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Vicksburg native dreamed of professional soccer

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 29, 2014

Turns cycling hobby into new career

When Lauren Hall zipped around her neighborhood on a bicycle as a kid, dreams of professional soccer danced in her head. She longed to be able to run around the pitch for a living, so if you had told her about her current profession — one that involves pedals instead of penalty kicks — she likely would have booted the thought further than a deep shot on goal. 

But Hall’s soccer dreams came to an abrupt halt after a stint in a semi-professional league, and the Vicksburg native’s craving for sport still needed some much-needed satiating. That’s when her brother had an idea.

Lauren Hall
Lauren Hall

“He talked me into running a marathon in 2006. I was still being active and running from soccer so I figured that would be a natural transition into running a marathon,” Hall said. “I did and it was great. From there, I decided to do a triathlon.”

The time came for her to grab a bicycle to train for the race, and when she entered a store she quickly found out about the Tuesday/Thursday group bike rides that took place in the area and wanted to become a part of them. So she did. And that’s when her love affair was sparked. Like any good relationship, it didn’t come to fruition without some early turbulence.

“My first ‘long ride’ was 30 miles. It was out fifteen miles and back as a group. It took us two hours and I got home and I said, ‘these people are crazy. Why in the heck would anybody want to ride 100 miles in a triathlon,” Hall said with a laugh.

“It did not come natural, but the group setting and, again, the people in the group ride made it fun. You get to meet new people and you get to experience the roads in a different way. We rode all over Rankin County and Madison County and I absolutely loved it.”

With that, she was hooked. It didn’t take long for the lifetime athlete to ascend from former soccer player with a hobby to professional cycler prepared to make her hobby a living. In 2009, Hall moved to Colorado to train with cycling coach Michael Engleman. One short year later, she signed a professional contract that would forever change her life.

In the time it takes for the tape to snap after pedaling into the finish line, Lauren Hall was swept into the deep realms of professional cycling. The lifelong Mississippi girl went from riding leisurely with friends to speeding past other pros on narrow European bike paths in major races.

Her hard work was met with a resounding result this March when Hall won the esteemed women’s Gent-Wevelgen race in Belgium. Not even she realized how critical the race was to her future in the cycling world, but her naivety was eliminated after being hounded by the press in the days and weeks after.

“That’s the biggest race I’ve ever run. I don’t think I realized at the time how big the race was, how big the win was. I didn’t realize it until that next week until I had a bunch of people asking for interviews and I thought, ‘what’s the big deal? It’s just another race,” Hall said.

Like all great accomplishments, this one was measured in amounts of free booze.

“Then somebody said, ‘you lucky dog. You’ll never have to buy a beer in Belgium again. Now to kind of look back and see with all the interviews, what’s kind of become of it, I kind of realize it’s a really big race to win.”

Like all great athletes, though, Hall isn’t dwelling on the good times, choosing instead to focus on what lies ahead. She’ll be participating in the women’s Tour de France in July and is training with her team for the World Championships in September. Off in the distance sits her biggest dream — participating in the 2016 Olympics — dangling on a limb like a low hanging fruit. That is the goal that has her riding hours upon hours a day, up and down hills, pedaling with a desire to succeed that she carries around with her like a treasured family heirloom.

Hall won’t know just how near she is to that goal until it comes much closer into focus, but she’s striving for it as if it were tomorrow.

“I really won’t know up until this spring, even close to the summer of the Olympics because the talent here in the U.S. is pretty intense,” she said. “The selection, there are so many girls to choose from. I definitely wouldn’t have any idea of how close I am to making the Olympic team but that’s my goal, so I’m just going to keep riding my bike and keep winning races.”

Her passion for cycling drips from her voice like the beads of sweat that patter to the ground during a difficult race. Riding her bike still elicits the same carefree attitude that captured her imagination as a child.

“There’s still that same fun. I love riding my bike. I absolutely love it. When you take your hands off the bars and you’re going down a hill, I don’t know if I want to do that too much in a race, but it’s that same exhilaration,” she said. “There have been times when I’m descending off a mountain in the group and I have a big smile on my face because I’m having so much fun. I just love it.”

Lauren Hall still zips around on her bicycle. But she’s traded her dream of soccer for cycling and her hometown neighborhood for the world. The women’s Tour de France is on July 27th.  And who knows? Maybe she’ll pop over to Belgium for a free beer.