Women Involved Series: Karen Jarchow
I now live in Eagle, CO with my husband Jeff Kerkove. I work in marketing with Ergon Bike, and own a kids MTB program, and race professionally with Team Topeak-Ergon USA. There are a million things that happened from point A to bring me to where I am today, some good choices, some not so great choices, but I regret nothing and couldn't be happier doing what I'm doing today.
Snap Chat @kjarchow
My introduction to my #bikelife came in my mid 20's. After completing college in my home state of Minnesota, I moved out to the mountains to gain patient experience, working in a PT clinic prior to applying to PA school. I had a bike in college, a Lemond road bike that I purchased after my Walmart Mongoose was stolen from one of my jobs as a Jimmy John's delivery girl. It wasn't until living in the mountains that I discovered the world of outdoor adventure. I joined every hike, road ride, ski, climb, float, etc that anyone would invite me on - I was a kid in a candy store. I was introduced to mountain biking through working crew for Race Across America, a team relay road race from coast to coast - this is where I met my friend and local athlete Kerry White. Through crewing for her and her team grew my interest to try out endurance sports. The desire was increased by having a broken leg at the time - driving me crazy that I couldn't do what these strong women were doing. When back, and somewhat healed up, Kerry would take me on the occasional Wednesday early morning mountain bike ride. She had an extra bike and shoes - both were a little small for me, but I didn't mind. I was hooked and loved the challenge and how that challenge brought me closer to nature. Turns out my leg was actually still broken the entire time I was forcing my foot into a shoe that was too small, and cringing on every bump along the trail - here, I thought that was just what mountain biking was. I've gotten a little smarter, not much, since then. Needless to say, I never made it to PA school and my path went a different direction. I now run a kids mountain bike program here in Eagle, Colorado and work as a media coordinator for a PR/Event company - as well as racing professionally for Team Topeak-Ergon.
Tell us about your mountain biking experience in Colorado. Was it easy to figure out where to go/what to do? Where did you love going to ride?
Living in the Vail Valley, I feel very fortunate to be around a solid community of cyclists. If I wasn't riding with a friend, I was just out wandering around alone. It was fairly easy to navigate - however, I've never been one to really check a map, so there were plenty of moments of getting lost. I can remember when I'd have a couple days off work in the mud season, I would pack up my jeep, drive to the desert, park at a trailhead and just ride and ride and ride. It's all I wanted to do, and it didn't matter where I was riding as long as my tires had dry dirt!
What would be your favorite competitive biking event and why do you enjoy competing?
That's a good question - I like so many! I now race a little bit of everything, xc, marathon, enduro, and fat bike. My favorite might have to be marathon racing as it's usually a big loop of great trails. However, my attention is mostly geared towards where the competition is now. I would say the Epic Rides series is where that's at. Tight competition is where I learn the most, where I grow as an athlete. I learn more from a race where I have to dig so deep for a top 10 finish vs. a race where I hold the lead from the start.
What has been the most interesting thing you've learned since you started racing professionally?
The most interesting thing I've learned is how much the thoughts that buzz between our ears affects our performance. It doesn't matter how many other people believe in your potential, if you're questioning it, you're not going to get very far.
What advice would you give to someone who is nervous about attending their first event?
I would say embrace the nerves, to an extent they are a good sign you're about to do something that will positively influence you in a way nothing else can. Nerves are a good thing, but the right amount. If you're nervous to the point of making yourself sick, that's a problem. If you're not nervous at all, that can also be a problem. Being a little nervous means you're getting out of your comfort zone. I would also remind them, that once the race starts, and you're in your element of riding and racing, the nerves go away.
Can you take us back to your first few mountain bike rides? What did you learn and what made you decide that you wanted to continue with it?
Well, I can tell you about my first race - I ended up getting carried off on a backboard. I was a beginner in our local series and really had zero skills. I was relatively quick on the climbs, would pass categories ahead of me, and then hold them up on the descent. So, on the final lap, I decided to just let go of my brakes. That didn't end well with flying into a sage bush, going over the bars, and lawn darting. This experience taught me how to face fears. Once I was healed up I made sure to learn how to ride the same descent when I was cleared to do so. I used the embarrassment of that situation to fuel me to get better.
Have you had any biffs (crashes/accidents) that were challenging for you on a physical/mental/emotional level? What did you do to heal and overcome?
I've had more biffs than anyone probably has the time or interest to read about. Haha. The one I just described being the biggest. I don't like to waste any time feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on what happened in the past. I try to work on what's controllable. My first big crash was due to lack of skills, so I focused on working on skills and committing to challenges vs. hesitating. I think it's really important to be present when overcoming these challenges. I once had a hard crash down a waterfall move in St. George, Utah. Like sling shotting my bike over the back of my head big. The next time I came up on the move, I didn't let my thoughts go back to what happened last time, but I focused on the skill at hand to commit and execute the move. It's also important to recognize that everyone has on and off days - and to be kind to yourself if you're on an off day.
