Special to The Washington Examiner
Michele Forte showed up at a party with scrapes and bruises on her arm one Saturday in the spring.
Friends got one look and were alarmed.
"What happened to you?" they asked.
Forte had a simple explanation: mountain biking.
The trails had thawed for the first time since winter, and Forte didn't waste time getting back on her bike. She fell three or four times -- just like she had for the past 13 years.
"The first mountain bike ride of the season, it always happens," Forte says.
TIME OUT WITH ... Michele Forte
How do you get motivated before a race?
That's a tough question, because I don't take it that seriously. For me it's more fun. I'm not caught up in "Do I have the most expensive stuff?" or "Oh I really want first ..." I mostly just look around when I get there and say, "Oh yeah, I can beat that person." Or I'll look ahead and say, "Oh, I'm not gonna let that person beat me."
What's your pre-race dinner?
I usually go with pizza, rather than pasta. It's just a nice dough, and I'm now more of a vegetarian, so you just load it up with vegetables and cheese.
What's your pre-race breakfast?
Usually just granola or some sort of raisin bran cereal.
What's your favorite sports-related movie?
What are your tips for new athletes?
Take a balanced approach, even if you're interested in biking. You should balance that out with some running and other types of cross-training. And strength training -- I think strength training is really important. ... And I'm a big fan of yoga, especially now in [my] late 30s.
How does your family handle your working out?
Well, I'm single. But when I ran the Pittsburgh half marathon at the beginning of May, my parents went in with me, dropped me off. They were excited about it, having fun. When it was done they were saying how proud of me they were. They were just all excited about it -- it was funny. ... And a lot of my friends think I'm nuts. - Liz Essley
A 39-year-old lawyer for the Department of Defense, Forte picked up mountain biking when she was stationed with the Air Force in Florida in 1997. In the following years she biked wherever the military sent her -- from Anchorage, Alaska, to Lake Tahoe, Calif. Her current Arlington residence doesn't compare with Alaska in bike trails. But it does afford a new opportunity: racing.
In her first mountain biking race last July, Forte took fifth place of the beginner's division at Wakefield Park in Annandale. She received a pint glass as a prize.
She's been racing ever since.
Forte says that even at just 15 miles per hour, mountain bike races give riders a rush.
"When you incorporate ups and downs and flying through the air, I think that's what makes it exciting. And there's all these obstacles you have to get around."
Trails can have multiple stream crossings, rocks, narrow paths and fallen tree trunks so large that riders must jump over them.
"If you hesitate, and you think about it, you're gonna crash," Forte says. "You almost have to be fearless, and just do it."
In one of her most thrilling mountain biking experiences, Forte was approaching the top of a hill so steep that race officials encouraged riders to walk their bikes down it. A worker was posted to remind bikers about the hill.
Forte started to brake, but then the worker said to her: "Aw, come on, you can do it."
So she did.
"It was exhilarating," Forte says. "One shift in weight, and you're just gonna go flying. But then you get to the bottom, and everybody's clapping for you."
Her goal is to race at the intermediate level, which requires more endurance and more laps around the course, than the beginner level. The beginners at Wakefield did about 12 miles, Forte says.
She also wants to buy a new bike. She's still using a Trek 4000, a bike that she's had for 10 years.
"Most of the people I notice have these brand new bikes," she says. "I'm at a little bit of a disadvantage."
Forte mountain bikes to stay active. But that's not all she does -- she also runs, swims, road bikes, competes in triathlons and, in the winter, plays hockey.
Forte plays center for the Prince William Wildcats, a team in the Mid-Atlantic Women's Hockey League.
It's a no-check league -- "although," she says, "it can get pretty catty."
When it comes to Forte's favorite sport, it's a tossup between hockey and mountain biking.
"[Hockey]'s a team sport, so it's enjoyable because it's a team and you're working together," she says. "But, individually, [my favorite] is the mountain biking."
Staying active has been a lifelong commitment. She's played sports since she was a child: In high school, Forte played basketball, softball and volleyball.
"Those were the three sports they had for girls. So I played all three," she says.
But she's not obsessive about calories or race times or exercise routines. She just wants to stay fit.
"I don't have a schedule written down. It's whatever I feel like."