SNOWMASS VILLAGE - She is 35 years old and descends like she is 21. Rocks, jumps, cliffs and uphill mountain passes do little to slow her down. An adrenaline junkie who plays with the pros, races with the pros and comes out on top of the pros, Michelle Horcica is a self-taught, downhill and cross-country superstar who gets stronger with every passing year.
Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Michelle wasn't naturally accustomed to mountain life - until she found herself in Alaska at the age of 21. It was there where she learned to hike, bike, climb and ski the backcountry with mastered skill - skills she would bring with her to Colorado years later. Now, as she moves into her fifth year in Snowmass, Michelle not only races on a whim in the women's pro group at Blast the Mass, she takes the gold.
Desperate to get to the bottom of her untamed spirit, I stole some time to discuss the race, her biking life and plans for the future.
Snowmass Sun: What made you sign up for the women's pro group at Blast the Mass, and what was going through your head when you finished first?
Michelle Horcica: Racing was something I always talked about but never actually did. I think signing up for this race was an accomplishment in itself. I entered the women's pro group at the last minute just so I could race with them. At the end it didn't even register that I won - I was just glad to be at the bottom.
SS: You say most of your skill was learned during your time in Alaska at age 21. Most renowned athletes learn these skills when they are toddlers. Did you find the learning curve difficult when you began?
MH: Growing up I played a lot of organized sports and spent all my time outside. For punishment as a kid my mom would make me stay inside and watch TV, which was the ultimate worst for me. I think at first the mountains were probably intimidating, but if I didn't get it right away I would just keep trying until I did.
SS: You told me about a cross-country bike trip to Moab you completed with a couple of girlfriends this past spring. What was most challenging about that trip?
MH: We biked 300 miles in five days. I think the most challenging was carrying 65 pounds of gear on our backs over three mountain passes with no days of rest in between.
SS: In your biking career, have you had any serious accidents? Has the thought of injuring yourself ever stopped you from taking risks?
MH: While I was in Anchorage I was riding in a park and ran into a metal gate going about 15 miles per hour. I had to sleep in a recliner for three weeks because I couldn't move my neck. I think about the possibility of an accident every day. I'm definitely a chicken when it comes to things. But I usually make myself do it because the feeling I get when I succeed is incredible.
SS: I'm sure finishing first at Blast the Mass increased your confidence for races in the future. When do you plan to race again?
MH: The next race has yet to be decided. I am planning another cross-country touring trip for the fall - hopefully to Steamboat Springs.