Everything was so foreign to me when I started out, so unless I was pedaling my heart out going straight uphill or just pointing and shooting straight downhill, it was all a challenge at first. Starting out, I rode with people who were much better than me and learned by watching and mimicking their skills. I now work on specific skills like bunny hopping, cornering, brake control, etc. My coach and I spend a couple days each spring doing some refresher skills work in the desert. Repetition is key, and taking the time to break down the moves vs. just muscling your way through has been a tremendous help.
Are there still handling or technical riding aspects that you find tricky? How do you not let that drag you down when riding?
Yes, I sometimes still have a hard time leaning into right turns. I guess I'm not an ambi-turner, but that's just something I try to always work on. I have to think a little harder on the cues vs. the opposite side that's somehow much more fluid. You can't let things like that get you down. You just can't.
What do you love about riding your bike?
I love so many things about riding my bike. I love the strength and confidence I've gained, the places I've explored and people I've shared it all with.
Tell us about your bike(s), what they are like and why did you choose them?
I have acquired a quiver, and never in my life would I ever imagine that I'd be so lucky. I ride for Team Topeak-Ergon, and we are fortunate to be on Canyon Bikes. My race bike of choice is their Exceed hardtail with a Rockshox Reverb dropper. Being a smaller rider, I love this bike for its weight and efficiency. The Rockshox dropper post makes it a very capable bike that I've raced for 99% of all my races this year. I also have a Canyon Lux, their XC 100mm FS bike - another fully capable bike! I raced this bike at the GJ Offroad as well as the GoPro Enduro! The RockShox RS1 fork as the capability to switch to 120mm of suspension which was perfect for the fast rolling terrain of the Gopro Enduro. I also love to ride and train on the road and ride the Canyon Ultimate CF SL. Additionally, I do love riding park, and for that, I grab my Canyon Spectral that is set up 160mm front and 140mm rear...which is just silly fun! This winter I added the Canyon Dude fat bike to the family and was able to win Fat Bike World Championships on it this past January.
Tell us about the kids' mountain biking program you own and why you love getting the next generation involved with mountain biking-
The kids MTB program Vail Valley Alternative Sports Academy (VVASA) was just an idea four years ago while chatting with my boss, Mike McCormack. Two weeks after this discussion, he said, "here you go!". Since then, I've been able to grow the program to getting 120 kids out on mountain bikes throughout the summers and now own the program! It's been a lot of hard work, but so rewarding to see the joy on the kids' faces. Every year I wonder if I can do it again the following year, and somehow it all just works out. I organize the programming to focus on the joy of the sport, learning the rules of the trails, how to treat other trail users, etc. The bigger picture is that we are influencing a new generation of trail users. I try to not talk about racing at all with the kids, most probably have no clue that I race professionally, and I like it that way as I feel that we need to generate riders before racers. The kids range from 6-14, each year making more exceptions as kids just want to keep coming back and ride with their friends. We even have some older kids who come back and volunteer to ride with the younger kids! It's a huge passion project and really makes my every day riding and training that much more meaningful.
For parents that might be nervous about having their child become involved with mountain biking, what advice would you give?
One thing I've learned through running this camp is that mountain biking isn't really the best choice for ALL kids, and that's OK. Being nervous about your kid joining the sport is probably a normal feeling if you, yourself aren't a mountain biker - but, I think by introducing them through the camp is a great place to start to see if it's something they click with. I had one little girl this past year who was extremely apprehensive, her strength wasn't where the other kids were at, and her fear was palpable. We worked one and one with her, I calmed her tears a handful of times, worked with the other kids as to how to encourage others who might be having a harder time than them and even had to send her home early one day. However, after talking with her parents about things they can do at home to help overcome these fears of hers...she came back! She finished the camp and went from the "I can't" mindset to the, "actually, I can!". That was an amazing moment.
What do you feel deters women from getting involved with cycling? Especially mountain biking?
I think it's different for a lot of women who are maybe on the fence about giving it a go and cannot really be generalized. I live in a pretty great bubble where I'm not treated any differently than my guy friends, but I'm reminded that's not always the case in other places. I think that dialog needs to change - personally, I don't want to be treated any differently as a female athlete, I just want to be treated as an athlete, the same as any other athlete. I think when we stop categorizing, we'll see more women get into the sport. Let's be honest. Mountain biking can be intimidating, but I'm seeing more and more women get into the sport through women's clinics and social groups. It's pretty rad!
What do you feel could change industry-wise or locally to encourage more women to be involved?
In all honesty, I do not feel that women are such a minority in the sport as it seems. Just because not every woman decides to race or goes on a rant on social media doesn't mean they aren't out there enjoying the sport. I think the more the industry shines a light on women making a difference in the sport, it'll just create a trickle effect. So, marketing could change. Give some credit to the women's groups that are already making an impact such as the Yeti Betis, Ladies All Ride, Vida, and so many other women's groups that are getting literally hundreds of women out on bikes with the proper skills they need.
What inspires you to encourage women to ride?
For me, mountain biking has taught me things about myself and life that I'm not sure anything else could. It's my passion. It's what lights me up. That feeling inspires me to encourage women to ride.
Tell us a random fact about yourself!
I can touch my elbows together behind my back. You know that trick kids use to play to get you to look ridiculous - I can do it. I still look ridiculous, but it's been a pretty good lifelong party trick. ;)