Kat Sweet, an innovator in the women’s mountain bike scene, is the latest addition to the Diamondback team. As a downhill champ, Kat changed the way women are viewed in the start gate. As a coach, she’s giving back to the bicycling community by empowering women and kids on and off the trail. We recently caught up with this Northwest phenom to find out her secrets to staying on track while pedaling the trail of life.
Q: The Sugar Showdown was earlier this summer (July 6-7). How'd it go?
A: The event is put on by my company Sweetlines, and it's two days of amazing biking, coaching, and competition. Day one is coaching by pros from across North America. The second day is a series of competitions. This is our second year, and the goal is to be inclusive and to push and support one another. It’s definitely about more than winning—it’s about building a ‘Sisterhood of Shred.’ Check it out here to get inspired to come next year!
Q: Where did it all begin (on the bike, that is)?
A: Pops bought me my first fully rigid 21” yellow mountain bike back in 1987, and I’ve been hooked ever since. “Big Bird” and I went on some epic adventures including a pretty exciting ride on Rabbit Ears Pass. It was a 15 miler, which was pretty epic for me back then. The last 5 miles got pretty technical and I was pretty spent. Sure enough I did everything you are not supposed to do; I leaned into the rocks on my right and looked over the cliff to my left. Guess where I ended up? Yep, I pulled a 10’ front flip, somehow landing on my feet in the ravine below. With a bloody black eye, bruised sternum and some rad bear claw scratches down my leg. Making up stories about that one was pretty fun.
Q: What do you love about the sport?
A: I like to think of mountain biking as adrenalin Zen. You have to focus on survival with pure attention on the trail ahead. Pushing yourself to ride something you’re a little afraid of is pretty rad. I love the feeling of accomplishment when you get a new move or hit a jump you’ve been eyeing. I was coaching in New Zealand this past winter and got to push myself to hit some pretty good size gaps at Wynyards. Stokage!
Q: You had an impressive racing career. Discuss.
A: I started racing cross-country back in ’94 and quickly realized that I sucked at going uphill but was passing everyone on the downhill. Downhill sounded scary so it took a lot of persuading from my friend Logan before I finally tried it. My first race was down the Red Dog fire road at Squaw Valley. I have an awesome pic of me eating crap down the start ramp. Funny enough, I ended up winning that race because there was only one other girl competing and she ended up crashing too.
I competed on the NORBA circuit from ’97-’01. My best finish was winning the Expert Kamikaze Downhill in Mammoth in ’98. I would have been 15th in the pro class. I was pretty good at drifting high-speed fire roads back in the day.
Q: How did you end up in Seattle?
A: It’s pretty easy to over-train living in the ever so sunny Lake Tahoe. In 2000 I ended up getting chronic fatigue syndrome. When your body feels like that it’s pretty scary to race so I decided to take a break and get out of town. I couldn’t afford the Bay Area and someone mentioned Seattle, so I thought I’d give the NW a try. 13 years later, here I am, loving the trails and cursing the weather like any wimpy Californian.
Q: How did you get interested in coaching kids?
A: I branched a ‘Trips for Kids’ chapter up to Seattle in 2003 and really found my passion in teaching other people about our sport. That led to my job as Youth Program Manager at the Cascade Bicycle Club. In 2007 I started coaching women’s classes just for fun, then realized there is a real market for programs.
Q: What has coaching taught you?
A: In learning how to coach, I’ve really re-learned how to ride. Honestly I kinda sucked in the 90’s. I had to break tons of bad habits: braking with my middle finger (great for photos), leaning my body instead of my bike in corners, and I had a wicked case of T.R.A.S. (Tyrannosaurus Rex Arm Syndrome). It’s pretty fun that 26 years into this sport, I’m still learning something new each year. This season I’m learning about recovery, coming back from dislocating and breaking my elbow and wrist. Lots of life lessons in that process. Sweetlines became a legit business in 2011 and I’m excited to eventually make coaching my full-time job.
Q: What was going on with you health-wise during this time?
A: It turned out I had a Thyroid problem. I went to a Naturopathic Doctor who performed all kinds of crazy tests on me. He took hair samples and examined my eyes to look for deeper inconsistencies in my body. I changed my diet drastically by cutting out all the sugars that made up a huge part of what I was eating at the time. After basically re-learning how to eat I felt stronger than ever. It’s amazing how much better I feel now than I did in my twenties when I was racing.
Q: What’s the history behind the Sugar Showdown?
A: Sugar Showdown was inspired by a few different women’s events I’ve been a part of. Tammy Donahugh and I have been talking for a long time about combining coaching with competition. In 2011 we gave it a shot. The format went really well, so in 2012 Tammy and I decided to run our own events. Our first year Sugar Showdown sold out with competitors from all over North America. In 2013 Sugar Showdown has expanded to three events: Lumberyard, Santa Cruz and Seattle.
Q: Do you have any other women’s bike events coming up?
A: Yes, we’re a part of the WTF (Women’s Tour de Freeride). In August Dixie Trix in Colorado. In September we have The Little Big Ridestyle Comp in Lake Tahoe, Nevada and Queen of the Mountain in California. Go Ladies!
Q: What does your sponsorship with Diamondback mean to you as a female athlete?
A: I’m really excited to have a company support me that is down with the sisterhood of shred. It’s been a boys club for a long time - they better look out we’re coming out with our gloves on… (laughs). Seriously though, it’s cool that a shift is going on with more girls getting involved with biking. I also want to give a shout out to some of my other sponsors: LFDJ and G-Form.
Q: Who is your hero?
Q: What are some of your goals?
A: I really want to grow the Sugar Showdown. I have coaches coming in from all over the country and Canada. With the support of Diamondback I’ll be able to cover more of their expenses and take care of them for all their hard work. I also plan on continuing to make movies at each event to help spread the word. I can’t believe the movie we made last year, “If She Can Do It” has over 130,000 views on YouTube
Q: How do you stay active when you’re not on your bike?
A: Skiing was my main sport for many years. I competed in some big mountain comps including one in Chamonix, France. Eventually I started competing in skier cross, making it to the X-Games and Gravity Games. I was pretty serious about skiing and got 100+ days per year for a good 10 years. Being that competitive burned me out. That’s part of the reason I want to keep Sugar Showdown about more than winning and to focus on pushing personal boundaries and building our Sisterhood of Shred.
As for other sports, I started with 10 years of ballet when I was a kid. I have my second red belt in Taekwondo and look forward to doing martial arts again someday. I also go to the gym for preventative medicine and sometimes physical therapy.
Q: Besides action sports, what else are you into?
A: Not many people know this but I love to read. My favorite book is Musashi, about a Japanese samurai who kicks some serious booty. Right now I’m reading Anarchy Evolution, which is written by the singer of Bad Religion.
I also love to dance, give me an 80’s night and I will own the dance floor like a spazzy Madonna.
Q: One last question. Heading out to ride with your friends, what is one thing you must have?
A: You mean in addition to bringing my weapon of choice from my fleet of Diamondback bikes, what else must I bring? I’m going to use this opportunity to plug some of my rad sponsors who believe in what I’m doing to build the Sisterhood of Shred. I feel naked without my Five Ten kicks and my super steezy Sombrio kit with a Nutcase lid to match. Dang, when did I turn into such a fashionista?! And of course I have to bring some sweet treats for the cookie circle at the end of each ride.