after. It’s so great when bikes can bring people together, Hope to be back in The Big Apple soon! Thanks for everything! #CoorsLight”
For being in such a male-dominated field, Brown has been making some serious waves and hopes to inspire young girls to do the same. "I want girls to know that they can do anything the guys can do, and more," she says. "We can be fierce creatures—we just need to channel it in the right direction. The most important thing is to be confident in yourself. To never ever doubt anything."
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