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From her early days growing up in a small town in New Zealand to her ascent into the world of running and mountain biking, Jenny Smith‘s journey is nothing short of inspiring. Her impressive racing career spans cross country mountain biking, XTERRA triathlon, and running, where she proudly represented New Zealand at World Championships.

Jenny’s journey through motherhood and endurance sports hits close to home for me, and I was thrilled to reconnect after our time with the Breck Epic Women’s Cycling Summit this summer. Jenny gives us the potent reminder to invest in personal growth, authenticity, and staying true to one’s roots amidst the demands of elite sports.

Motherhood on Two Wheels

But Jenny’s story isn’t just about athletic achievements; it’s about resilience and adaptation, particularly as she navigated the transformative experience of motherhood while continuing to excel in her sport. She candidly shares how becoming a mother impacted her training and racing, highlighting the challenges of balancing the demands of training with the responsibilities of parenthood.

Coaching Philosophy

As a coach, Jenny’s goal is to empower athletes by focusing on skill development and tailored fitness plans. She looks at the demands of an athlete’s target event and assesses where they are strong and weak in order to help them improve in the areas needed. She also emphasizes promoting positive youth development when coaching adolescents and young athletes, giving them autonomy, flexibility and choice while setting clear expectations and culture.

Community Through Sport

In this personal conversation, we explore the intersection of athleticism, family, and identity, and discover the invaluable insights Jenny has gleaned along the way. She discusses feeling like an outsider growing up and finding her place through shared interests in endurance sports.

“I probably have always found my home and sport, too. So you know, that’s kind of like, you know, I’ve always found community with interests rather than…with people.”

This is such a shared experience: sports can bring people together and provide a sense of belonging even when one feels different from their peers.

Here are a few key takeaways:

  • The Past Informs the Present: Jenny’s upbringing in New Zealand and background in running
  • Navigating Career Transitions: Hear about her transition to mountain biking and racing career accomplishments
  • Motherhood on Two Wheels: The impact of having a child on her training and racing
  • Aim High Performance: Her philosophy and approach to coaching athletes, especially adolescents
  • Changing Identity: Jenny shares her views on aging as an athlete and cultural identity

Listen to Jenny’s episode

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Episode Chapters

  • Jenny’s background and childhood experiences. (0:02)
  • Running journey and feeling like an outsider in high school. (4:26)
  • Career changes and taking risks. (9:05)
  • Transitioning from running to mountain biking. (13:11)
  • Mountain biking career and coaching. (20:10)
  • Athletic careers, Olympic dreams, and supportive relationships. (24:01)
  • Motherhood, career choices, and retirement. (28:07)
  • Balancing motherhood and professional racing. (32:44)
  • Aging and training as an athlete. (40:23)
  • Coaching philosophy, skill development, and positive youth development. (45:14)
  • Running, identity, and citizenship. (52:41)

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Transcript

Sonya Looney 0:02
Jenny, last time I saw you was in Colorado, and it’s nice to connect again.

Jenny Smith 0:06
Yeah, it’s awesome to connect.

Sonya Looney 0:08
So let’s see, we were at Breck epic together and then at Grand Traverse together, so we got to see each other twice.

Jenny Smith 0:16
Yeah, that was super fun. And it was just fun to have you around.

Sonya Looney 0:19
Yeah, it’s called I missed it

Jenny Smith 0:22
up here. And so it was like, Yeah, this is so sad. Like, this is not normality. But you know, this is what normality can look like for a little bit.

Sonya Looney 0:31
Yeah. It’s funny, because I didn’t grew up in Colorado. But when people ask me where I’m from, when they find out, I don’t live, I’m not from Canada. I always feel like I should say, Colorado, because I feel like that’s where my community still is. And someone like you like you are a pillar in the community there. So getting to see you again, meant so much to me.

Jenny Smith 0:51
Yeah, that’s fun. Yeah. And it’s like, well, it’s not like you never lift but you know.

Sonya Looney 0:59
So you’ve done so much in your career. When I first discovered Jenny Smith was back in the norba. National days, I want to say it was probably like, maybe 2006. Like, it’s so long ago, I can’t remember the dates. But I will go to these cross country races. And I was never that great at the Cross Country distance. But I remember Jenny Smith name was always near the top of the results. And our mutual friend Nina bomb would always talk about how awesome Jenny Smith was. So that’s how I first heard of you. But I discovered more like you your background is not just in mountain biking. So can you tell us how you got into sport?

Jenny Smith 1:37
Yeah, well, I’m from the West Coast in New Zealand. And I did from like a half athletic family. Funnily enough, my parents are not athletic at all. But my dad’s side as like, he was a principal and he was like, super into outdoor education. And we used to spend, like, you know, summer holidays, my grandparents, and my great aunt and uncle would have their caravans that are Beach Park for, you know, two months of the holidays. And so while we weren’t athletic, we were really outdoorsy. And that’s probably where my background lies, really. And my parents say like they can remember I always wanted to run. guy used to ask my dad if he could drop me at the crossroads, which is like eight kilometers out of town. And my uncle was like, I remember when, you know, I was like eight or nine. And I took him for a run along sort of like a trail along by the beach. So for some reason, I always wanted to be a runner. And that was what I got into in my teens. I sucked at team sports, which is very New Zealand to play team sports. So I played netball, and I was the winter fence, which is the weakest position. And I played soccer and I was like the center defense in the back. Didn’t need so I just like wasn’t good at team sports and took up running instead.

Sonya Looney 3:14
What are some other things whenever you reflect back on your childhood or even like early adulthood? Some patterns that you about you that might be unique?

