On a brisk winter evening at Pine Bush Reserve, you’ll find Lilly O’Donnell and her family ripping up the trails.
“I really enjoy it," O’Donnell said. “It’s just something I look forward to doing.”
But she isn’t just biking. She’s working on her cyclocross skills. And for those unfamiliar with the sport, it’s a form of bike racing; a mix of road cycling, mountain biking and steeplechase.
“It’s ridding around in park on grass and there are different obstacles you need to like pick your bike up and shoulder through it and then you run,” O’Donnell said.
It’s also a sport that has treated O’Donnell well over the years. But she didn’t know she’d reach the pinnacle of the sport.
Just over a week ago, O’Donnell won the national championship in the sport in the 11 and 12-year-old age group. It’s a moment she didn’t see herself in when the season began.
“Starting off the season I thought I'd do well like podium level for my races and it would be a good season, but I went to nationals, worked my butt off and had fun,” O’Donnell said.
And as much as she’ll cherish the title for years to come, her focus is always on looking back at her runs and working on what she could have done better.
“There’s this site called cross results and I sometimes go back and look at all my races and see the progress I made throughout the season, and it just makes me feel real happy,” O’Donnell said. “I just can’t wait for next season.”
And focusing on her improvements has her in line to get back to the national stage defending her title in the coming years.
“I think I’ll be doing well and continue," she said. “If I can’t do my best, I don’t think I'm trying so I’ll just go out there, go on the course, race my hardest see what the outcome is.”
But as much as the titles are important to O’Donnell, it’s the people involved with cyclocross that truly make it special.
“The community that helps you, like, CBRC has helped me so much," O’Donnell said. "Coach Andy has came out here and helped me so much. Just the people make it really awesome.”