Listening to Lauren Hall talk about cycling is like listening to author/historian Shelby Foote talk about the Siege of Vicksburg – accent and all.
And it’s not because Hall hails from that same stronghold of Mississippi history.
No, Hall shares her passion for cycling like Foote enthusiastically shared his passion for the Civil War – word for word.
“The U.S. is really stepping up as far as the women’s side of cycling is concerned,” Hall said in a telephone interview this week from her home in Dolores.
The professional road cyclist, riding for the TIBCO To The Top women’s team, said the level of women’s racing in the United States has improved significantly over the last four years.
“We’re all racing in Europe now,” said Hall, 33, who first turned pro in 2009. “Carmen Small, Kristin McGrath, me ... we’re all racing in Europe, and we bring that (experience) back here.”
That means better female cyclists and better cycling in North America.
Hall, who recently won two U.S. national titles at the track cycling championships in Carson, Calif., was honored in a public reception in Dolores last week when she was presented with her two 2012 stars-and-stripes jerseys as a national champion. She now has three red, white and blue kits to show for her four-year professional cycling career.
“I have motivation to be a good role model because of my grandfather,” she said after delivering energetic speeches at Dolores High School and Dolores Elementary School.
Hall’s grandfather was Parker Hall, also known as “Bullet,” who was an All-American football player at the University of Mississippi. He went on to professional football, playing for the Cleveland Rams and then the very first San Francisco 49ers team. He led the league in passing in 1938 and was named the league MVP in 1939.
“My grandfather and my dad ... went to Ole Miss. My two older brothers both went to Ole Miss. And I went to Mississippi State. ... It’s southern sports at its best,” Hall said.
She said she shared her background with the students in Dolores to show them what can be possible.
“You never know what lives you can change,” she said.
Hall walked on at Mississippi State and earned a full-ride scholarship in soccer. She thought her sporting career was finished, however, when she graduated.
“My brother talked me into a marathon in 2006,” she said. “After that, I said I wanted to do a triathlon. So I bought my first bike in 2007.”
She raced in Mississippi and Louisiana in 2007 and 2008.
With Hall rising to the top of the regional races, her coach discovered Michael Engleman and his Women’s Cycling Development Program based in Dolores. The former Fort Lewis College coach encouraged Hall to visit the area.
“I came out here, and I rode with Kristin McGrath and with some of the Fort Lewis kids. I just fell in love with the mountains. So here I am now – a three-time national champion,” said Hall.
“Michael knows cycling from the sponsorship side and from the development side. That’s when this all opened up as a profession for me,” said Hall, who quit her job in Mississippi and moved to Dolores in 2009. “I went full bore into it. I knew I wanted to take this opportunity and make the best of it.”