Jenny Smith 3:24
Um, yeah, that’s a good question. Like, um, I grew up so my parents separated and divorced when I was seven. And I grew up with my dad, which in the 70s was pretty unusual. In the 80s. He was a young principal like 2930, and he had not a solo daughter because my mom lived in the same town, but I grew up with dads, and alongside that I had like, equal amounts, I think of responsibility and freedom. And then I also hung out with adults, because I was, you know, kind of like an only child and that setting so that was probably a little bit different about me. So I never really minded going my own path. And I probably on the same token, I’m from small town, New Zealand, and I didn’t grow up with like, deep roots and family traditions. So I was, you know, felt that I was different really sort of like, did things a bit differently. I went to Ramin and we have a where I was in grade math paper superstrong running club Harrier club and so as you know, freshman in high school, I was on the adult running club and was, you know, winning the local races and traveling with the adults to do relays and to other towns. To cry when you’ve been there, so from the coast to Christchurch for races and things, and I just kind of made my own mold rather than sort of fit in with that. Yeah, I think I think that’s probably the biggest thing with my pattern is that it was always individual. And I kind of went my own way with it.

Sonya Looney 5:21
This is an interesting follow up question that you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. But a friend of mine and I were talking about this, like people who tend to go off and do things differently than other people. And I’m kind of one of those people as well. It can be a lonely because you don’t you’re not like everybody else. And because of that, depending on what community you live in, people view you as other and as like weird or different. And so it can be lonely to be on this this other path and a feeling like you don’t necessarily belong anywhere. Have you ever felt that way? Um,

Jenny Smith 5:57
I think I definitely identify what’s probably my living in states to be honest, but And of course, that swings and changes over time. But I for sure think I definitely recognize that I wasn’t not that I didn’t fit in, but that I wasn’t the same as like, my peers at times, but at the same time, I probably have always found my home and sport, too. So you know, that’s kind of like, you know, I’ve always found community with interests rather than. Yeah, yeah, that’s, yeah, that’s interesting.

Sonya Looney 6:36
Yeah, sport community with interest. And yeah, I think that’s one of the really special things about endurance sports is that it’s a really hard sport. And people that come to the sport, there’s, I mean, there’s lots of different reasons, but there are typically a lot of different threads of how people can relate to one another. Yeah, for sure. So walk us through this running journey that you’ve had. So you were a freshman, you were running with adults. Yeah,

Jenny Smith 7:00
so I would rent so it’s very different in New Zealand. So that’s fun, you know, to the state. So that’s probably one thing to, to state at the get go. And when I was in high school, I started running and ran with a Harrier Club, which is like a local community club. And they have, I don’t even know if we have anything like it here really like you. So I ran for grade math Harriers, and through that club, we had like seasonal athletics. And so we had track and field in the summer based, you know, juniors through to adults, and then in the winter, we had, you had like, cross country running, and then you had road relay running, and you end road race running. And that went to a regional level and on to Nationals. So you know, parallel in my high school, it’s a little bit like Nordic scheme, is probably that closest thing I can think of here that sort of mirrors that kind of outside of a school setting structure. And so you know, throughout my high school, I was identified with being a runner and sort of had this running life alongside my high school, and that transferred into university where I went to Canberra University, and then proceeded to actually have a coach for the first time and join his running club, which was Canterbury University, and I ran for them for four or five years, and Christchurch, and maybe even longer. And then professionally, before I came to the States, I moved to Auckland, and ran for a running club there. So that’s kind of my story running. You know, through that time, I won national titles when I was in secondary school at the end as a senior and one Junior New Zealand titles. Yeah, as well. So,

Sonya Looney 9:07
yeah, that’s, I’m so glad that you shared that because I think that sharing some of your like past results, or things you’ve accomplished can be uncomfortable, or at least I’m uncomfortable, like talking about some of those things. And I think that normalizing that. It’s like, it’s an important part of the story to talk about these things. It’s, it’s amazing, and it’s inspiring, so I’m so glad that you mentioned those things.

Jenny Smith 9:31
Yeah, I think so. And I mean, it really just brings to how I came to cycling actually, like I moved to the States when I was 25. And I took a running Scholarship, which was kind of random. I had graduated I was teaching and I had taken a job that actually taught like, astronomy Anna observatory and Auckland for Are we had Oh, it’s called Le OTC it’s like government funding to run education outside the classroom. And I took this, this job thinking that it would be amazing and it was all myself. And my boss said, Nah, we, you know, had a contract to fulfill in it, I just was really unhappy doing it. So, you know, I was 24 at the time, and I was like, I don’t know what I’m gonna do, like, I’m so unhappy doing this job. And at that time, I had friends who came to Ganesan running and they had come over here for some altitude training, and they came back and they were like, Jenny, you should go and run for the university there. They really need woman like, you would be great. And I was like, that sounds like an interesting idea. You know, like someone, not the path that I rent into taking back. Just something to try. So when I was

Sonya Looney 11:03
I’m gonna stop you real quick. Yeah. What gave you the mental flexibility or confidence to say, yeah, like, I’m gonna go do that instead of dismissed that idea?

Jenny Smith 11:13
Um, yeah, that’s a good question. I honestly, Sanyo, like, didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally was one thing. And then secondly, when you’re a New Zealander, you can go to the UK, and you can work for two years, and teachers are really in demand during that. So when I had agreed to come to the States, and there’s another funny story about that, too, but when I agreed to come to the States, I bought a one way ticket to London. And so if I came here, and I didn’t like it, I could go on to London and work for a couple of years before going back to New Zealand. And that’s a really common thing for young adults and New Zealand to do. So. It was sort of like risk management, you know, kind of like, oh, this might be great. And if it’s not great, then I can do it a second experience and sort of figure it out after that. And then when I had decided that, yeah, of running the states ago, I had another offer for a university in Savannah, Georgia. And I was choosing between Ganesan and Savannah and I was really concerned about coming to Ghana soon, because I was paying, I don’t know what it’s gonna be like between 25 and a small town, you know, American University yet, it might just be all Ramin and you know, might not fit in at all, which is really funny. I laugh about that now, because I’m like, imagine it. I would have survived two months.

