Lauren Lackman

How Lauren Lackman overcame doubters and fought her way onto Team USA

Lauren Lackman mountain bike wausau team usa jersey

Lauren Lackman received a bit of surprise as she met with the head coach of Colorado Mesa University’s mountain biking team. 

He gave her a relatively cold reception. He said that not everyone is cut out to be a college cyclist and that Lackman ought to focus on academics. 

It certainly wasn’t what Lackman was expecting to hear. After all, the daughter of Rib Mountain Cycles owner Randy Lackman had been cycling, particularly mountain biking, all her life. She defeated the entire women’s field at the 24 Hours of Nine Mile — a race in which riders race the course for one entire day — when she was only 13. She had a lot of success as a high school mountain biker. 

How did that make her feel? I asked her on a sunny day at Nine Mile Forest, where we spoke on a park bench. Her and her brother Jake’s mountain bikes rested on a nearby tree, itching to get out on the trails. After our interview, they were going to do some riding together. They’d done some hill repeats for training on the ride out to meet me for the interview, in fact. 

“I wasn’t stoked about it,” Lackman says. “I felt I was going in the direction I should be, going to a cycling school. But I just took it as motivation, decided to go back and train really hard. I was either going to prove him wrong or go to another school for cycling.” 

That’s exactly what she did, and it paid off more than just getting on the team. Last month, Lackman was named to Team USA’s mountain bike team. She’ll be competing in world cup competitions as a U23 athlete, taking on some of the toughest under-23 mountain bikers in the world. 

And she’s accomplished a lot between that college meeting and being named to the team, including a world championship appearance. She said she was almost in tears at the start line, wearing the Team USA kit because it has been her goal for some time. 

Lackman says her interest in cycling started from as early as she can remember. 

Lauren Lackman’s family up bringing

When a parent has a hobby/career/passion, their children often take one of a few routes. Either they rebel against it and want to do their own thing; they take to it as much as their parents do; or, they rebel at first but later come around to it. 

For Lauren Lackman, it was all love for the bike from day one. Lackman often joined her father and brothers on trips around the country to bucket list mountain biking trails, either to Colorado’s Moab or places in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan such as Copper Harbor. And of course, Nine Mile Forest was almost like a second backyard. 

For that reason, it’s her favorite trail. Her favorite segments are Ho Chi Minh and Star Flower because of the challenge they present.

The trips to Colorado Moab led to her touring Colorado Mesa University. “We got to tour the school and I kind of fell in love with it,” Lackman says. 

Her dad didn’t push racing too hard, but she as a freshmen joined her high school practices and started getting more into the racing side. 

Training with other girls who raced the Wisconsin Off-Road Series (WORS) made her want to race. “I am definitely competitive,” Lackman says. She really enjoys pushing herself to the limit. 

She raced the 24 Hours of Nine Mile first as a duo with another rider when she was 12. That was the six-hour race. Then in the car with her dad when she was 13, she told her dad she wanted to do the solo race. She was thinking the six-hour version, but her dad said “Oh, so you finally want to do the real race” (meaning the 24-hour solo version). She didn’t want to correct her dad, so off she went. 

She hung with her dad throughout the race. A storm rolled through and many other riders sought shelter. Lackman saw her opening and kept riding, making progress against the other riders. “I love muddy races, so that probably helped me,” Lackman says. She ended up beating the rest of the women’s field at only 13 years old. 

College admission 

Lauren Lackman Wausau Team USA

Many people would be discouraged by getting a comment like the one Lackman did from her future cycling coach. 

But Lackman took that as a challenge, and she got to work. She amped up her training. She signed up for a number of Wisconsin Off-Road Series races, and made her way to national competition. Lackman ended up finishing fourth at nationals, hoping that would garner some positive attention. It did. 

“He’s like, ‘hey, let’s meet up for coffee, let’s re-talk about this situation’,” Lackman says, recounting the conversation. “He basically offered me a spot on the team.” 

What about that initial conversation in which he told Lackman to maybe focus on academics? Lackman says she’s mentioned it to him, and that he rolled it off as something he says to everyone, sort of as a gatekeeper to ward away those who aren’t serious. 

Her determination and her success is not a surprise to her former coach of the Wausau United Ride team, Jeff Tobin. He says of Lackman “Lauren is one of the most influential and motivating rider/racers we have had over the 10 years of our existence.” Lackman visits with and mentors the Wausau United Ride athletes when she’s home from college, Tobin says, and says her accomplishments are well earned. 

If the coach’s comments weren’t enough of a gatekeeping measure, the grueling practices might do the trick. Lackman says they started out with a camp that includes four back-to-back days of four-hour training rides. That’s enough to wear anyone down. “At the end of that, you’re pretty exhausted,” Lackman says.

It took a little getting used to the different terrain with its sand, sandstone and sharp, wedge rocks. Lackman fortunately had experienced plenty of it through her family trips to Colorado. 

Her freshmen year went well, and she finished sixth and seventh at collegiate mountain bike nationals that year. Then in her sophomore year, COVID shut down the mountain bike races and Lackman trained on road and criterion races instead to keep her athleticism up. 

The road races started to appeal to her. By her junior year, she had a decision to make: road or mountain? Lackman made a deal with herself: She decided to go all in on mountain biking and try to make it to the worlds competition. She and her brother, Jack, drove out to Montana for a Union Cycliste Internationale race, and another UCI race in Canmore. 

Her results at those races caught the attention of the international team manager who said they would take her to some of the north America world cup competitions. That exposure and points she earned in those races qualified her for the worlds competition. 

Lauren Lackman, Team USA bound 

Lackman said the world cups were similar to college races, because many college racers also race world cup. But one key difference: instead of the top ten being highly competitive, as at the college races, the world cups are filled with competitive racers. “If you’re not on your game, you’re off the back,” Lackman says. “And there’s a lot more ‘I’ll push you into the fence because I want your position.’ It’s not friendly.” 

Lackman says she almost started crying on the start line of worlds. Wearing the Team USA jersey was a lifelong ambition and it had finally come true. Lackman ended up finishing 26th out of 57 riders at the U23 worlds in France. 

This spring, Lackman was named to Team USA’s mountain bike team. She’ll race in the U23 division. Lackman earned the spot by finishing sixth at the Monte-Saint-Anne world cup race in Canda. In fact, she was only 20 seconds outside of a top five finish. 

Lackman is now heading out to Europe for June and will have three world cup races on her schedule. 

So what’s it like having a big sister who is a pro racer? Jack Lackman, currently in high school and also a mountain bike racer, says he’s super proud of her. Even little things like his sis bringing home candy from Italy is pretty cool. 

Of course, then he’ll have to do hill repeats with her to burn off that candy, we joke. 

As we finish the interview, the two are geared up to hit the trails. They’d already done hill repeats together on the way out to the interview at Nine Mile Forest, and after some photos the two ride off together. 

He’ll be watching as Lackman races some of the course she grew up watching herself. And readers here can too. They run live on GCN+ (Global Cycling Network) and u23 races will be available on the UCI Mountain Bike World Series Youtube channel, according to the UCI website. The first races from this season are already up and viewable on the YouTube channel.

Read next: Wausau’s Andrea Larson took on the Barkley Marathons this spring