April 25, 2017

Balancing Act

UMass Amherst's Ellen Noble ’18 is national cyclocross champion

Champion cyclist Ellen Noble ’18 has a challenge most students don’t have. As a professional cyclocross racer she competes at the edge of high cliffs, carries her bike across rivers and other barriers in events that are part cycling and stunt riding. Her schedule, balancing a professional career and college studies, is also different from most students. A typical day includes a two- to five-hour bike ride, a few hours of stability and strength training, classes and school work, and time for relaxing, followed by a run capped by meditation before a good night’s rest. Her rigorous training regimen and passion for the competition have put her among the elite in the sport. At 21, she has won four national cyclocross championships and two Pan-American championships, and in January, she finished second at the world championship in Luxembourg.

She has made her mark in cyclocross races—45 minutes of riding at breakneck speed while traversing pavement, wooded trails, grass, mud, sand, ice, and steep hills. It is tough and messy with the rider dismounting and carrying her bike over or around obstructions. Noble’s next cycling challenge is to expand her repertoire and tackle road racing, like the Tour de France races. She has set her sights high with ultimately competing in the Olympics as her goal.

“If you want to do something but feel like you can’t, learn what is holding you back. Ask yourself, ‘What is stopping me?’”

Ellen Noble

Noble has managed her successful professional racing career while keeping on track to graduate in four years with her bachelor’s degree in public health. She is now a University Without Walls student taking online courses while training in Málaga, Spain. Earning a college degree is a priority, and she chose a public health major for the opportunities to improve lives. “I was attracted to the idea of helping people and educating them on how to have healthy and happy lives,” she said recently.

UMass Amherst, she says, is a perfect place for her. The Kennebunkport, Maine, native was seeking a larger school with many majors to explore, not too far from her hometown, with a diverse student population, and in an area with a vibrant, elite, and professional cycling community. When enrolled in campus courses, Noble lives in nearby Easthampton, a home to many other competitive bike racers, including current and former men’s national champions.

Noble, who began to race professionally at the age of 16, is disciplined in her roles as college student and an athletic superstar. “It is second nature for me to go to school and race at the same time,” she says. Her parents, who were elite bike racers, registered their daughter for her first race when she was five years old. That first race has been followed by hundreds of others. “I am having a ton of fun,” she says. “I enjoy racing and traveling the world.”

Her advice to others comes with sage wisdom. “If you want to do something but feel like you can’t, learn what is holding you back. Ask yourself, ‘What is stopping me?’”