Sonya Looney 12:47
Okay, so you went to Gunnison, and you ran for the university? Yeah,

Jenny Smith 12:51
I did. Yeah. And there were other New Zealanders here at the time, too, like I was, there were five of us on the team that was in 1999. And I think was the 11th New Zealand during the last you know, decade. So it was sort of something that that people did in your head community and stuff. And it was amazing. It was so fun to do that, but I was not very good at not getting injured. And Ganesan. An indoor track was like not a good recipe for me at all. So I got terribly injured to running into a track here and that winter, like trying to do speed work on snow and ice like it just I’m just not very well. So I’m and so I was Yeah, I was like on scholarship, not able to run which was was fine. And then I met Brian, my husband and the rest of that’s history with biking because he was a cyclist and multi sport athlete. And so in two spring of 2000 I was meant to be running out to a meet center, California that you know, run into the same as biking, you tend to go to Southern California in the spring as I’m meeting their kids Mount SAC that I was supposed to be running but I couldn’t run because I was injured. So Brian took me to mow it with a bike and we rode slickrock it’s my first different mountain bike

Sonya Looney 14:24
experience not technical and

Jenny Smith 14:30
so funny to look back to because it was like toe clips and a head racing flats. So we did that the first day and the second day we rode her our paths and Jacob’s Ladder. I’m telling you this because you probably know what I’m talking about, like crazy five out desert ride and yeah, it’s so funny.

Sonya Looney 14:53
That’s a great introduction. Yeah,

Jenny Smith 14:55
I was so in love with Brian at the time and I just thought that this was cool. Oh yes study after the air wrap house ride, he took me out for dinner and caught halibut for dinner and I’m like, I think I like this guy like I think this might be okay. And then you knew I returned from that spring break trip and I got into terrible trouble because you know, that’s not what you’re supposed to do when you’re on a running scholarship and the rest is kind of history. We got to that summer and Brian’s friends but we have a bite and actually did a right to the right in the sage, which is the local, it’s now the growlers which was six weeks after the time that I’d first like, wow, yeah, to the weekend. Oh, category and rain most of the course and one it

was funny. And then, you know, the rest is history. Like after that I just kind of followed him along. And I think why one night began a race and I upgraded to sport and I have such good friends from insomnia like Nina and Becca lay, like bigger and I raced sport together my first sport race. And I got first and she got second. So then I upgraded to XV and still couldn’t ride a bike. And that was that, really. And then just with New Zealand, I like think I turned. I hadn’t arrived doing these things because I couldn’t write but I turned pro within like nine months and I went to Vail wheelchair amps camps within a year of writing, which is really funny. And it was just purely because as a pro as my third pro race. Yeah, yeah. So funny. And I the two funny things about that is that during the race, I always have deja vu when I race in Vail because some of the courses are the same. But during that race, they brought us through the village. And for some reason I had not pre written through the village, I don’t know if I didn’t know to or if it wasn’t open, but I got it was in the race and I was like oh my god stairs like they took us down these stairs. And I’d never written down stairs before. And so I like we’ve done the first set of stairs breaking the second set of stairs landed on my head. And I ended up I finished the race but went to the medical team and ended up with a concussion. It’s really funny. I was like, Okay, so we’ll, you know, learn to ride a bit better before next time. But it is funny too. I was 40th in that race. And it took me a long time to beat my placing, you know, done lots of other world championships and it was like another five years until I cracked the top 40. Again, like you just don’t know what you don’t know.

Sonya Looney 17:40
Yeah, that’s such an interesting story about the rise into mountain biking because it is a technical sport. And anyone listening has thought about some sort of sport thinking, well, that’s too technical, or I can’t do that. But it sounds like for you. You know, you went straight in you your first couple of rides were in Moab, which for those who’ve never been there is a you know, pretty technical place lots of rocks and steep stuff to ride. And then you again have the flexibility and confidence to say, Well screw it, I guess I’m just going to upgrade to pro and I’m going to do this world championship, even though I’ve only been riding for nine months. And I know that I don’t have the technical skill. So like, how do you do that? Because I think a lot of people wish they could do that. But they don’t? Well, I

Jenny Smith 18:21
think that’s where you asked me about running to begin with started with because so it’s changing now, right? But at the time, so many women in particular came from other sports. And I had like, I mean, I just all the things I loved about mountain biking was this freedom from running it not that I don’t love running, but you know, but at the bit at the same time, like the skill set that I had from running was, you know, allowed me to mountain bike like I knew what it was like to train and what it was like to be on a team and, you know, work with a coach and be in a New Zealand system and a collegiate American system then go to races and rice, you know, like I think that sort of slid in. And the funny thing with the technical writing is like, I mean, I would cry. And you know, prewriting was so hard for B for me, I’d be so incredibly intimidated and then I’d be like, I don’t belong like I don’t know what I’m doing. And then when I was in the race that would be just a different I don’t know just like a different mentality which I probably still carry to this day. I feel like I’m not necessarily the same person on and off the field. But you know, like I would surprise myself with what I could do compared to the other woman I was competing against store or I just be do stuff that I I didn’t know if it was just me or me and Brian, on course with the bike, but I think that that’s where that, you know, transparence comes through.

