Father's Day Feature: The Gift of a Shared Passion, Marc Gullickson
Sometimes the greatest gift you can give your kids is a shared passion. That is exactly what Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling’s Mountain Bike Programs Director, did with his two sons, Finn, 18, and Leo, 14.
Cycling was part of their life from birth as their father raced on the domestic and international mountain bike and cyclocross circuits for 13 seasons, including winning the U.S. National Cyclocross Championship in 1999. As babies, Finn and Leo were watching their dad compete, and at home, they were riding around on the back of their parents’ bikes.
“When they first learned how to ride a bike, it was exciting, and I think every parent can identify with that feeling,” said Gullickson, known by his peers and athletes as “Gully”.
“They had been around the sport when I was racing and started working with USA Cycling, so it’s pretty much been part of their lives from the beginning,” Gullickson said. “When they were both born we were living in Boulder, Colo., and we had them on our bikes as we would ride into town. They first started scootering around the neighborhoods when they were young. As soon as they were big enough, we got them bikes. They had learned balance on the scooters and then shifted into riding bikes. They picked it up quick, and they got an early taste of the sense of freedom that comes with riding a bike.”
Gullickson’s own passion for cycling didn’t start until his college years. He was in school at the University of New Hampshire where he competed as a member of the cross country ski team. Cycling was initially his form of cross-training, but by the time he was finishing college, he was racing on the road.
The switch to mountain and cyclocross came after college when he moved to Colorado. He began racing both disciplines, allowing the two seasons to complement each other and help him prepare. When retired in 2004, Gullickson had represented the U.S. in 12 UCI Mountain Bike and Cyclocross World Championships during his career.
Both Finn and Leo were born while Gullickson was still racing competitively. When Finn was a baby, Margy, Gullickson’s wife, would bring him out to local races, and they would travel as a family as often as they could.
“He traveled with us a fair amount in the beginning – my wife was used to traveling with me and he was easy to travel with. He was at the races from year one,” Gullickson said of Finn. “When Finn was just turning 1, we brought him over to Europe for a couple of World Cup mountain bike races I did. He learned how to walk during that trip, and he took his first steps in Italy. I remember that quite vividly. It was his first trip over to Europe – he was a tiny little guy – and it was exciting to see him start walking over there.”
When Leo arrived, Gullickson was closing out his racing career and shifting into a coaching role at USA Cycling, which progressed to his current position. Gullickson’s work schedule would fill with races and camps for mountain and cyclocross riders at all levels, and he started running a USA Cycling mountain bike development camp in the summers in Germany. Those camps proved to be just as influential for his family as it was for the participating riders.
“My wife and kids would occasionally come over and spend a couple weeks with me while I was in Germany. They loved it. My sons got to hang out with all of the fast junior mountain bikers, so they really looked up to them,” Gullickson said. “Now, a lot of those riders are some of our top elites or U23s. Finn and Leo really have fond memories of those trips. And, that’s probably one reason that they are so interested in racing because they got be around those riders when they were younger and saw how exciting it was.”
Christopher Blevins, Kate Courtney, and Howard Grotts are some of the many riders who emerged from the development camps and who captivated Finn and Leo during those summers in Germany.
Now, Gullickson’s boys are both racing across disciplines – road, mountain, cyclocross. Finn graduated from high school this year and will be starting at the University of Colorado in the fall where he plans to race at the collegiate level. He has also spent time racing on the road with the LUX Cycling Development Team and in mountain bike with the Whole Athlete p/b DNA Team. On the LUX team website, Finn credits his father and family as inspiration. When asked ‘What got you into riding?’ he replied, “I grew up around bike racing and always thought it was so cool. I would ride a lot with my dad and my younger brother.”
From learning to ride bikes to navigating the youth racing scene, Gullickson has helped coach his sons along the way and he’s enjoyed it. He also knows that as their racing progresses, it’s good for them to gain perspective from a variety of coaches.
Yet, through years of racing and coaching, Gullickson has a wealth of knowledge that he’s happy to pass along.
“I probably give them too much advice!” he jokes. “I’ve told them they don’t have to race bikes. But, I also tell them that the best thing about bike racing is you can see a lot of the world if you want to. The travel is a piece of it that’s really fun, and of course the competition is great too. That’s what I enjoyed the most about my career is the travel and meeting great people everywhere. I also tell them that it’s a hard sport – you have to be dedicated and it’s not for everyone.”
The role of father has in turn provided Gullickson more context as he approaches work. His family has become very involved in the local cycling scene around Colorado, which he says has been good for getting reintroduced to the grassroots side of racing.
Gullickson also gained a deeper appreciation for working with junior riders…more specifically, the 17-18-year-old riders.
“I definitely have a different perspective on teenagers now that I have two,” he says. “I think it’s given me more patience with junior riders. Now that I have kids that age myself, I better understand what they’re all learning.”
As Finn and Leo continue to progress in their racing, Gullickson is excited to see what comes next. He’s grateful for the wealth of life experiences they’ve shared and that are yet to come.
“Watching them start to race; watching both of them taking interest in racing and being able to get over the fear and apprehension of entering their first races; and seeing their excitement when they were able to finish and get results. I’m very proud, and it’s all been super rewarding for me.”
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