The Next Cycle

Columbia Falls resident and two-time Leadville Trail 100 winner Rose Grant retired from her decade-long professional endurance mountain biking career at the end of 2022, allowing her to start a new chapter that involves coaching, family and flexibility

By Maggie Dresser
Rose Grant crosses the finish line at a race at the Chequamegon Mountain Bike Festivel in Wisconin on Sept. 17, 2022. Photo by Devon Balet

Just a year after Columbia Falls cyclist Rose Grant rediscovered mountain biking after a running injury led her to a new endurance sport, she gained traction racing as an amateur and joined the pro circuit at age 28. That same year in 2012, when her professional mountain biking career was taking off, she learned she was pregnant. 

“I was starting my pro career – not having a clue what that meant or what it would look like,” Grant said. “I had zero expectations and I was pregnant. It was definitely not a traditional approach to athletics.”

After giving birth to her daughter Layla, Grant returned to racing almost immediately and, by 2014, she became a Mountain Bike Marathon National Champion, and she became a four-time World Championship National Team member starting in 2015. She excelled in the sport of professional mountain bike racing, all while navigating motherhood and coordinating childcare – sometimes bringing Layla to her races. 

As she dominated the pro circuit, enduring a variety of injuries along the way, Grant eventually progressed on to win the Leadville Trail 100 – a rugged 104-mile race in Colorado that reaches an altitude of more than 12,000 feet, in 2019. She won again in 2021. 

Even during the offseason in northwest Montana, Grant trained hard year-round and cycled indoors when the valley floor was covered in snow to prepare for big races like Leadville. Despite the disadvantage of living in an area with long winters, Grant adapted to her environment.

“I can’t believe some of the workouts I see her do indoors,” Jason Tullous, her longtime coach, told the Flathead Beacon in 2021. “But she has no option – she’s willing and determined to do that.”

After a respectable career in professional mountain bike racing that earned her a salary and sponsorships like Juliana Bicycles, Flylow Gear and Kuat Racks, Grant announced her retirement after 10 years last year. While she remained a strong competitor in her final season, she said the depth of field was becoming deeper and she wanted to retire while she was still performing well. 

One of the Grant family’s cats grooms itself under Rose Grant’s stable of bikes at her home in Columbia Falls on Aug. 11, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“I knew I didn’t want to be getting older and slower but still racing and trying to race elite because I didn’t know how to quit,” Grant said. “I never wanted that to be the reason and I didn’t want my identity to be so caught up in racing that I didn’t know how to transition out of it. Over the last few years, I’ve had to separate my value as an athlete from who I am as a person. I’m a lot more than just an athlete.”

Now that Grant is well into her first year of retirement, she said the transition is going smoothly, partially because she already had to grow her identity outside of racing after a slew of injuries left her unable to race during periods of her career. In 2016, she tore her ACL at a World Cup race in Quebec, followed by a dislocated shoulder, and a fractured fibula she sustained in South America. 

During her recovery at home in Columbia Falls, Grant had a lot of time to reflect on her career and her family life, prompting her to shift her perspective. As she rehabilitated her injuries, she also worked on her mental health, realizing her life had more depth than cycling alone.

“I had to really focus on that self-worth and identity outside of cycling,” Grant said. “I felt like I formed a healthy boundary and that really helped navigate my performance.”

Grant remembers seasons where she would break down every time she didn’t live up to her own expectations. She put tremendous pressure on herself throughout much of her career, pouring all of her energy in training to perform well for both her own validation and for her sponsors.

“There were seasons that I cried after every single bad performance,” Grant said. “Sometimes, you have bad performances more often than good ones and that’s a tough place to navigate as a professional athlete. There’s just so much pressure to perform and to constantly be fighting for validation.”

As Grant navigated the performance letdowns and her ongoing injuries, she simultaneously turned to her faith and her relationship with God, which she believes grounded her and helped to identify her priorities. 

Mountain bike racer Rose Grant and her daughter Layla at their home in Columbia Falls on Aug. 11, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“I’m a child of God and that’s first and foremost where I’m rooted,” Grant said. “I’m not on this earth for me, this is not about me – this is me being a vessel for a greater calling and that isn’t going to look like rainbow jerseys and gold medals. A lot of time, that actually means suffering. I think being able to embrace the hard parts.”

That suffering translated into a successful return to competition, and Grant proved her resilience in the 2019 race circuit. While it started out rocky, she won the Marathon National Championship in May followed by a victory at the Leadville Trail 100 that August. She won the race in seven hours, 36 minutes, crushing the second-place competitor by 18 minutes. The pandemic canceled the 2020 race season, but she won a second straight title in 2021, beating her previous time by 13 minutes. 