Sonya Looney 20:09
That’s really interesting because I’m actually the same way like I have a, especially here in Squamish, like people like to go really fast on the dissents. And I’ve worked really hard on my technical ability, and it’s one of my strengths. But when I’m out riding, I don’t like to push really hard on the downhills. I just sort of, you know, ride the downhills at 50%. And I don’t want to push super hard, but on race day, it’s like I have, I’m like a totally different rider. I want to take the risks. I want to go super fast. And but I don’t want to do it in training. So that’s interesting that you kind of feel that way too. Yeah, yeah. Man, I feel like we need like a two hour interview for all these. Yeah, so I don’t try. Yeah, so I guess, why don’t you give us like, general highlights from your mountain bike racing career, because I really want to get into your coaching and the work that you do as a mentor and as a leader in our community, too. Okay.

Jenny Smith 21:04
Um, yeah, well, rice. So,

Sonya Looney 21:09
yeah, cross country racing, I guess is kind of what I was hoping for a

Jenny Smith 21:13
while for sure. Because I wanted to go to the Olympics. And I was never, I didn’t, I’ve been long listed for New Zealand twice. And I probably would have gone to the Commonwealth Games one year, except that I tore my rotator cuff. So I didn’t, you know, meet either of those goals. Like I didn’t get chosen for the Olympics. And I didn’t represent New Zealand at at Commonwealth Games, but that was for sure. Like, my motivation. I think that’s normal. You know, like, that’s a pretty common common thing for people. So I sort of chased that. From 2000, you know, just sort of somewhat tentatively through sort of 2008 I will not tentatively it’s different degrees. I say through 2008 and 2005. I think I had friends that were racing next year, a triathlon, Melanie McQuaid and Melissa Thomas and Jamie Wetmore and they were like you should come do exterior. Yeah. And so in Brighton to so we jumped into an exterior and Keystone I think in 2005. And so funny Sonya, I thought I could swim until I went to do it a race and like I can’t I don’t want to go too tangent with it. But like so couldn’t swim that I was running in the shallows around the duck pond and was like, it wasn’t last into transition because Jimmy Mortensen, I’m showing my age here but couldn’t see me they’re so sick and lost into transition. But I ended up finishing that race maybe also on the podium with a lot of prize money. And I was like, Oh my God, this sports amazing. So from 2005 through to 2010. I kind of like did both sports, exterior and mountain bike racing and in 2007 in particular, I kind of chose to because I really did want to go to the 2008 Olympics but wasn’t going to get there and so be mainly because we had one spot and a woman who was really good called Rosario Joseph and so I could have chased her around the world, you know, and not not beaten her to that spot. So so I kind of need more on that it’s sthira pathway, kind of 2007 to 2010 Yeah,

Sonya Looney 24:01
it sounds like the X Terra was a nice thing to have because of the like, I imagine that was really challenging for you not to be able to realize the Olympic dream.

Jenny Smith 24:11
Yeah, it just wasn’t practical that because I lived here so I didn’t meet the enough criteria. I never had enough point. So it really wasn’t Rosario was a class above me for sure. She was really special. But the other woman you know, I fit right in with I really, you know. Yeah. Or you know, I just kind of fit right in, but I didn’t make the UCI point choice. And it was just not it was always a decision. Like it just wasn’t in my best interest to be Europe base because I was making a life here with Brian. So, you know, it’s kind of like relationships and our lifestyle versus chasing UCI points in Europe, which I know people from all over the world have, you know, questions around and challengers around but exterior was a nice way to be able to bike race in the States.

Sonya Looney 25:07
Yeah, and for those of you listening who aren’t cyclists and who aren’t really sure exactly, you know, this points thing or the Olympics thing, how it all works. And Jenny, you jump in here because I might get it wrong. Basically, depending on what country you’re in, depending on the overall points, was it per gender that you have, you qualify in a certain number of spots for the Olympics, and only certain races will give you points. And, and also you can qualify as an individual based on the number of points that you have. But if you live in North America, there really aren’t very many races that give you these points so that you can go to the Olympics. So to qualify, number one as a country and number two, qualify spots as a country and number two, as an individual, you have to be chasing points, like Jenny said in Europe or basing in Europe. So it’s quite a sacrifice that a lot of people have to make, especially cyclists that want to go to the Olympics, because you have to chase these points. Did I say all that right? Exactly. Yeah. Okay, so x, Tara. Yeah, good prize money. Did you get better at swimming?

Jenny Smith 26:14
Don’t really know. Anyone here I like having a one year I was a lead because, you know, like I I’ve done quite well at exterior i like i think i don’t know i podiumed at the USA championships, like five years in a row. And I’ve been fourth and sixth that world. So if I could swim, I would have been really just like really good. It’s one of those sports and I have so much respect for people as adults that learn to swim Brian still train in a swim seven times a week. And I’m not trying he loves swimming. But he’s he swims three times a week, for a year in year out and has done for nearly 20 years. And you could ask him how he is. It’s a tough sport. Yes. No, not at all. I never really got any better. But I mean, I got beat up

Sonya Looney 27:08
the last out of the water.

Jenny Smith 27:11
But obviously, you know, pretty close to it. Yeah. Yeah.

Sonya Looney 27:14
Wow. Wow, that’s really interesting to hear about the swimming. Okay, so Brian is also a crazy athlete. Do you compete against each other? Or do you feel competitive against each other?

Jenny Smith 27:26
No, not at all. Yeah, no, we don’t like he bosses me around, and I don’t listen. And then sometimes, like a year or five or 10 years later, I’ll be like, Man, you’re right. But no, we don’t compete at all. Like, if anything. We make it work for each other.

