Learning while leading – on and off the bike: Meet Lauren Hall
It’s not unusual to mention Lauren Hall in conversation and hear “I love her, she’s the best” in response.
The 2014 Gent-Wevelgem champion and captain of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling makes a lasting impression on everyone she meets. Her sunny smile, zest for competition and friendly disposition sets the Mississippi native apart from others on the start line. Hall is so respected in the women’s pro peloton, she was voted into the North Star Grand Prix Carla Swart Most Sportsmanlike jersey in 2016.
“I’m just myself,” Hall says. “I’m serious on the bike. I give respect as I ask for it. I have nothing to hide, no training secrets and I don’t mind answering any questions, because at some point, I’ve asked the same question. I want the peloton to have fun, so I don’t mind playing around in the group a bit when things aren’t serious. I want to grow US women’s cycling, so I will help out however I can if anyone is willing to ask.”
Over the years of playing collegiate and semi-pro soccer, Hall learned, within the white lines of the field, she wants to push her teammates to their limits. However, once the white line is crossed and practice is over, her teammates are the ones she wants to hang out with, laugh and tell jokes.
“When I’m on the bike, I do the same,” says Hall, who turned to cycling a few years after her professional soccer career didn’t pan out. “My teammates will expect me to fight for position and do whatever they need. I ask the same in return. The same goes for our competitors. I expect them to bring everything they have at us and when we are off the bike we can be friends, laugh and hang out. At the end of the day cycling will be gone and it’s the relationships that are left.”
Hall considers family the most important part of her life and looks to them for guidance, especially in her cycling career. Growing up with a grandfather who was an All American in college and Rookie of the Year for the NFL, Hall’s immensely proud of his accomplishments and wants to emulate his legacy. Her father is another huge role model.
“My dad, nothing bothers him, nothing ruffles his feathers,” Hall says. “I try to draw from that because even the best of plans that don’t work out, he can see another way, another plan or plan B. Sometimes I get so focused I can’t see around the problem in front of me. I look to my dad as an example and often I say to myself, ‘What would dad do?’”
And one of those times Hall needed her father’s inspiration came soon after the highest point of her career. It wasn’t a single race, or frustrating training session, it was one long year of bad fortune. After winning Gent Wevelgem in 2014, Hall was headed in the right direction to make the long list for the Olympics the next year.
“I had a great 2014 and was putting a ton of pressure on myself for 2015,” Hall says. “Guess how that played out? Not well. The year started great. I won two stages in the Tour of New Zealand and actually wore my first ever leader’s jersey for a day, but I crashed hard in Belgium that spring. Nothing broken, but I was concussed.”
Hall returned to the US to gather herself and prepare for Pan American games. It looked as though things were shaping up. However, in Mexico, she crashed again and then ended up with e. coli right before the national championships. Hall went back home, hit reset again and trained for Tour of Britain, only to crash again with another concussion. The World Championship Team Time Trial was next, but Hall flatted in the first three kilometers, eliminating her opportunity to compete.
“The whole year was just challenge after challenge,” Hall recalls. “I knew my chances of even being on the long list were gone. I realized back to back successful years are extremely difficult to pull off.”
Since that year, Hall has learned that, in sport, one shouldn’t equate happiness with winning. Working as a teammate and finding joy through bonded experiences brings just as much, if not more, satisfaction. Examples include helping Mara Abbott win the 2013 Giro and coming in second to her teammates at the nationals road race two years in a row. Knowing their plan came together was special to Hall.
“Yes, winning all of the above would have been the best ever, but to know the team effort of each of these results sticks with me as more important,” Hall says. “I still struggle. I still want to be in the front group. It’s just my nature. At least now I know my limits and appreciate the ability to not be able to climb with Katie Hall. It’s like going to work every day and wanting to be your best for the business, for the company, for your coworkers. I want to be proud of my efforts every day, in whatever I do.”
Adapting to hardship and growing from those difficult lessons made placing Hall in a leadership role on the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling a natural fit. She says she is still learning from the sport of cycling, but patience and acceptance are two of the most important qualities she’s developed over time.
“I want to hear how each one of the ladies felt in a race and get their thoughts on what we can work on and how can we get better as a unit,” Hall says. “Talking to the team and getting feedback, that is how I get better in my abilities. Just understanding we are all dealing with the same issues and figuring out how to help each other tackle challenges or lift each other up when they might be struggling or stressed.”
Hall treats her teammates like they’re part of her own family. And in a special way, they are. Time on the road is spent nurturing strong relationships, which translates to trust and support, the ingredients imperative for success on the bike.
Looking to the future, Hall says she doesn’t mind where her path takes her, as long as she can be around the people she loves, on and off the bike.
“I want to give back. I want to be a mentor and help others trying to make it in the sport – pro or just riding for fun,” Hall says. “I enjoy this lifestyle, but as long as I’m happy and working with good people, I don’t mind working in the 9 to 5 situation either. I will always seek out athletic adventures, anything in the outdoors – that’s my happy place.”