Overnight Success

Twenty-four-hour mountain-bike champion Monique Sawicki catches an entire sport by surprise


EXPRESS DELIVERY: Pua getting ready for a very long ride.

Height: 5'4"
Weight: 120
Age : 26

Sponsors are always on the lookout for up-and-comers with the potential to dominate their sports. So why did marathon mountain biker Monique "Pua" Sawicki have to fund her own racing schedule last year? Because the Hawaii native skipped the up-and-coming bit. In only her second year of racing, and her first in the pro ranks, Sawicki took the 2005 National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) marathon season title and the 24-hour national championship. She was an out-of-nowhere champ who never gave anyone a chance to discover her. "Monique has the genetic predisposition and training ethic to go as far as she wants," says bike builder Tony Ellsworth, who was one of many people scrambling to get his name on Sawicki's jersey for 2006 and will supply her frames for the coming season.

A scholarship cross-country runner at Honolulu's Chaminade University, Sawicki also showed early promise as a triathlete. But it was in long-distance mountain biking that she found her niche. She took third in her first organized race, a 2004 NORBA marathon event, despite racing against seasoned vets; she went on to win the marathon season title and take third at the national championships. She turned pro in 2005 and supported herself between races by installing window coverings with her husband, Ron, who doubles as her support crew on the road. "We'd go to a race and be gone a week, lose that pay, and never catch up," says Sawicki, who spent $30,000 of her own money to race last year. "We didn't know how we'd buy food or pay rent."

For '06, Sawicki has lined up primary financial sponsorship with Irvine, California–based shipping company Sho-Air International, as well as all the gear and clothing deals she will need to compete as a full-time professional athlete. She plans to take full advantage. In addition to racing the NORBA season, she's aiming for a return to her triathlon roots, with an eye toward the Ironman. "This situation is a dream come true," she says. "Now I'll be able to see what I can really do."

From Outside Magazine, Mar 2006
Filed To: Mountain Biking
Lead Photo: Andrew Southam