From winning an Olympic cycling medal to recently being selected as the new Women’s Road Coach for USA Cycling, OVS alumna Mari Holden wants everyone to know that it all started on the hill.
“I would have never gotten on a bike had I not gone to OVS,” explained the cycling phenom and member of the OVS Class of 1988. “And that I know 100%.”
Ms. Holden’s love for biking all started when she joined the OVS cycling club.
“I saw the kids in the cycling club and I thought it looked like fun and when I went for my first ride I fell in love with riding my bike,” Ms. Holden explained. “It was just pure love, I found something I loved to do. I loved the feeling of freedom that it gave me, I loved the sense of speed and the people I got to ride with.”
Her devotion to cycling was evident to everyone around her, especially those in the OVS community.
“When she discovered cycling her life changed,” said Upper Campus Assistant Head of School Crystal Davis. “Cycling became her focus, her passion, and you could almost see the life that it brought to her face. When she spoke about it her eyes sparkled and she was driven to excel.”
Ms. Holden’s love and dedication continued far after her time at OVS. Her passion for cycling and immense hard work led her to fulfill her cycling dreams: competing in the Olympics.
“Ever since I saw the Olympics come through LA in ‘84 I knew I wanted to be in the Olympics,” Ms. Holden said. “Competing in the Sydney Olympics was the highlight of my career.”
Ms. Holden won a silver medal and was filled with overwhelming joy.
“When you’re an athlete you recognize how difficult it is to have everything come together at the right time, on the right day,” she explained. “So for me to get a medal was huge.”
In addition to an Olympic medal, Ms. Holden won a World Championship title in 2000 and earned six National Championships during her career. Holden continued cycling professionally until her retirement in 2006. She still cycles regularly and is a coach for aspiring athletes.
“After my retirement I got back involved and was director for a women’s team here in the US that led me down the path of working with development,” Ms. Holden said.
Currently, Ms. Holden is the coach for the USA Women’s National Cycling Team, overseeing USA Cycling’s women’s road cycling programs from the development athletes through the USA Cycling National Team.
“I work for US cycling which is one of the national governing bodies that is under the US Olympic and Paralympic committee. This position came to me and it’s mostly focused on development, which is something I’m very interested in,” explained Ms. Holden. “I work with juniors and collegiate-age kids getting them ready to take the step to the next level.”
With her position, Ms. Holden provides athletes with what they need to be successful along with useful resources and advice.
“My focus is primarily making sure that the girls have the resources they need to optimize their performances,” Ms. Holden said. “I help connect athletes to coaches in their area and I communicate with them on areas where we (USA Cycling) can enhance or help them. I reach out to their personal coaches to find out what they need. If they need help with their nutrition or sports science or counseling, or if there is anything we can do to help them succeed.”
Ms. Holden gets to work more closely with the younger athletes. She often accompanies them to races and will be taking trips to Europe with athletes under 23.
“The younger the women are, the more opportunities I may have for them,” explained Ms. Holden.
Another part of Ms. Holden’s job as the USA Women’s Cycling National Coach is connecting more girls to the sport of cycling and finding dedicated athletes who will hopefully represent team USA in the future.
“I want to collaborate with other junior coaches on how we can get more girls on bikes,” Ms. Holden said. “Hopefully we can get them into our program so that more young girls can learn about racing and the opportunities that USA cycling has to offer.”
It takes a certain type of person to be an extraordinary athlete and Ms. Holden knows exactly what to look for.
“There are people out there who have a lot of talent or things come easily to them but if you don’t have that kind of drive and perseverance, it’s hard to achieve big goals,” Ms. Holden said. “Then there are people out there who may not have the same amount of talent but they have that work ethic where they are determined to do it, and that is something that I as a national team coach am looking for, and of course, a love for cycling.”
Mari Holden contains all of the aspects crucial to being a great athlete, coach, and person. From her time at OVS to now, Ms. Holden’s dedication and love for the sport of cycling never ceases to amaze.