The last two years have been a whirlwind for up-and-coming women’s mountain biking star Madeline “Maddie Jo” Robbins. She hopes to slow it down this year while still riding fast at her hometown Fort Lewis College.
Robbins, a National Honors Society standout student at Durango High School, had a tough choice when it came to picking a college. At least for her freshman year, she will race in Skyhawks blue and yellow.
“It was a pretty hard decision for me,” Robbins said. “I was kind of weighing academics and biking. For biking, the Fort was the obvious winner. For academics, though, they don’t have as many programs. But, in the end, I don’t really know academically what I want to go into yet. I do know I want to go to the Olympics for biking. That’s my biggest goal. The Fort was the best for that with such a great support system in Durango already. I will thrive on training and racing with the team and having this community behind me. If I went to one of the other colleges, I would have to start from scratch and rebuild my support program.
“Growing up in Durango Devo and watching the sport at a young age, you get to know FLC is the powerhouse college team. It’s cool to know I’ll be part of it now. All the people I’ve looked up to, I can ride with them and be part of the long list of legends that have come through the college here and done so well.”
The Durango High School senior and Bear Development Team athlete won the last two junior women’s 18-and under cross-country mountain bike national championships as well as the 2019 short-track national title. She twice represented USA Cycling at the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Mountain Bike Championships. Those accomplishments all came on the heels of her varsity girls state championship in the Colorado High School Cycling League her sophomore year.
But in 2018, Robbins dealt with a severe wrist injury, wearing a brace as she won the cross-country mountain bike national title. The injury persisted through the world championships in Switzerland, where she was riding in sixth place before a crash sent her to a 34th-place result. She would later undergo a tendon graft surgery. That year, she was one of 40 women honored by Sportswomen of Colorado for her achievements.
In 2019 she came back with force and swept both junior mountain bike national titles, but a fall at the world championships in Canada would leave her with a concussion she would battle for seven months. Though she sustained the concussion, she would still grind to finish the race in 26th in her final year as a junior racer.
Robbins was off her bike, out of the classroom and underwent treatment in Durango as well as Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver as she battled the symptoms. She was eventually cleared to ride her bike again March 15, but the injuries caused by the whiplash she sustained still persist.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through,” Robbins said. “It pretty much wiped me out. The first couple of months, I was just at home and couldn’t do anything. I would roll dice and couldn’t even add the dice together. It was pretty debilitating. It was hard to watch everybody continue to race and do things while I was stuck at home and not even able to get on my bike. I am really lucky to have the support system I had to get me through during those times.”
Robbins, daughter of Denise and Jeff Robbins, grew up in the Durango Devo bike program, co-founded by FLC mountain bike coach Chad Cheeney. That relationship with her coach was another factor in Robbins going to FLC for the 2020-21 school year.
“It’s really rewarding to see that the Devo attitude of having fun on your bike does work to get kids on bikes to high level athletics,” Cheeney said. “We’re not just the oddballs playing bike polo and making things silly. It actually works and kids are achieving their goals doing it. Maddie Jo can go really far in academics, but she might fall in love with the cycling culture up here at Fort Lewis. I hope to help her find that.”
Robbins will join another pair of Durango heavy-hitting mountain bike stars in fellow national champion Riley Amos and 2018 state champion Cobe Freeburn as freshmen on next year’s FLC mountain bike team.
“It’s so cool the local kids want to stay here,” Cheeney said. “To have them all stay home, I’m super pumped to have them. It’s amazing to know we have such an amazing community that they still want to hang out in the community they are born and raised in.
“It’s going to be sweet to see collegiate races this year in the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference with some serious heat on these stacked teams.”
The Skyhawks will host the USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships at Purgatory Resort in October, and Robbins knows there will be fierce competition to reclaim the title from rival Colorado Mesa University, as FLC will seek a 25th national championship.
“I’m definitely targeting collegiate champs,” Robbins said. “With Madigan Munro, Gwendolyn Gibson and Katie Clouse up at CMU, it’s a big rivalry. Collegiate conference races are going to be stacked this year. It will be really good training for world cups and world championships.”
As for Robbins’ academic goals, she has looked into Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for flight and security programs as well as Colorado College and Cal Poly for biomedical engineering or neuroscience.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertain landscape of on-campus learning this fall, though, she is happy to get some course work done at FLC this year while staying close to home.
“Most kids want to go to college and get away from their family,” Robbins said. “After my concussion, I’m even closer with my family. I have no need to escape them for any reason. They are here to fully support what I do and love and all my biggest dreams. It’ super unique and cool.”
She hopes to make either the 2024 Paris Olympics or 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles on her mountain bike. But, after a lengthy concussion recovery, she’s simply happy to be back on her bike from now while building back toward a busy fall of racing.
“The freedom of being able to do something I love again, that’s the best part right now,” Robbins said. “During my concussion, the hardest part was not being able to do anything and being so worried about getting hurt again. Being on my bike now, I can refind that joy, rekindle the fire and enjoy being out in nature with friends and coaches. I’m enjoying the simplicity of riding and not necessarily competing. I get to do something I love and be in control of my life again.”