Queen of the mountain

Courtesy of Patty Croccolo
Simona Croccolo banks around a turn during one of her races.

As she walked up the rock face of the quarry higher and higher, she looked down at the water in terror. She was cliff jumping with her boyfriend and other friends at a nearby swimming hole. She finally reached the top of the 50-foot cliff and the nerves fully kicked in.

Everybody jumped. She stood at the top and watched.

“C’mon, just do it,” her boyfriend encouraged.

They jumped again. She watched.

“It’s not that bad. You can do it,” he said again.

She watched. They jumped a third time

“All right we’re going to go soon,” they finally warned.

“If I leave now and don’t jump I’m going to regret it so I might as well just go,” she replied after standing for 45 minutes.

She jumped.

 When senior health science major and women’s alpine ski team captain Simona Croccolo sets her mind to something, she does it. She’ll be graduating from Castleton this spring and will be racing pro down the mountains she loves.

But, not on skis.

Croccolo will be competing professionally in downhill mountain bike racing this summer.

And unlike skiing, which she has been doing since she was 3, she has only been on a mountain bike for four years.

That’s right.

Four years.

Croccolo was introduced to mountain biking after she saw a race at Sugarbush Mountain in Warren, Vermont. She noticed the lack of female riders in the sport. And to Croccolo, that meant an open invitation.

“I saw the few amount of women that did it and I was like wow, that’s so cool. I want to be one of the women that do that. That looks like so much fun!” she said.

The summer following her freshman year at Castleton, Croccolo worked as a zip line operator for Sugarbush Mountain. Early into the summer season, she was “bored to tears,” according to her mother, Patty Croccolo. She was itching to do something fun and exciting instead of “sitting at the picnic table waiting for zip liners,” her mother said. Her chance came when a family friend and Sugarbush employee Chad Borofsky asked her to build biking trails on the mountain instead of operating the zip line.

Now that was more like it.

The change gave Croccolo an up-close look at what she’d soon fall in love with. She tried Borofsky’s bike on the trails a few times. That and watching a race were enough to spark her interest. It wasn’t long before Croccolo hopped on her own bike and began following Borofsky, learning the ropes to her new and exciting outdoor adventure.

Even with a couple bumps and bruises, one ride was all she needed to get fall in love.

“I’m pretty sure the first turn I went around I panicked and hit my breaks and went flying over the handle bars,” she said with a laugh. “But I kept going and I’m pretty sure I was addicted after that first day.”

Croccolo started competitive downhill mountain bike racing that summer. She moved up to the CAT 1 division, the division below pro, last season. Croccolo said she won the majority of her races and that it was time to move up a level, making the decision to race in the Pro GRT division. She is currently sponsored by Alpine Bike Works in Killington.

Croccolo fit the bike shop’s criteria as an athlete to sponsor in terms of skill and organization, said owner Tony Accurso.

“Our goal here is to support female cyclists. We want to propagate cycling with females especially in this area,” he said.

Croccolo is a “Liv Ambassador” for the upcoming season. Liv is a cycling branch of the company, Giant. Liv designs apparel and equipment to fit the profile of women in their products and aims to expand the sport among the female population. Croccolo was an instructor at a free women’s mountain biking clinic last season with other female mountain bikers. Skill and riding workshops were set up for all levels of riders.

But her future holds more than just competitive mountain bike racing. Croccolo plans to return to school in the fall after her departure from Castleton. She will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Nursing at Lee’s-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina and will compete on their varsity downhill mountain biking team.

Unaffiliated with the NCAA, the U.S.A. Cycling Collegiate Varsity Program allows athletes to compete at the pro level while also competing at the varsity level.

While at Lee’s-McRae, Croccolo will be coached in downhill mountain biking for the first time in her career. Until now she has only learned from friends and fellow riders. She said she admired her competitors’ abilities both on and off the track, mentioning a fellow rider she knew only as Steph.

“She was the first fast woman I got to chase down the hill,” she said “And she’s a mom, which is cool.”

Croccolo and her mother moved to Waitsfield, Vermont from Massachusetts when she was in eighth grade so she could attend and train at Green Mountain Valley School, a ski academy in Waitsfield.

“I was ski racing against those D-I athletes before they went D-I,” Croccolo said.

While attending GMVS, she was able to travel around the world to ski race, including Canada and numerous parts of Europe. She also spent her summers with the GMVS team in the mountains of Chile to train.

But Germany was “a crazy eye opener.”

“To them, we were a joke,” Croccolo said. “They are training so intense. No one is goofing off or having fun up top.”

But people close to Croccolo say she has two different personalities.

“There’s super bubbly, energetic, excited and super happy 50 percent of the time. Then the other 50 percent is so aggressive and competitive, hard-working and serious and I think they mold together pretty well,” said Castleton skier and Croccolo’s boyfriend, Sean Lenihan.

Castleton Alpine skiing Co-coach Chris Eder complimented Croccolo’s determination and mental toughness.

“She was always someone we could count on, on race day,” Eder said. “It’s no coincidence our women have made the national championship four years in a row and its no coincidence to me that it started when she was a freshman.”

And in this day in age, Accurso said Croccolo’s hard working and determined nature is hard to come by.

“She’s unique and unusual,” the bike shop owner, said. “She is a person who is highly focused and does what’s necessary to chase a goal and achieve it.”

Being a fighter runs in the Croccolo family.

During her freshman year at Castleton, her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“It was really scary. We thought we were going to lose each other,” Patty Croccolo said.

Patty attributes some of Croccolo’s toughness to the trials they had to face together.

“Simona was right next to me helping me get through everything her freshman year, and I went through a year and a half of treatment and I’m in full remission,” Patty added.

Patty didn’t miss a single ski race during Croccolo’s senior season.

“To be alive and to experience everything at its best and most, is important,” Patty said. “When something like that happens to you its like ‘oh, you don’t want to miss anything in your child’s life.’”

When asked what she thought about her daughter going pro?

“I’m really proud of her. Really proud of her tenacity and courage,” she said. “If, I told her not to do it, she’d do it anyway.”

As for which sport she likes better, Croccolo couldn’t decide, but said if she had to pick one it would be skiing.

“I don’t know how I could go 20 years of my life skiing and then just stop,” she said.

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