Sonya Looney 27:49
That’s great. So you guys are Yeah, supportive. Because now when you get competitive people together, especially if they’re in a couple, and then there’s lots of other variables involved, I can see competitive juices flowing. I’ve personally felt that way. You know, I had boyfriends that were professional mountain bikers are like even not if he’s like riding the trainer. And he’s crushing it. And I’m not I’ll feel bad about myself, like, Oh, why can’t I do that right now? Or, you know, so? Just, I don’t know, just something interesting to think about? Yeah,

Jenny Smith 28:17
yeah, for sure. No, not at all. And if anything, I’m probably, you know, traditionally been a bit more self fish. And he’s a bit self less. So I have to, like, make sure that he gets, you know, he looks after himself too. Because it’ll be the first to give up his, you know, training or, you know, racing or whatever it might be for me or family or work.

Sonya Looney 28:41
Yeah, so let’s see, it’s your daughter is 10. So now in our timeline, we’re getting really close to you know, when when you had your baby, yeah, me. So, yeah, like, take us through the next couple of years? And what that look like deciding to have a baby. Yeah,

Jenny Smith 28:56
for sure. Um, so we, I got pregnant with Jade in 2012. And I mean, that’s kind of an interesting one. Sonya, because I was 39. And didn’t really know, like, on one hand, I wanted to have a child. And on the other hand, I really liked my life. And so probably Brian pushed that like in our 30s. He had been, because we’d been married 14 years, I think before we had a child. And he was sort of like, oh, you know, does I’m not sure if I want children. And so I was of the same day and like, Yeah, not really not sure if we want children either. And then, and my late 30s Brian’s a little younger than me, that changed to him saying that, yes, he did. And so in our relationship, it was a big deal. Like we spent kind of about three years of me, but 37 to 40. And I’m only putting numbers on it because I feel like 40 is kind of a choice for women, if they want to have children, like you can’t just not make up your mind. And so, you know, we both spent about three years being like, do we want to try for children? Don’t we? If I want to have children? Is it because I do want to have children? Or is it because I’m scared that I won’t have Brian, if I have children? So that was quite two most tumultuous time in our relationship. And then we did, you know, decide to get pregnant in 2012. Then at that point in time, I was like, fully prepared to give up racing. Yeah, and which, of course, I have into but, you know, I was, was prepared to do that. And then we did get pregnant easily. And she was, it was a really smooth pregnancy, and she kicked my bum when she was born. But you know, that yeah, that was kind of that was sort of that decision at that point in time. Like, when I did choose to or when we chose to have Jade, we both were very much on the same page that this is that important thing in our lives. Now, whatever we’ll do, from here on out will be shaped by Jade, which I think we try to stay true to, even though we still have a lot of freedom and flexibility as a family.

Sonya Looney 31:26
Now, I want to talk about this point a little bit more. Why did you think that you had to quit racing?

Jenny Smith 31:35
Um, yeah, well, good question. Um, at the time, I was on a team. But it was also a bonus, like I, you know, quote, unquote, retired from exterra in 2018. Because I just couldn’t not be injured. another story for another day, but And so then, and I wasn’t cross country like Olympic racing anymore. So, and 2011 just for fun. I, it sounds like I’m giving too much information. But I think at first, I was like, Oh, give endurance racing ago. I’ll try Leadville which I did. And then in 22, and I was a privateer, too. I at that point in time, I had been sponsored by trek for seven years and 2011 I wasn’t sponsored by anybody, really. So I did Leadville as a privateer, just for fun. And in 2012. I then went to the Stan’s NoTubes elite women’s team as their endurance racer. So you know, I was on a really well supported team, actually. So that was a big question. Like, what would this look like being pregnant because other people weren’t doing anything? Like that I really they weren’t most people were either retiring and having children. So that was sort of one unknowing. And then the other unknown was just around work and, and life. Like, if you don’t have children, you don’t quite know what it’s gonna look like. So I more than anything, I was open. Yeah. The obvious. No, no, no, I

Sonya Looney 33:21
was just laughing at how crazy life is whenever you have little kids. No,

Jenny Smith 33:24
I totally into you know, like, you and I were friends at that time to like, we I traveled a ton. We bought both Brian and I did we, you know, really went around the world with exterra and stage racing and things. And that wasn’t going to to be that, you know, that was not going to be the same.

Sonya Looney 33:45
So you thought that you would stop racing, because number one, you might not have support? And number two, you just didn’t know what it would look like. Yeah, yeah, I think. Okay, so, I mean, that’s a big decision to make, like, how did you actually make that decision after three years of kind of going back and forth?

Jenny Smith 34:03
Um, I thought it was worth it. Was was really and then I was also like, super naive. I’m like, oh, we’ll give it a go. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s fun. On which I would probably think differently about now too, but um, but it did, you know, it did work out. And then that’s, that’s that.

Sonya Looney 34:23
So, take us through the transition from being you know, you’ve been to a world championships for three different sports, like you’ve raced at the top of every, you know, you’ve raced at the very top of exterra mountain biking, running to adding motherhood into your identity like what was that like for you? And then how did you decide if you’re gonna continue racing or not afterwards?

