Enzo Moscarella is a New York-based artist. Roberta Nuñez is an ICU nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Shawna Anderson lives in Wisconsin. She’s a high school special education teacher helping students prepare for life after school. They come from different backgrounds, had never met, and had little to no mountain biking experience prior to being selected for the project, “From the Ground Up.” Yet here they are as teammates, prepping for one of the biggest races: the Leadville 100.
How it started
From the Ground Up is the brainchild of pro mountain bikers Alexey Vermeulen and Ryan Petry. After a three-day backcountry ride through Colorado, and upon seeing how the pandemic gave rise to so many new cyclists, they came up with the idea to take three novice riders and show that anyone, no matter their skill level, can take on some of riding’s big and bad challenges. They just needed the riders, so Petry and Vermeulen put out an online ad calling for candidates. Over 1,200 applicants answered, to which Vermeulen and Petry chose three winners: Moscarella, 34, Nuñez, 30, and Anderson, 47.
“I was in the middle of deleting all of my social media accounts when I came across a post about a contest to win a bike and a chance to race,” Moscarella said.
Moscarella grew up riding alley finds or hand-me-downs. He says he fell into the world of bikes slowly, having some coworkers spur his interest when seeing them commute to work. So, last March he bought a single speed Schwinn off of Craigslist and started riding through New York City.
“Mountain biking is the farthest point from where I thought I’d be within cycling. I had never ridden on anything other than pavement until a work trip to Colorado where I had the opportunity to do some trails on an old bike the hotel had. I loved it.”
Nuñez has always loved bikes, but it wasn’t something her parents encouraged because of the dangers of riding in urban areas and because sporty things were meant for boys. She fell in love with cycling one summer in high school, yet as time went on, riding became just a casual thing to do to clear her head and explore. She got more into it three years ago after commuting to work on a $100 hybrid. For her, applying to the project happened by chance as well.
“I had come off a stretch of nights at the hospital and couldn’t sleep, so I was watching Pink Bike videos on Instagram at 2 a.m. I saw a sales ad from PEARL iZUMi, so I clicked the link, which took me to the From the Ground Up application page. I read through it and immediately got out of bed and started working on it.”
Anderson, a self-described middle-aged, purple-haired teacher who didn’t grow up riding, found out about the project through a women’s Facebook group she joined six years prior. The group had taken Anderson under their wings, teaching her to ride the Fat Tire bike she’d received for Christmas.
“I actually sent the ad to a friend of mine who was looking for a challenge,” recalled Anderson, “yet somehow, I was the one who applied. I still don’t know how that happened. I just did it on a whim.”
How it’s going
Taking three novice riders and preparing them for the Leadville 100, a grueling 100-miler at 10,000 feet with 11,000 feet of elevation gain up rugged and steep Rocky Mountain ascents, is no easy task. Vermeulen and Petry have recruited brand sponsors including PEARL iZUMi, to provide the gear and resources, and while they’re helping prep the riders along the way, they’ve enlisted professional coaches for training purposes.
“Ryan and I are not training them personally,” Vermeulen said. “We’ve brought in Sufferfest and sports scientist Neal Henderson to help Shawna, Roberta, and Enzo make it to the finish line in August. We really want to be there to help guide, but leave the coaching, nutrition, and other aspects of training to our partners who are the most knowledgeable.”
Henderson is from Wahoo Sports Science, and as Petry mentions, “The three all have the goal to finish the race in under 12 hours, and Neal is applying some awesome mental training from Sufferfest and giving them workouts and ramping them up with this in mind.”
Since March, when Petry and Vermeulen met with each rider, they dropped off all the gear, began conversations with the support teams and Henderson, then initiated the training program.
“A training program for a race like this can’t be rushed, it is important to ride hard at times, but not every day,” Vermeulen said. “Preparation doesn’t happen overnight. It is a slow burn.”
According to Petry, “The plan was to prep the legs and lungs, and then teach them the skills when they’re in Colorado on their two trips prior to the race.”
