Kenneth McNeill, E’17, and Alec Walecki, SSH’16, had different reasons for joining the Northeastern’s mountain biking team, part of the NU Cycling team.
McNeill wanted to continue his love of bike racing that began during childhood, while Walecki sought a group of fellow riders to join in riding on trails outside of the city.
Now, both students will find themselves on an exciting path this weekend, representing Northeastern at the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships in North Carolina.
“I did not come to Northeastern expecting to be a bike racer,” Walecki said. “When I was a freshman without a car, joining the team was a way to get out into the woods and ride bikes. But I really enjoy it. It gives me something to dedicate myself to.”
Both will be compete on Friday and Saturday in cross country events, which include an endurance race that can take up to two hours and a short-track race that tests riders’ speed.
McNeill is a veteran of the collegiate cycling scene, having competed in the mountain bike national championships in the past, as well as road cycling championships. He said that experience will definitely help him this weekend, and he is looking forward to seeing how he does against riders from across the country.
“The whole experience is pretty amazing,” McNeill said. “We’ll be going against the top varsity programs in the country so I’m excited to see where I stack up again against those riders.”
However, McNeill will have an extra obstacle to overcome that none of his competitors will face. Earlier this season while competing in a gravity race, where riders speed down a mountain as quick as they can, McNeill took a nasty spill and broke his foot. He opted to continue racing and was still able to qualify for nationals.
“I’m very competitive and am willing to do whatever it takes to ride,” McNeill said. “It would have taken a lot more than a broken foot to stop me.”
This will be Walecki’s first trip to nationals, and he said he’s curious to see how the races will go with larger competitor fields. Northeastern competes in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference, and those races usually have about 25 competitors. There could be 80 to 150 riders in one race at nationals.
“It will be a little more chaotic, but being outdoors and in the wilderness is a big love of mine,” Walecki said. “Mountain biking is an extreme sport that allows you to push yourself and go really fast.”
In addition to getting that high-level competition experience, Walecki said he’s excited to represent his hometown of Durango, Colorado, where he bought his custom-made mountain bike.
Visit the national championship website this week to track how McNeill and Walecki perform.