Steamboat Springs Kelly Boniface doesn’t have a quick, great answer, nothing prepackaged to be a sound bite.
She, who year in and out is one of the queens of competitive cycling in Steamboat Springs, refers to herself as a professional mountain biker. Others do, too. To many across the country, that may mean something in particular, conjuring up images of year-round training and big-money sponsorships.
But that’s not Kelly Boniface. Mountain biking is simply her hobby.
Yet the mother of two is still a pro, by her definition and others. And she defines what that means in her own way.
Boniface wasn’t supposed to crack professional athletics on a bike. Coming out of high school in Massachusetts, she was supposed to do it as a runner. She shined in high school, then earned her way to Cornell to run cross-country and track.
Although she quit after a year — but stayed in school and earned her degree — she continued to run, ticking off races all across the country, including the Boston Marathon.
Life led her to Steamboat. A leg injury, combined with an order from a doctor to take a break from running, led her to cycling. She shined immediately.
Although she raced in the women’s sport category of her first Town Challenge Mountain Bike Race Series race, she placed second overall. She won the next one, taking her place on top of the local podium that she’s only rarely given up since.
What does “professional cyclist” mean? It means someone who’s awfully good at cycling, and Boniface has proven that over again in recent summers. She won the women’s expert division of the cross-country mountain bike race at Teva Mountain Games in 2008, a race that gave her the confidence to begin entering the pro division. Since then, she’s recorded dozens of high finishes and has been better than ever this season, grabbing third in the Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge, second at the Steamboat Stinger race in Steamboat Springs and 16th at the USA Cycling cross-country national championships in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“Each time I do a race, I learn something,” she said.
Being a professional cyclist is about more than simply being good, however. Technically speaking, it’s Boniface’s sponsorship from Moots that pushes her from hobby rider to “professional.”
That deal, a part of the local bike manufacture’s GrassMoots program, helps her get bikes and equipment at reduced prices and pays for some of the expenses that go along with competing, such as race registration fees.
Landing that deal was about more than Boniface’s rise on the Town Challenge podium, however.
“One of our sales staff brought up the idea of including her,” Moots’ Jon Cariveau said. “We thought she’d be a great personality, a great person to have out there wearing the Moots name. She’s a super nice person, everyone knows her and everyone knows everything that comes out of her mouth is great stuff.
“It was an easy decision.”
The key, Cariveau explained, isn’t just Boniface’s outstanding athletic achievements. It’s also her everyday style.
Boniface didn’t turn her cycling ambitions to larger stages until after the birth of her second child, Lila, now 6.
That took her off the Town Challenge circuit for a summer, just as the birth of her first child, 10-year-old Isabelle, did.
Boniface said they, along with husband, Peter, make up all her top priorities, although she attributed some of her recent success to Isabelle and Lila’s growing up.
“All-day kindergarten made a huge difference in my training,” she said with a laugh. “I was home with a child for a decade. Having both kids in school all day has been really helpful.”
Defining the job
So what does being a professional cyclist mean?
Three year’s into life as one, Boniface still isn’t sure because it changes daily.
Some days it means squeezing a ride in between being a wife and a mother. Some days it means representing Moots with big smiles. Some days it means going head to head with some of the best cyclists in the country.
“What it means for me, when I go to these races, I’m competing against the best girls out there,” Boniface said. “In my priority list of my life, this isn’t No. 1. It’s not No. 2. … I want it to stay fun. It needs to fit in my life, rather than have my life fit around it.
“I’m taking it year by year. The year it’s time to start training and I don’t feel like, then I’m done.”
That’s not happened yet, and Boniface still is tearing up tracks around the region.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com