Meet Bear MTB Team Boss Julia Violich, aka Mama V

Julia Violich doesn’t let any grass grow under her bike tires.   She runs a 9000 acre farming operation and a diverse property portfolio of commercial real estate estate investments.   But then she also runs her loving little family, with two ripping groms and a husband.  And then her not-for-profit tendencies kick in.  Together, we run Bear Development Team, working to create opportunities and fun for 18 young cyclists.  Alongside Nicola Cranmer, she also built and directs financial operations for one of the most accomplished teams in the history of women’s pro cycling (two Olympic medals!), Team Twenty16.   She also sits on the Board of Directors for USA Cycling Federation’s Development Foundation and works on boards and advisory groups for National Interscholastic Cycling Association, Nor Cal High School Cycling League, Redwood High School Cycling Team, Stafford Lake Bike Park, Marin Museum of Bicycling Project, Marin County Bicycle Coalition and I don’t even know how many other cycling non-profits.   And then she finds the time to ride her bike every day, having won 3 national championships as a USAC masters racer.

With all this going on, she still finds a way to be present, mindful and loving in her interactions with her kids, her team riders, her business partners and everyone else all day long.

I don’t know how she does it.  I don’t  know where all her energy and generosity comes from.  I don’t know how she doesn’t burn out.  She just keeps giving and giving and giving.

And we all love her for it.

Here’s a quick interview with Julia Violich.   As always, she has some good things to say.

Photo – Matthew Lasala @lasalaimages

Introduction/Interview – Stu Bone

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What is your history with the sport? 

I started riding in business school after suffering from injuries resulting from Half Marathon racing (and old soccer injuries).

What is your history with Cycling Development? 

I have been involved with Cycling Development for 13 years.  I was roped into being an assistant coach for the Redwood High School Mountain Bike Team back in 2002.  I was immediately hooked and got involved with the NorCal league and its development.  I was a team coach, a league industry advisor, and a member of the rules committee (we wrote the original NICA rules book).

From there, I got involved in 2006 with Nicola Cranmer to found the now Twenty16 professional women’s team (formerly known as Proman, Peanut Butter & Co, and Twenty12). Our program successful sent a handful of athletes to the Olympics in 2012 and there we earned two medals.  We are currently on the road to Rio and hope for similar successes.

In 2010, I was elected to the board of the USAC Development Foundation.  The Foundation works closely with USAC to fund development programs for road, mountain, cyclocross and BMX disciplines for both men and women.  I am specifically involved in the women’s development programs with the national team, and the mountain bike programs for juniors and U23 riders in Europe.  I am very impressed with the Foundation’s commitment to development and the work of USAC to promote cycling both domestically and internationally.

In 2011 & 2012, while still coaching at the High School level, I worked with Dario Frederick to direct an elite junior women’s program at Whole Athlete.  The program has been and continues to be very successful.

Finally in 2013, Stu Bone and I joined forces to build the Bear Development Team.  The rest is history… and a happy one!

What has it been like working with these kids?

There are many reasons why I enjoy coaching kids.  One of the primary reasons is to share my love of the sport and to encourage kids to integrate cycling into their lives.  I also enjoy guiding kids to make the right choices.  Since cycling requires intense discipline, kids need to make the right decisions in order to succeed.  Lastly, I like being a support group for them outside parents or friends and family.  Someone they can bounce ideas off of and lean on if needed.  Oh yes, and it is super fun!  Laughter is huge!

What kinds of things have you taught the kids that you have coached?  What have you been working on with them?

Of course, I work on bike handling skills, race tactics and the nutritional, psychological, and physical aspects of racing, but what I hope to pass on the most is my love of the sport.  And also the reality that to succeed in anything you need to be passionate about it and have fun.  I am huge on the fun factor and hope that it rubs off on the kids and encourages them to do their personal best.

What have they taught you, if anything?

Oh man, the list goes on and on.  I have learned to be light, to be compassionate, to listen, to prioritize, to giggle…And of course, I’ve learned mad social media skills and become a master snap chatter!

You’re a busy woman, running a huge farming operation, raising some really cool kids at home, being a wife, training to race yourself, etc. Yet you put so much time into Bear, Team Twenty16, the USAC Development Board, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, The Marin Museum of Bicycling project, and Stafford Lake Bike Park. Why are you so committed to cycling nonprofits?  What’s that really about for you?

Cycling has become a way of life for me.  I have benefited from so many positive aspects of the sport ~ I want to give back. In addition, I have met some of the most outstanding people I have ever known through the sport.  I am inspired by so many of them and they prompt me to give my time and do my best.  On every board I sit on I am surrounded by awe-inspiring friends and fellow cyclists.

What does the cycling development culture in the USA need more of?  What does it need less of?

This is a tough question and I don’t have all the answers.  I wish I did.  I do think it important that people who love the sport share it.  Whether they are sharing their time, their resources, or funding various programs.   It takes a village.  There are so many young athletes that now have cycling as an option to explore at a young age.  They might not go on to be World Champions or even professional cyclists, but they can enjoy the freedom and community that cycling provides.

What makes Bear special?

Bear is unique for many reasons.  First of all it is the only elite junior and U23 Men’s and Women’s Mountain, Road and Cyclocross team in the Nation.

Second, our team riders understand and believe in the philosophy that racing can bring opportunity and not just accolades (and free stuff).  They understand that if they work hard for themselves and their team mates, and if they are gracious to sponsors and supporters, doors will open for them on and off the bike.

Third, we hand pick our kids, not based on podium pass or podium potential, but because we like them, we believe in them and we think they embody the spirit of the team.

Fourth, we have exceptional relationships with our sponsors.  They believe in our philosophy and in our kids.  We are heavily invested in them and genuinely promote their products because, well, their product rule.  You can’t go wrong with Trek, Castelli, Giro, Oakley, Timbuk2 to name a few!

Fifth, I can go on and on!

The 2012 USA XC Nationals junior women’s podium was your rider, Sofia Hamilton, Grace Alexander from Boise and Alicia Rose Pastore from Durango.  Today, none of these women compete in USAC sanctioned racing.  The junior men’s podium from that same year: Keegan Swensen, Lucas Newcomb and Cody Phillips are all moving forward in the sport as U23 racers.  I’m not even aware of any U23 women’s XC teams, aside from yours here at Bear.  Why does this happen?  How do we change this?  What needs to happen to make this a lifetime sport for women? 

Women’s racing is very different then Men’s racing.  If you aren’t a top male racer as a U23, you might as well pick up another sport.  That isn’t always the case, but in both the road and the mountain disciplines, the top racers have usually been racing since they were juniors.  On the women’s side, things are different… USAC starts looking at women for the national road team when they are in their mid-20s. On the mountain, teams like Luna rarely recruit riders under 25. Women seem to commit to the sport later than men do.  Maybe because careers in women’s cycling are few and salaries very low. Most professional female riders can’t live off their salaries so they have to have a degree, a job, and someone else in the house hold helping to support them.  Maybe because women are having children and can’t train competitively when pregnant or nursing.  Maybe because women aren’t getting introduced to the sport until later in life as there aren’t many options for women as a junior or collegiate racer.

Once in the sport however, women stay in it.  It is a lifetime sport and a way of life.  Of the major bicycle coalitions in the country over half of them are run by women.  Many women are involved in the adventure travel industry as well as the coaching industry. And women continue to be the fastest growing segment of riders for the bike manufacturers.