In Grant’s final season last year, she lost her Leadville 100 title to Hannah Otto, coming in second place, but she was still happy with her sub-seven hour and 30-minute time, especially given the deeper competitor pool. 

Grant announced her retirement soon after, a move she had been planning for the past year. While her age played a role as she neared 40, Grant said her cycling career was beginning to feel more forced as she became less willing to let a strict race schedule dictate her life.

When Layla was younger, Grant coordinated childcare and brought her to races with less hesitation. Now in retirement, she’s able to shift her focus to her family life and give her 10-year-old daughter more freedom to explore her own passions.   

“I never want her to resent me for our options being limited,” Grant said. “Our activities were limited, and my schedule was limiting.”

Rose Grant races in Bentonville, Arkansas on Oct. 21, 2022. Photo by Devon Balet

Before Grant thought seriously about retiring, she had already planned to eventually become a coach, reversing her role in the athlete-coach relationship. In 2015, she began working with Jason Tullous, owner of Tucson-based Tenac Championship Coaching, who guided her through most of her career. A combination of training plans, crunching data and mentorship allowed Tullous to help Grant build on her strengths and he pushed her to become a successful athlete. 

That coach-athlete relationship inspired Grant to use her skills and experience to become a coach herself. 

“I know the hard parts,” Grant said. “I’ve experienced it all and a lot of people just need some reassurance – an outside perspective, a calm voice and some encouragement.”

Grant now coaches underneath Tullous and works with six athletes who live all over the country. She said this next phase in her cycling career suits her, and she’s learning to adapt to other people’s strengths and skillsets. 

Using an app called Training Peaks, Grant coaches her athletes remotely from Columbia Falls, tracking their ride data, analyzing it and providing feedback through texting and phone calls. 

Aside from things like data analysis and race performance, Grant is passionate about mentoring her clients while emphasizing their happiness. 

“Some people just really like to ride their bikes for fun with a little bit of added structure,” Grant said. “So, I just make sure to keep them happy. Happy racers go faster.”

Before California resident Teri Lynn started working with Grant this spring, she was preparing for a busy race season, including endurance gravel and mountain bike competitions across the West. With high-intensity training and traveling on the calendar, Grant suggested she take the season off. 

Professional bike racer Rose Grant at her home in Columbia Falls on Aug. 11, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Instead of immersing herself in training, Grant advised Lynn to work on things like muscle movements and to figure out how to balance her career and family life with racing – an experience Grant had already gone through. 

Lynn, who is 47 and has a 10-year-old daughter, said she related to Grant as a mom-athlete, and she appreciates her understanding nature as she works to balance her personal life and racing. 

“Being a working mom and a wife – those are all factors when you’re on a bike,” Lynn said. “She understands that and the biggest take away from me thus far is that when it’s time to focus, you have to prepare your life as such. When you have the opportunity to take time off – enjoy it. When you go into a period of rest and do things that are fun – that will benefit you in the long run.” 

It took Grant much of her life to learn the importance of rest. Embodying a self-described “Type-A” personality, Grant always worked meticulously at everything she tried – even as a kid. 

“It didn’t matter what I was working on – even if it was something that was intended to be fun. I always offered a lot of dedication, and it was fun for me in that way, but I never really threw my hair back and just had fun,” Grant said. “I feel challenged to do that more.”

Grant recently started embarking on multi-day motorcycle trips on a dual sport bike with her husband Nelson, enabling them to ride into remote areas. She has also reignited her passion for horses that she had as a kid in 4H and has been exercising thoroughbreds at a local ranch. 

“I never lost that love of horses and I felt like in this new season, it would be something that I would really enjoy,” Grant said.

Grant also has more freedom to spend time with her daughter Layla, riding bikes with her and exploring which sports she wants to pursue. 

Layla said she had mixed feelings about her mom’s retirement. She enjoyed traveling to watch her race, but it scared her when she crashed, and she remembers going to the hospital with her mom after she injured herself in a race. 

“Sometimes it scared me,” Layla said. “One time she crashed right in front of us going around a corner.”

Now, Layla and her mom plan more activities together in the summer like going to the lake and riding bikes on the local trails. While she was racing, Grant was restricted in the summer months, but this August, they went on their first backpacking trip together.

“I’m just trying to figure out the transition and figure out what I’m meant to do in life next,” Grant said. “I’m investing in things like showing up fully as a parent and a wife and doing things that make me happy.”

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