Jenny Smith 34:45
Um, yeah, good question. Well, first of all, like, Jade kicked my ass, if it’s okay to swear, like, oh, and she like was the first year was insane and sunny. I have so much respect for you, and Aaron, and anyone that just is quick to bounce back, because that was not the case with Jade and I and I did. I was working at the time, too. I was coaching western Colorado University. And so I kind of like slid into work pretty quickly. But as far as me and training and bike racing, like it honestly took me a year. You know, like, I remember 10 months, and I asked my friend who was coaching me if he coached me again. And when I did that, I was like, oh, no, this is a really good idea. You know, but it was, and yeah, it really did, like, take me a year to have my feet on the ground. Like, Jade wouldn’t drink out of a bottle. Just so funny. Yeah. And so like, it was so funny. And it was just like, you know what that that looks like like, that just meant that every three years, three hours I needed to be around, which for someone like me is kind of the funniest thing ever. She was a super easy baby, but she refused to take a bottle. So yeah, yeah. Sweet slicked with us, you know, was really demanding of me. So yeah, so that was that was really the first year I think it was just kind of a haze getting my feet under me. And yeah. And who are going to?

Sonya Looney 36:33
And did you have support from your sponsors at this point, or?

Jenny Smith 36:36
I did. I did like the that it was really just a leave of absence. Shannon Gibson was running the team. And she was, you know, always really honest and open about what she was doing. And so she was like, we’ve got your place on the team. But we neither require nor want you to do it this year, like we’ve given your funding and equipment to someone else. So that was 2013. So 2013, I had no obligations, but I could come back and step into it in 2014, which I did. Do.

Sonya Looney 37:17
And then you started racing again with a baby.

Jenny Smith 37:20
Yep. Yes. Yeah.

Sonya Looney 37:22
Tell Tell me all about that.

Jenny Smith 37:24
I mean, that’s a huge learning curve to write like, in 2014. Sonya, I did so well. And to quote Nina, she’s like, you’re not the best you’ve ever been. But you’re pretty. I was second at Leadville that year, you know, I really I won the firecracker like I, I did put in a proposal and it was much more regional. So, you know, I’d committed with the team to not travel very much. I think the only trip I took was to whiskey 50 outside of Colorado, so. But fortunately, Colorado has lots of great racing in Leadville was my IRA. So 2014 was weird. It was like, just really good racing form. But also, I carried that into 2015. And I’m like, Well, this was great, a lot more. And I proceeded to get so sick Sonya when Jade was would have been to in 2015, I actually ended up having to take some time out of the race season, which I’ve never done before. But I got to August, and I was going to do Leadville but I deferred and I was like I have been sick for a recurring sinus infections. And I was like, I have been sick for like, seven months, like literally sick for three and a half of these seven months. And so I like stopped everything and did in fact, do kind of like a full regroup.

Sonya Looney 38:57
Training to I did. Yeah,

Jenny Smith 38:59
I was like I need to get better. Like this is crazy. And during that time I went to training peaks at a summit and Boulder like a coach’s Summit, and I went to that summit and Linda Wallen Falls is there and I’m just saying this because she really helped me. And we were chatting at whatever we’d gone to together. And I was like, Could you help me like would you coach me? And she did. We started up again. I think I stopped training and racing for three, four months. And whenever we started up, I think it’s probably December the first or maybe November 1. She like babied me and sort of having my health and motherhood be balanced. Yeah, yep. So that which is an important part of the story, I think because I just had to adapt to what it what it was like and like you say you’re experiencing so Ah, illness and sickness like I did for sure. That was my 2015. And then from there, I just I learned a lot actually through lender and just loosens more sometimes. And yeah.

Sonya Looney 40:14
So what else did you learn?

Jenny Smith 40:18
With getting back to health?

Sonya Looney 40:20
You said you just said like, I learned a lot of things. I

Jenny Smith 40:22
learned a lot. Yeah, so we just went like, you know that during that time I use HRV, which I don’t do now. And you know, with people, I coach I do occasionally, but not always, it was before woop, or automatic monitoring, but I really just built from the ground up, like, what does my daily life look like? What are the things that I do affect my health? You know, and what is we tied that in with HIV? I kind of used it for about six months and into, like, what does race look like? And, you know, recovery? And how can I polarize my training and work hard, but what do I need to recover from that just a whole attention to the whole package that I had never needed to do before. And so it’s not that we don’t build good habits along the way. But I’d never needed to completely reevaluate, like, how does my family and work and children and age and you lifestyle factors, what do they look like? And how can I train within that? You know, I don’t want to call them constraints, but within the sort of parameters of, of what I’ve got going on.

Sonya Looney 41:45
All of us listening are wondering, how do you do that?

Jenny Smith 41:51
Yeah, well, I mean, I think we need to hit lots of good habits, which is, you know, I know, I’m preaching to the converted there. And one thing, which even is more recent, like, Brian will say, to me is like, people always want to know what we do, like, how are we competing? I’m in my 50s. And it’s late, but then when I tell them, they don’t want enough to like, you know, we gotta be it early. We have thoughts. We don’t drink alcohol, we eat really well, where we watch rom coms with Jay. You know, not romantic bonds, stuff. That’s just the basics.

Sonya Looney 42:30
But simple, or basic doesn’t always mean easy. And those pay massive dividends.

Jenny Smith 42:37
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s true. Yeah.

Sonya Looney 42:40
So yeah, so now your daughter’s 10. You’re still crushing it on all these faces. I’ve been personally crushed by you. How do you view aging as an athlete? Because you mentioned how old are you now? 50. Yeah. And you mentioned, like, a lot of people are asking how do you do it? Because I think that a lot of people will say that they can’t do something anymore, or they won’t even start something because of their age. I’m too old to do that. Or I’m too old to keep going. And there are limitations to aging, I’m sure. Like, for sure. But I think that people use it as a reason not to do something or as almost like an excuse. Okay, like, can you tell us how you view aging and training and all those things?

