The first day of school for Jaime Rees is going to be way better than the stereotypical “What did you do on your summer vacation?”
Exactly how the Rogers history teacher responds depends on what happens in Austria next weekend, when she competes in the UCI Mountain Bike and Trails World Championships.
“Because downhill isn’t in the Olympics, this is like the Olympics,” said Rees, 32, who is completing her third year as a professional rider. “I’m just excited to be in a USA jersey.”
Rees’ discipline, downhill, is contested next Sunday.
“We ride bikes that are like motorcycles without the motor and wear whole body armor,” she said. “We get shuttled to the top of the mountain; we don’t have to pedal up. We go down terrain that is rocky, jumpy and difficult as fast as we can.”
Rees and husband Jeff fly out today to meet the USA team in Munich. She has to miss a few days of class this week because Rogers starts earlier than other District 81 schools, but could be in the classroom the day after Labor Day.
“I’m so excited, but it’s a little stressful. My classroom is still in boxes,” she said last week, which happened to be her eighth anniversary as well. “Remember, I’m a teacher first.”
Technically, that’s true, but really she was an avid and successful biker much earlier.
Her father, Mark Miller, said she was at one of his motocross races when she was a week old. And she was exactly a month old, her mother Cheryl added, when they were almost stranded in St. Maries by the eruption of Mount St. Helens when they were at another of Mark’s competitions.
The Millers just smile now about her latest accomplishment because their daughter started riding before she was 3 and won three straight age-group state championships on her BMX bike beginning in 1988.
Next it was softball and distance running, with state placings as a senior at University High in 1998 propelling her to run at Washington State for two years before transferring to Montana to run – and join high school sweetheart Jeff, a business major.
It was Jeff, while doing an internship at Big Mountain in Whitefish, who got her pointed downhill.
“I like sports that are physically challenging,” she said. “I like the challenge of doing things normal people would say, ‘You really do that? Oh, my gosh.’
“The students get a kick out of it. They’ll see me at Beacon Hill and go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were that good.’ ”
Jaime and Jeff got married just before she started teaching and coaching at Shadle Park. In 2007, she was the girls track coach of the year when the Highlanders won the Greater Spokane League championship.
Rees gave up coaching four years ago when she moved to Rogers for more job security. It took one year for her to become proficient enough to turn pro on her bike.
“I always biked,” she said. “I wasn’t as serious. Moving jobs made it easier for me to become full-time. I got to a level I wanted to see how I fit in with other professional women.
“Being 32, it’s more of a hobby than a profession. I really like teaching. I miss coaching.”
Last September she finished third at the Gravity National Championships in North Carolina.
“That was a real eye-opener,” she said. “I was behind Jill Kintner (of Seattle), who won bronze in BMX at the Bejing Olympics, and Jacqueline Harmony. That was a huge podium for me, kind of a breakout.”
With a qualifying number of points, she was able to go to World Cup races in Quebec and New York this summer. In late July she went back to North Carolina and finished third again, dramatically closing the time gap.
With her usual competitions in the west, Rees was on the road 70 days and home 15 this summer.
“We don’t have kids; we put all our money into biking,” she said. “I have good deals on equipment but I don’t have any full-time sponsors. That’s my goal for next year. I have an awesome bike shop, the Bike Hub.”
Her efforts put her in the conversation, if not on the USA team. However, Rees could petition to be on the team as a discretionary member.
Rees and Lauren Daney, a 19-year-old from Virginia, were selected and notified just three weeks ago they could join Kintner, 31, who will miss the competition with a broken arm, and Harmony, 34, from Arizona. The jaunt to Munich is on own their own dime.
“It was based on results and their knowledge of me as a racer,” Rees said. “It’s pretty cool. I didn’t actually think I’d get it. I was told I have to have international experience. We don’t really count (western) Canada as international.”
Downhill racing is not quite mountain bike trail riding. Jumps, which can be up to 50 feet, are her weakness.
“Jeff calls me ‘Fancy Go Around Girl,’ ” Rees said. “I don’t jump very well.”
Her strengths are consistency and technical proficiency, which helps her make up time.
A typical run lasts 2 to 6 minutes. There can be elimination runs and a final in some events. In Austria she gets one run that she expects to last about 3 minutes.
“I don’t really have expectations,” she said. “I don’t want to be last. Jeff told me not to have that kind of attitude. My goal at these big races is be in the middle. When I’ve had the best results is when I’m consistent and I do that.”
Then it’s back to school.
“They know I ride bikes on weekends and sometimes I come back bruised,” Rees said.
This time she’ll have something more for Show and Tell.