Alison Dunlap goes from fat tires to baby steps

Ten years ago, Alison Dunlap was cresting the peak of her professional cycling career, with a world cross-country mountain biking championship and numerous national titles under her race belt. Today, life's a little different for the two-time Olympian. Instead of her logging hundreds of miles on the roads or ripping down woodsy trails, Dunlap's days are a bit quieter -- and yet much more hectic.

That's because Dunlap has recently added yet another title to her lengthy resume: mom.

Baby Emmett was born Oct. 26 after an arduous, 46-hour labor. The pregnancy, Dunlap said, was "uneventful" -- she rode her bike until six months in and hiked daily. But in the months following Emmett's arrival, life's been anything but.

"Babies aren't complicated, but it is all-consuming and can take up my entire day. I'm learning to take my small chunks of time to try to get things done," Dunlap explained from her home in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I'm used to having much more flexibility in my days. Now, I'm cranking things out in 20-minute stints."

Dunlap, 41, got a jump start on the nurturing aspect of motherhood through an alternative source: coaching. In a career she took on full time after retiring from pro racing in 2005, Dunlap oversees the training of mountain and road cyclists across the country. Mothering and coaching, it seems, are not so different. After all, it's not unusual for Dunlap to talk each of her dozen or so athletes through personal ups and downs, coddle their insecurities, lift their spirits after bad races and praise their positive workouts.

"Some athletes really need that hand-holding," she said. "They're the ones that need to hear 'You're a good person. You can do this.' Others respond better if I tell them, 'Quit your [complaining] and get your butt out there.' You have to find out what works for every person. I prefer to be honest. I'm not a mean person, but I won't sugarcoat anything, either."

Dunlap admitted coaching was never an ambition -- with a bachelor's degree in biology from Colorado College, she always saw herself as a college professor post-retirement. The job presented itself by happenstance after a father of a 15-year-old asked her to train his daughter, an aspiring cyclist. Dunlap did, successfully, and word of mouth helped catapult an eponymous coaching and adventure camp business. These days, Dunlap instructs and trains about a dozen cyclists with abilities running the gamut from newbies to pros.

"When I was looking at retiring [from cycling], I figured coaching was a great way to transition from racing and to stay involved," she said. "Having been an athlete who has been through it all -- as a beginner, then a collegiate athlete, then an Olympian and world champion -- I draw on those experiences as well as what I remember I needed from my coach."

While some coaching companies charge extraordinary rates and offer little human interaction, Dunlap feels accessibility between coach and athlete is key to producing good results for everyone. Referring to herself as a "24-hour coach," a role that's become increasingly challenging since the birth of her son, Dunlap is quick to point out that she wouldn't want it any other way.

"I want to be there for my athletes. I'm emotionally invested in every athlete. I'm excited when an athlete calls me and tells me something good; when they cry, I cry," she said. "To me, that's what makes coaching most rewarding."

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