Jenny Smith 43:23
Yeah, I mean, well, and I’ve, I’ve spoken about this with you before, like turning 50 was a really big deal for me. Like, I thought that it was a huge deal. And so now that I’m 50 I’m like, Oh, that wasn’t a big deal. Just enjoy it. Well, again, I’m

Sonya Looney 43:46
gonna, can you tell everyone what, why was? Why was it a huge deal?

Jenny Smith 43:52
I don’t know. I built it up. And I was crying about it. Like legitimately crying thinking about it for six months beforehand. I think I just didn’t know, maybe how to be validated. When I was 50. You know, like a, it’s one thing to be a professional athlete in your four days. And by no means is that the only thing I do, but I race professionally. And it’s another thing to be like, Oh my gosh, I’m like racing efficiently when I’m 50. It’s, it’s kind of a big thing that I hope isn’t because it’s not. But I have a lot of pressure on myself for that for sure. I think and then just other questions about like, is this what I want to do with my life? Like what am I doing with my life? Mental Health, things that I really addressed last year when I was 50. That you know, I needed to end recalibrating I think and rebalancing. Just a health just sometimes things surface like when, you know 2015 was a big Yeah, for me, recalibrating my lifestyle and that I needed to do again last year, as well. But you know, as far as aging goes, I think it’s a matter of like, choice. It’s the one thing and then common sense. Another and I’m being open to change, but not being fickle with it either. And, like, what I mean by that, personally with me is like, you know, I’ve gone down, you know, like, I don’t, I think you just have to address things as they come up, but take it into the grand scheme of everything, like, what am I doing? Well, and what do I need to tweak? And what might I need to address but we don’t have to throw the water out? Just because we’re another year older, like, and, yeah. If I’m sort of probably feel a bit like I’m talking in circles, but like, I don’t, you know, I don’t adopt a whole new thing, just because I’m 50 I keep a lot of things that have held true for my life. And I just sort of change the things as they need to come up, like address health issues, if they can’t come up, or last year I address mental health has been amazing. And, well, two years ago, I had a whole hormone panel taken and then sort of delved into some adaptations from that. And, and, and I’m going to do that again recently, because I’m like, I’m not quite sure I am with perimenopause, and menopause. And I think two years is long enough to have gone between hormone checkups. So that’s on my to do list. Now, and then, you know, my goal for this year is to get stronger, because I don’t love the gym, but I need it. So that’s like my overarching 2024 goals. So adapt in some of that research, where it’s like, okay, while we have hormones, we need to antagonize our muscles and keep us strength going. But that’s not the only thing I’m going to do. Because I’m an endurance biker, I need to write endurance too. So that’s sort of what I mean by like, Paulina, and what’s needed, but not like, going crazy with over the research.

Sonya Looney 47:31
Yeah, and that’s a fine line to walk because it’s great that now there is a lot of emerging research.

Jenny Smith 47:37
Yeah, yeah.

Sonya Looney 47:40
Man, I feel like we could record a podcast on each one of these, like recording an entire one on motherhood, return the one on Aging, or one on what we’re about to talk about your coaching. So maybe you’ll have to come back and talk about some of these other things in a bit more detail. Yeah, for sure. So let’s talk about your coaching real quick, like you taught, you’re a speaker at the women’s cycling Summit. And you if people want to go listen to this, it’s on my Instagram page. And we recorded the whole thing. But your approach to coaching is, is really unique, I think, especially how you coach the adolescents and the the high schoolers. So yeah, can you tell us like you coach individuals, because I’m always sending people like I don’t anyone? Like a coach and like no, but Jenny does? Because you, Jenny? Yeah. Can you just tell us about your approach to coaching adults? And also adolescents?

Jenny Smith 48:31
Yeah, I mean, that’s a big question. You know, Mike, I even summed it up for someone recently, and I was like, That was so good. Um, you know, someone asked me about my coaching philosophy recently, and I had to kind of like, go away and think about it. And then I was like, Well, really, it’s super simple. We look at for, you know, for ourselves, right? Or anyone that we’re coaching, we like, look at what we’re doing. What does that skill, what’s required by that task, whether it’s an event or a race season, or a type of racing, or, you know, whatever it might be, like, say, we use the whiskey 50 as an example. And then, you know, what skill set do we need to do to be able to do that event that we want to do? And then on the other hand, where are we at with regards to that event that we want to do? What are we good at? What are we not so good at? What do we need to develop in order to to be better at that event? And I think that’s that’s really how I view my coaching. Like it’s a process of working with an athlete to help them get their skill set and fitness as good as they possibly can for whatever event that that they’re doing. Yeah, that didn’t answer your question. So that’s kind of you know, I teach people personally and individually because it’s very diff Right, we need different things at different times. And then that’s kind of like half of my coaching. And the other half is that in more, you know, sort of the last one, I started with the university originally over a decade ago, so sort of in the last decade, I’ve worked with youth and then and since 2017, or 18, I’ve worked with, and 19 athletes and teams and programs.

Sonya Looney 50:28
And the thing that really struck me when you were talking about how you work with these adolescents is you give them a lot of autonomy and choice. So can you talk about that?

