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Libertyville girls take up mountain bike racing in a winning way
By Abby Scalf | Daily Herald Correspondent

Emily Shull, 14, left, and sister Liz Shull, 16, both of Libertyville, just returned from mountain bike racing in Colorado.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Libertyville sisters Emily, left, and Liz Shull mountain bike race for the EXPO Racing team and recently returned from mountain bike racing in Colorado.


Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

Libertyville sisters Emily Shull, 14, and Liz Shull, 16, race for the EXPO Racing team.



Liz Shull gets a handoff during her race from coach Gus Peters.



Emily Shull, left, climbs at the start of her race.



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Published: 8/19/2010 11:31 AM

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For Emily and Liz Shull, a weekend bike ride is not a quiet ride through a park.

Give them narrow paths, big hills and logs to jump.

The Libertyville teens have been racing mountain bikes and winning races across Wisconsin. Joining the sport in 2006, the 14- and 16-year-olds are not only among the youngest competitors, but among the few females. Liz sees that as an advantage to train harder.

"I learn from (the boys) because they are fast and I have to try to keep up with them. I think I got better riding with them," Liz said.

But Emily sees a trend where more girls are getting their bikes on the course.

"I find it cool that every year the sport keeps getting more women," she said.

Liz learned to ride her bike when she was 10 years old. But once she started mountain biking, she learned to love biking.

"When you go out and train on the road, I think it is so boring because you just go in a straight line," she said. "But in mountain biking there are always animals out there. There are always rock gardens you have to climb out of. It definitely changed my outlook on biking."

The girls train by racing an average 15 to 20 miles per day, and when road riding, 30 to 40 miles. Liz said it can be hard to balance training and homework, adding she once wrote a book report while riding indoors.

But biking rarely interferes with friends because they see most of them at races.

"I love going there," Liz said. "I'm not ever thinking I wish I was going to a party in Libertyville. There is always a party up there."

Every other weekend, Emily and Liz travel to different courses through Wisconsin to take part in the Wisconsin Off Road Series, which runs through mid-October.

While Emily prefers riding the hills, Liz said she likes the single track where racers cannot pass but must also wind through rock gardens and jump over logs. But she adds the courses can be dangerous trying to navigate all the obstacles.

Liz recalls a few serious injuries such as when the handlebar went into her stomach and lacerated her liver. She also broke her collar bone. But she said most times she keeps going.

"If you fall off your bike or hit a tree, you just get up shake it off get back on your bike and keep riding. I don't think I've ever quit a race," Liz said.

"I've never broken a bone," Emily adds.

Many medals hang along the wall of the family's garage, earned not only by Emily and Liz but also their father, John, who introduced them to the sport.

John, who began racing in 2004, offers everything he knows about the sport such as finding good lines through rock gardens and tips to hop over trees. Liz adds he is their valued mechanic.

"I ride my bike but I am spoiled when it comes to taking care of our bikes because if something breaks on it, he'll take care of it," she said.

John said both girls have become phenomenal in the sport.

"The first time Elizabeth won, I was crying," he said. "You wait 45 minutes and all of a sudden the first girl comes and it's your daughter. It was pretty touching."

The girls have made great strides. They recently became the only females on the EXPO Racing junior team and participated in their first regional championship, where Emily took first in her division.

Then last month, Emily and Liz left the familiar Wisconsin trails and traveled to Granby, Colo., to join their first national competition, the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championship. Meeting racers across the country was daunting.

"In the Wisconsin series, you know competitors and ability levels," Emily said. "It was different to go to Colorado and not know anyone's ability level."

Finishing sixth, Liz said going to nationals gave her a different perspective on her ability.

"Before we got there, (coach Gus Peters) told us you will realize you aren't the best when you go out there," she said. "I went out there and tried my best. There were a lot of girls who were better than me. It was definitely something to work up to next year to compete against them."

Neither girl plans to slow down anytime soon. Emily plans to continue the Wisconsin series and said she hopes to move to the junior level.

A junior at Libertyville High School, Liz is studying colleges that feature a good environmental studies program and cycling teams. Starting young, she hopes that will be an advantage and can one day go pro.

"I will definitely take it somewhere because I love it," Liz said.