By: Karli Stichter Former Tustin High School math teacher Larissa Connors discovered her new passion of mountain bike racing and cycling in the past two years. Despite her natural talent and skill in the mountain biking profession, this wasn’t the original plan for Connors’ life. Graduating from University of California, Davis, she was immediately drawn to teach. In her minimal years at Tustin High, she taught various levels of math classes, coached cross country and track distance team for a year, and started the Tustin High Mountain Biking Club. Evidently enough, this was not the ideal life for her. At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, she decided to pause her teaching career and turn to a lifestyle filled with endless hours of biking. Connors never thought this was the path she would take, but then again, fate has a mind of its own.
“Five years ago when I graduated college, I said, ‘I’m going to teach for 40 years, and then I’m going to retire, and I’m going to have some kids, maybe live on a farm’, and I never ever thought about… This is just the weirdest life,” exclaims Connors as she reviewed her email from the Olympic commissioning team.
Biking was a side passion for Connors. She rode her bike to and from school all the way from her home in Silverado Canyon. At her secluded home in the canyon, she owns several chickens and grows her own food, which is the perfect setup for the rural lifestyle she loves. As a spirited and adventurous individual, the decision to quit teaching and become a professional mountain biker was probable. Connors’ husband previously worked at The Path Bike Shop in Old Town Tustin and now works with the Felt Bike Company, which sponsors Connors and her cycling career. With her busy schedule, young Connors hasn’t had much time to start a family of her own. She explained that, “My husband made me race my bike in the beginning because he didn’t want kids, so he thought if he could convince me to race my bike, then I would not want kids either. I’m traveling a lot, and I kinda like running around and seeing the world. If I had kids, I wouldn’t be able to race.” Her natural determination and stamina has allowed her to step out of the average lifestyle and create an adventure of her own. Her new found love for cycling is part of her unique personality and the couple’s genuine love for the outside world.
As a former teacher, Connors had a mindset to overcome every crazy situation thrown at her. She powered through the good and the bad days and has finally reached a point where her hard work has the potential to become something great. About a month ago, Connors was notified about the release of the long list, which contains eight women from the United States who are hopefuls for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Connors’ coach told her not to get her hopes up for the list. She laughed and said, “One afternoon, I looked at my phone after a long day and saw all these messages that said, ‘Congrats!’ and ‘So proud of you!’ and I had no idea what was going on.” She checked her phone and discovered the email announcing her placement on the long list. Connors was ecstatic and didn’t quite know what to do with the new path that was presented on her computer screen. “My husband had always said to me, ‘Oh you could go to the Olympics!’ and I was just like you’re crazy, that’s ridiculous.” But here she is today with sponsors, a spot on the long list, and an endless drive for success in her career.
Last year Connors raced in Brazil and has had almost a full year and half of experience with competitive racing. This year she will travel to Europe in March to compete in the Women’s Cycling World Cup sponsored by UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale). This race is pivotal to her continuation in the Olympic qualifications. Only two Americans will be chosen for the actual Olympics this summer, and the rest will simply engage themselves in the amazing experience of the trials. Although, her placing in the race could be the key to sponsorship and her continuation in the cycling/mountain biking profession. She knows the chances of her qualifying for the Rio Olympics are slim but has a plan under way. “In 2017, I want to have a baby, take a year off, then train for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.” Larissa is confident in her ability to continue training hard and have a genuine chance at truly qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.
To follow up on her career and recent email from the Olympic staff, on Tuesday, March 8, NBC Sports TV made a visit to Tustin High to film her teaching. Although she no longer teaches at Tustin, she is a valued substitute teacher in the math department. It is also part of her life story and what has made her the person she is today. Along with the broadcasting team filming her at school, the team and Olympic correspondent for NBC visited her home in Silverado Canyon and closely examined her daily life as an average person who has this amazing opportunity at her feet. Larissa continues to work hard and compete on a daily and weekly basis. As she prepares to take this next step in her professional cycling career, she continues to have a good attitude and practice her characteristics of determination and stamina. On her Instagram posts she continuously adds “#anotherbestday”, which reflects her overall passion for biking and life itself.
Congratulations to Larissa Connors for her placement on the Olympic Long List and we wish her the best of luck in her biking and Olympic endeavors within the next few months!