Jenny Smith 50:38
Um, yeah, well, we, um, you know, with the high schoolers, or the under nine teens that we work with, like, our overarching mission is to promote positive youth development. And that was introduced to me by Amy Nolan, who’s the director of CBD VO and it really struck home. And so I keep that in mind with anyone that I work with, and use it as a chicken balance towards, you know, what we are doing, and what they’re doing. So that’s, you know, one thing and then, and working with teams or leading groups, I think it’s super important that we have, like, Byun. So they, you know, have expectations that they have, you know, that together we agree to do and everyone is on the same page with that. And then, you know, that creates a positive culture, which in turn, creates, you know, positive youth development and yeah, and then the freedom and flexibility and choice within that I think just fits within the over arching theme of what we’re trying to do. Is that, is that kind of what you mean? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And sometimes I’m like, I wonder if I should be more. But it’s not my style. Like when I work with youth in particular, like, I really want them to be able to make choices and, and do what they’re doing and find their own way. And that’s how I lead really, I don’t like, I’m not someone that my way is the only way or I’ve done it this way. So it should be like that. I really just do try and look out for each person, but but at the same time, tell them the truth as to what we’re doing. And why you know why we’re doing it. Yeah,

Sonya Looney 52:41
this reminds me of what you said at the very beginning of your adolescent journey as a runner, like, it seemed like you had a lot of flexibility and ability to make your own choices moving forward.

Jenny Smith 52:54
Yeah, yeah, that’s true. Yeah.

Sonya Looney 52:57
Okay, well, we’re just going to record another podcast, which is awesome. If you’re if you want to, but yeah, like

Jenny Smith 53:04
to talk to you like way, there’s all kinds of things we didn’t even touch on. I know. Yeah. Well,

Sonya Looney 53:09
when you submit as eclectic as you it’s really hard to jam everything into one hour. But I wanted to spend time on the earlier years of Jenny Smith because I think a lot of people know you before like they know you as your as exterra Jenny or as Jenny, the professional mountain biker, but I was just curious about, like, how you grew up. And I guess one last question, since I have a minute here is, do you consider yourself because because now that I live in another country as well? I’m not my native born country. Do you consider yourself more American or more New Zealand or now?

Jenny Smith 53:40
I think I’m more New Zealand? Uh huh. Yeah, but I love Colorado and people are like, Why don’t you live in New Zealand? I can’t believe you don’t live in New Zealand. I’m like, yeah, yeah. Like Yes. Amazing. Yeah. Both probably a blend of Yeah, no, it’s hot. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s

Sonya Looney 54:00
super interesting. Yeah, I definitely identify like I’m at, you know, I’m a dual citizen. But it’s been interesting for me, because a lot of the people I’m meeting like I’ve lived in Canada for a decade now. People think I’m Canadian. And it’s weird. Like, I don’t I don’t identify like, I don’t feel like I’m a Canadian. I feel like I’m an American. And I Yeah, and I feel weird. If somebody says, Oh, you’re Canadian. Like, I live in Canada, and I love Canada, but I’m I’m not a Canadian. Yeah,

Jenny Smith 54:27
yeah, I will. I’m still a New Zealand citizen. So that probably answers that question. Like Jade has dual. We could get Brian door but I can’t get to all that, to my knowledge. I think in order to be an American citizen, I need to give up my New Zealand passport and I don’t want to do that. But I mean, I love where we love. Yeah, and I’m lucky.

Sonya Looney 54:52
Yeah, I think like Matt, Matt said something like, Well, you know, to me, he’s like you’ve been national champion. And you know, for as a US person or, you know, you represented the US at World Championships. So that’s why you probably really I still identify as American because my accolades are under the American flag, so I don’t know. Yeah, for sure. But actually, this this brings up another quick question. So you and myself and Rebecca rush and Kelly Boniface one US Nationals for 24 hour racing, but you So, but do you have to be a US citizen?

Jenny Smith 55:26
I could do it. No, I could. Yes. So we I could do it. I actually looked into it. You probably never knew that. Like, prior to doing that race. I could do that. Because it’s not a UCI event.

Sonya Looney 55:37
Okay, got it. Okay. Yeah. Yeah,

Jenny Smith 55:39
I’ve got this tiny wild here and I need to talk to Aaron about it. Because I and I would need to be writing well enough. But I’m really tempted by marathon will champs been and snowshoe. Uh huh. You’ve been tempted by that? It’ll that’s this

Sonya Looney 55:54
year. Ah, no, I didn’t. I didn’t know that. Yeah. So

Jenny Smith 55:58
anyway, I don’t know whether it’s really easy. I wouldn’t want to do it if I wasn’t writing well, that but I’m a little bit tempted by that. And I would do that as a New Zealander. Yeah, I could get New Zealand just delete. It just,

Sonya Looney 56:14
I did marathon World Champs and like, gosh, it was I was such a noob. I’m like you, it’s like, I’m just gonna go and I just go do stuff. So it was like, I don’t even know what year that was maybe 2012. I was new to endurance racing. But I got them to I got selected for marathon world, but it was in Germany. And it was his horrific course it was, it was all just like kind of flat dirt road riding. And I didn’t have any support. Like it was just a horrible experience. So yeah, it’d be nice to do another marathon worlds and have a good experience.

Jenny Smith 56:45
Yeah. And I just haven’t done it. I just need to look. I have never done marathon world. Go the fact that it’s in West Virginia kind of just has. Yeah, I think it’s after

Sonya Looney 56:55
break. We’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

Jenny Smith 56:59
And ask her about it. Because she did that. I think she did the course last year. I think it was horrendous. But anyway.

Sonya Looney 57:05
Well, Jenny, thanks for taking the time with your busy schedule to come on here. Where can people? Where can people find you if they want to ask you more questions?

Jenny Smith 57:13
Oh, good question. Um, they can find me on Instagram and just DM me and it’s currently there’s a story about that for another podcast, but it’s currently skinny spikes. It’s not genius bikes. This genie spikes. Yeah, and that’s probably the best place on you.

Sonya Looney 57:32
Okay, well, thanks so much. And I’m so glad that we got to record this podcast.

Jenny Smith 57:37
Thanks on you. Take care. Ciao.

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