Turning passion into perseverance: Daniel Eaton and overcoming the odds
Ever since Daniel Eaton can remember, he was riding a bike. Either it was to school, to a friend’s house or just for the enjoyment of it.
Riding to school turning into mountain biking with his dad. And things escalated when he was 16 years old, when they decided to train for the Great Divide Race.
“Riding mountain bikes turned quickly into racing mountain bikes, which even quicker turned into riding and racing road bikes,” Eaton recalls. “We never did race the Great Divide, but because of the idea of it I started riding a lot. My passion for bikes increased that much more.”
Born in Flagstaff, Arizona and based in Boulder, Colorado, two places known as active cycling hubs, Eaton quickly saw what it took to become the best. He credits his support system of family, friends, girlfriend and first coach and mentor, Michael Kolin, for helping him in his journey as a professional athlete. Especially when times got rough.
And those times started when a 19-year-old Eaton was hit by a car during the 2012 Valley of the Sun Road Race. At that point in his career, he was riding high off a successful fall racing campaign with the junior national team.
The accident left him badly injured, but Eaton was scheduled to go back to Europe with the national team just a few weeks after it happened. He worked hard to overcome his injuries and, by the time the trip rolled around, he thought he’d made a full recovery.
“I went over to Europe in early April and proceeded to get mentally and physically destroyed in every race I did,” Eaton said. “In the last race of the trip I crashed bad and broke my left collarbone.”
It was now June, and Eaton had to stay in Europe a week longer than expected because the doctors advised not to fly right after the surgery. The young bike racer said it was a time where he questioned if he still had a place in this sport.
“I don’t think I could have overcome it If it wasn’t for my parents,” Eaton said. “They knew I still had a passion for the sport and they believed a future in it. Secretly, I’m sure they would have been okay with me stopping, but knew I would regret it. My parents kept supporting and encouraging me. I had a good rest of the year racing in America and that helped fuel my drive to keep going.”
Despite his young years, the traumatic experiences shaped Eaton’s perspective being a professional athlete. Along with seeing the countries and cultures he would never had encountered if it wasn’t for the bike, Eaton says it’s much more than that.
“In many ways, being a pro has shown me that there is a lot more to life to being a pro,” Eaton said. “As an amateur I was one track minded. Cycling was the only thing that mattered, where now I realize that cycling is still important but there are other things that are equally and more important. That you can still be the best you can possibly be at cycling while still enjoying other things in life.”
After placing sixth overall at the 2016 Tour of Alberta and narrowly missing the podium with a fourth overall at Cascade Classic last year, Eaton said his main goal as a bike racer is to stay passionate and fulfilled.
“Result based goals will happen along the way as long as I still loving doing it,” says Eaton. “I think early on my long-term goals were specific events or periods. Now I realize that’s not realistic. If you work hard and have a deep passion for it, then those things will happen in your favor.”