An Uphill Battle for this Downhill Rider
By Kevin Painchaud
Extreme rider Lee Faraola, 17, is a rising star in the Santa Cruz mountain biking scene. He’s a sponsored rider who has been racing since he was 11. The Santa Cruz High School junior is overcoming a major set back when he broke his back speeding downhill at Northstar in Tahoe, but is on the mend and ready to hit the dirt.
Tell me about your family history here in Santa Cruz?
My Dad’s family settled here in Santa Cruz from Naples Italy around 1860. They were one of the original fishing families here in town.
The family has always been on the water, fisherman and sailors. My Dad’s dad worked on boats in the SF Bay. My Grandma’s family actually settled in Glenwood in Scotts Valley way back, so we have been here a long time.
How old were you when you first learned how to ride a bike?
I was two when I started pedaling without training wheels, back in those days there were no balance bikes. I would ride all over with my parents and by 7 I got really into pump tracks and the local dirt jump scene.
When did you start mountain biking?
When I was 11-12 I started riding mountain bikes. I would ride with my Dad and friends at Wilder, Delaveaga and Demo Forest. At this point I was more into going down hill than up, I raced Downhill and Dual Slalom at Sea Otter for fun. Racing at Sea Otter really got me thinking about racing other events. It was fun and challenging, and I was hooked!
At what age did you get serious about mountain biking?
When I was around 13 I started to get strong enough to really climb and that is when I really got into the sport. I started racing Enduro format at 14 and stepped up a class each season. When I was 15 I raced a season of high school cross-country and learned what it meant to really be fit. The season of XC primed me for Enduro and I had a great season racing the California Enduro Series as a Jr Expert. My best result was at the Medoncino Enduro where I placed first in the Jr Expert. That race was 40 miles, 6700 ft of elevation climb and six timed downhill stages. We raced all day in the redwoods, best race ever.
Are your parents supportive with you biking?
YES! They have always been supportive of me but never push me to the point where I am not having fun anymore, which is a great quality for parents to have in my opinion. They say, “tell us what you want to do and we’ll go.”.
What inspires you to keep pushing yourself?
I always want to be the best I can, and I never think that I am good enough. That keeps me motivated to keep pushing myself to improve.
What’s your favorite thing about the sport?
I can always find a challenge or relax on my bike, It’s so versatile. I can ride out my door and find adventure or just go ride to recharge.
The people and places I get to experience are a huge bonus. I have met lots of people who became good friends and seen so many new places racing.
Least favorite thing?
Getting up for school in the morning. That, and bad sportsmanship.
Biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Not being too hard on myself. Healing from injury.
Have you ever been hurt bad while biking?
Last summer at Northstar I crushed six vertebrae and ended up in a back brace for three months.
How long did it take for you to recover?
I am still working out the soft tissue injury but the bones are solid again and Its getting better as I get strength back.
Are you currently sponsored?
I have a really good relationship with Santa Cruz Bikes and Troy Lee Designs, racing with the Santa Cruz Factory Racing team has been awesome. The companies that help me out really go a long way with supporting me in my riding. I am very stoked to work with these people to promote mountain biking, especially to the younger kids. I picked up Troy Lee while racing at Sea Otter. They have the best kids gear. Their helmet probably saved my life when I broke my back.
Goals for the future?
I am just working my way back into shape after my accident last summer. I will be hitting my first race post injury in April.
I plan to race selectively this year, increasing next year. My biggest plans are for summer, I am heading to Whistler, BC to train with PMBI to become a Certified Mountain Bike Instructor. My goal is to be able to teach and guide, sharing my passion for the sport with others and helping them achieve higher levels of skill.
I will go to school for at least two years. I am looking at programs that I can do and still have time to train and ride. The schools in BC, Oregon and Colorado are top of the list. The riding and winter sports in those areas are hard to beat.