Jill Kintner is one of Dirt’s all–time favourite riders. She can (and will) ride any kind of bike on the dirt and is a proven World Champion… she’s an inspiration too. The DirtTV crew of Lacy Kemp (From the Chairlift Marketing) and Jasper Wesselman go behind the scenes with Jill to produce this epic for us.
Words: Lacy Kemp
Photos: Laurence Crossman-Emms and RedBull
Exteriors are sometimes quite deceiving. What we see of someone in those fleeting moments of passing by, or perhaps on the Internet, is seldom their true self. Yet, as fans, we rarely get to glimpse beyond what we see in photos, web videos, and in lift lines at bike parks. When I first met Jill Kintner it was a series of these quick interactions that left me somewhat puzzled about her. She was always pleasant and friendly, but she came off as so intense that it was somewhat intimidating. I’d never quite met anyone like Jill – focused to the point of being almost standoffish. But like most people, what you see is rarely what you get.
While her intensity is palpable upon first meeting her, it’s simply a tool for results, and results are one of her best collections. As the most decorated female racer on US soil, Jill’s titles include an uncanny number of championships including 13 US National Championships across four different specialties, 5 World titles in 4X and BMX combined, and a bronze medal in BMX at the 2008 Olympics Games. As a rare multi-disciplinarian, Jill tends to spend time perfecting one facet of the sport until she’s reached her goals and then moves on to something different. Originally a BMX racer, Jill grew up channeling Cru Jones from the movie RAD, and charged her way through the ranks. Her father operated the local BMX tracks, where she spent her time practicing, emulating, and perfecting – three things she still does to this very day.
As a kid in Seattle Jill’s family life was somewhat unconventional. With an older brother who was a naturally gifted BMXer and dirt jumper and no other girls in the neighbourhood, Jill spent her time trying to catch Paul and his buddies on their bikes. Her mother worked for United Airlines, which allowed for abundant travel. In fact, as early as 12, Jill was flying solo to BMX races on the weekends. “The deal was, if I got straight A’s my parents would pretty much let me do whatever I wanted,” she says. “I worked so hard in high school, sometimes at school for 11 hours a day taking math tests, then into soccer practice, and then I would race bikes on the weekends. There was good prize money too, so there was definitely an incentive to win.” The experience of racing in other regions helped build a strong bike handling foundation. Washington is known for its damp, slick tracks, so while she excelled in the wet, her strengths were growing across all types of conditions.
At first glance it may seem like Jill’s family lacked discipline; after all, who lets their kid just hop a plane solo for a transcontinental trip on a nearly weekly basis? For Jill though it was just the opposite. By allowing her the freedom to do whatever she wanted, she chose to focus solely on racing bikes, which required her to stay focused in school. She is a true self-disciplinarian. Training, travel, rest, research – Jill’s spare time was spent getting stronger, faster, and smoother on her bike. You can tell a kid about how the world works, but being self-motivated proved to be the ticket to Jill’s success, and would continue to be a foundation throughout her entire career.
Her dominance in BMX led her to want to try something different. In 2004 she retired from BMX to focus on 4X racing. Switching to larger wheels wasn’t something that was inherently easy, but her years of bike handling skills made the transition as smooth as she could have hoped, and before long she was amassing 4X titles with ease, including a hat–trick of world titles between 2005 and 2007. But as soon as she was getting comfortable with her mountain biking career, it was announced that BMX would be added to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. At first Jill wasn’t terribly motivated to come out of retirement to race BMX again, but her dad was adamant that she try out for the team. Her hesitance disappeared in 2007 when her father suffered a heart attack and subsequently passed away. With his words and wisdom as her fire, Jill’s focus shifted back to BMX and the Olympics.
After packing up and moving south to the Chula Vista Olympic Training Centre, she dedicated every day towards getting a medal in China. She miraculously pulled off a third place finish after a bad start left her in last place when the gate dropped. Says husband Bryn Atkinson on her Olympic time, “I knew throughout the entire time she was training she was going to get a medal. To see her accomplish it was just the most amazing thing ever… if Jill wants something, she gets it.”
After the Olympics she decided to (again) switch her focus on the bike looking for a new challenge. She began competing in downhill and slalom events at the national level and then moved into World Cup downhill racing. It wasn’t long before she began racking up titles in both disciplines and became the top female gravity racer in North America, and a consistent podium threat on the World Cup circuit. Though her successes were many, Jill found inconsistencies with sponsorships and opted to begin running her own team. She filed for a LLC and, together with Bryn, designed proposals, amassed sponsors, and has been the team manager of her own race team since 2008. “This has given me a pretty good education,” she says. “We have to create a business plan, maintain a budget, do all of the marketing, and make sure our sponsors are happy.”
Outside of physically racing Jill has other creative interests that keep her busy. She attended art school and focused heavily on design. She sketches cartoonish doodles that can be seen on her helmet and Sprinter van. She has even drawn sketches of all of the downhill tracks she’s raced and keeps them in a tidy collection. She does all of the layout work for her team race kits. When Jill’s not on her bike, that intensity she’s so well known for goes away almost immediately. “She’s kind of a softie,” laughs Bryn. That description isn’t far off. Once Jill lets you in, she’s incredibly kind and thoughtful. She’s the kind of person that will walk with you if you get a flat tyre. She’ll slow down and take in the scenery. She’ll stop by for a visit for no other reason than to just say hello.
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, Jill swings by to ask if I want to go for a quick pedal. “It’s a cruisy day for me,” she says. These are the only days where we can really ride together, otherwise she’s in training mode and way too quick for me. I throw on my gear and pedal out of my driveway, only to find her at the end of the street doing a few casual intervals. Cruisey day… right! In the world of an elite racer there really is no such thing, but it’s always fun to try to keep her in sight. She stops for a quick chat and waits for me at the start of the trailhead. As soon as I’ve even had the chance to get on the pedals, I look back up she’s long gone, lost in the twisting, Ferngullyesque forests of the Pacific Northwest.