One such trip was over Memorial Day Weekend. It brought each rider to Boulder, where they met in person for the first time, for a skills training camp with Lee McCormack to help them find confidence on the dirt before riding the full Leadville Trail course over July 4th.
“Fortunately, Leadville isn’t the most technically demanding course,” Petry said, “so we are all confident that they will be able to get to a point where they feel confident in the race with a few specific skills sessions.”
No matter the type or length of the training and skill sessions, all of it has been a completely new experience for the three teammates.
“When the actual training started it was crazy,” Moscarella said. “I felt out of my depth with all the new gear and technology to learn. Terms and data were all new, too, but the team of coaches and the sponsors have all made it super easy providing the gear and being so open with their knowledge and time.”
For Nuñez, she said typical training sessions depended on the day. “Training focuses on endurance, cadence, and feeling comfortable or as comfortable as possible above your threshold. Some days are better than others. On the worst days, it is hard to juggle training and 12- hour shifts, but I always feel happier after a training session. So, as long as I’m continually improving, I’m happy.”
“I’m not a racer,” Anderson said. “I’m not technical and don’t know what’s what, so it was intimidating. But I don’t push myself either, so I did this to expand that bubble a little bit. And there have been rides where I was like, ‘What in the hell?’ and ‘Oh, my God’, but they’ve really ramped everything up gradually, which helps.”
Getting to the finish line and leaving a lasting impression
With any challenge, especially something like tackling the Leadville 100, it’s nice to have others in your corner rooting for you or grinding it out alongside you with one goal in mind: finishing. And while they’ll be cheering for each other come race day, each rider has their own goal in mind, too.
“Listen. I’m not an athlete and I’m not in shape just yet,” Anderson said, “but ever since I met Ryan and Alexey and have seen the support and everything going into this, I’ve had this weird and calm confidence that I’ll finish this ride in under 12 hours. My goal is 11 hours and 58 seconds.”
For Nuñez, she knows it is going to be a roller coaster of emotions. “Once race day comes, I would have put in all the work, sweat, tears, and some blood and I’m hoping to enjoy the race as best as I can. My goal is to finish, and I cannot imagine anything different. There will be very dark moments, and I’m working on mental strength techniques to help me through it, but I’m excited to take it all in.”
Moscarella wants to finish in nine hours. “That’s my goal. I know physically it will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted, but honestly, I want to have fun. Having Shawna and Roberta with me as part of the collective information hive has helped, too. It’s all about supporting each other through this.”
The goal of From the Ground Up is to not only invite new riders to the sport but also excite them to take on something they may think can’t be done. By telling and showing the process of learning this sport from the ground up, both Petry and Vermeulen hope to inspire confidence in other riders to jump in so they can discover the endless joy and fulfillment that this sport can bring. This sentiment isn’t lost on Moscarella, Nuñez, or Anderson either. They know they’re inspiring others and want to leave the impression that anything is possible.
“While working with Dr. Ross, our sports psychologist,” Nuñez said, “he’s helped us become aware of our mental state and why we think the way we do about ourselves, challenges, and opportunities. One thing he asked recently was to think about limits we have set for ourselves and why. It made me think of how many chances we miss due to self-imposed limits. So, if anyone were to ask if they could follow in my footsteps, I’d say absolutely!”
“When I submitted the form and video I thought I was too old or inexperienced or came into the sport too late,” Moscarella added. “But the growing community of people following along on social media and the people I have met so far has shown me there are no limitations in anything you want to accomplish.”
As for Anderson, it all relates to that comfort zone or little bubble we sometimes find ourselves in.
“A lot of people think transformation has to come from some big, magical experience. Well, no. If people only realized the thing that’s holding them back is only as strong as that bubble, and if you poke it, it’ll pop. Everything will become brighter then. “
Does that mean she’s not nervous or scared?
“Shit no, every time I look at that course map, I feel it. But I undersell myself a lot and am now saying I can go faster, I can go longer, and I can do more than I think I can.”