'I Started Mountain Biking Four Years Ago. Now I'm Ranked 11th in the World'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Estonian graphic designer hoping to ride all the way to the Olympics, and Swiss student who organizes techno festivals at a former women’s prison

Janika and Urmas Loiv.
Meged Gozani

Janika Loiv, 29, and Urmas Loiv, 36; live in Tallinn, Estonia; arriving from Budapest

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Israel?

Janika: I’m here for a mountain bike competition in the Jezreel Valley. This is my first time competing in Israel. It’s a race in stages, beginning on Wednesday and ending on Saturday. It’s a race in couples. My partner for this competition is also from Estonia. We have to advance together and fix the bikes ourselves if something happens. I am collecting points for the Olympics, and in this competition they give out a lot of them.

How do you collect points for the Olympic Games? And how many do you need?

In the Olympics the mountain bike competition lasts an hour and a half. You ride in a circle and the first cyclist to arrive after an hour and a half wins. There are 34 places, but only 20 countries can participate, so the riders accumulate points in preliminary competitions – let’s say first place is worth 100 points, second 90, third 80, and the country that accumulates the most points also gets the most spots. Right now Estonia is in 22nd place. I really hope that we get in, because the chances are good that I will be the one to go to the Olympics, because I’m the only one who is getting points.

How many do you have?

I have about 2,000, and I’m always checking where I stand.

Is this what you do in life?

I am a graphic designer. That’s how I earn money, which I spend on competition, so it’s hard for me to say of myself that I am a professional, but I compete at the highest level, in international competitions and world championships. Because of the points, I’m always traveling: Norway, Canada, the United States, and I’m arriving here from a competition in Budapest.

Were there points in Budapest?

It was hard core, very demanding physically. Budapest is very nice, it’s divided into two: The Buda part is flat, but the competition was held on the Pest side, in a mountainous region. It was one of the hardest races I’ve participated in, with a lot of uphill and downhill. I finished third and got 30 points. It was annoying, because I had previously beaten the two people who finished ahead of me.

How many years have you been competing?

I haven’t always been a competitive biker. It started four years ago as a project of mine and my husband’s. We both work from home – Urmas is a programmer – and it was boring just to sit and work on the computer. We’re both athletic types, so we took the bikes and started to ride. Before that, I ran and my husband rode a bike, and today he does the managing and helps with the logistics and prepares food. We do everything together – we eat together, ride together and we have a family business. We’ve been together for 10 years, and I’m sure I couldn’t have done all this without him.

Very nice of him to dream with you.

At the beginning the Olympics was just an unrealistic fantasy, because when I started I was ranked 400th in the world [among women riders]. Today it’s different – in the World Cup Tournament I reached 13th place, and in the European Championships, I finished ninth. I’m now ranked 11th in the world. [Since the interview she’s slipped back to 14th place.] It was an amazing year for me, but you can’t pursue a dream like this if you work in an office, and in general it’s best to have a sponsor.

How come you don’t have a sponsor?

In general, all the bicycle companies support teams and professional riders from big countries, but Estonia is a really small country, just a million people altogether. We have maybe 20,000 bike riders, so there’s no real market and it’s not worth their while economically. Almost all the other women who compete at my level only ride. But I have to work, too.

Sounds tough.

The toughest part for me is in finding a balance between work and riding. There is also a lot of travel and flying, which I don’t really like. But my husband and I like this life. We are adventurous types.

What did your life look like before you started chasing the dream?

When we were home and not traveling, we would get up at 8 every morning and get home at 6 and just sit on the sofa and watch TV. We didn’t do anything and we didn’t see anything, but now we meet people and we’re always traveling. It’s true that with the money we’ve spent on competitions we could have bought a house already, and the only property we have in Estonia is a dog, but when we lived like everyone we didn’t feel free. But now, living with a tight schedule and all the competitions, we feel a lot more free.

Rebecca Luschee.
Meged Gozani

Rebecca Luschee, 27, lives in Lucerne; flying to Zurich

Hello, can I ask what you were doing in Israel?

In Lucerne we have a sort of organization of trance music, which involves festivals. In the past we booked a lot of deejays from Israel, so we came here to visit friends. We traveled and ate tasty food. I enjoyed the fact that there is both a city and a sea here, all together. We also rode electric bikes, which are banned in Switzerland. It’s fun but it really is a bit dangerous.

Tell me about the festivals.

Our label is called Future Universe, and every three months we organize these parties near Lucerne at a place called Musikzentrum Sedel. It’s actually the dining room of an old women’s prison, where the inmates ate lunch, and it’s the best place there is for parties. You can smoke weed and cigarettes there, and as long as you respect other people, you can be whoever you want.

And you want to be the girl with the tattoos?

I started four years ago, but I think I imagined myself like this ever since I was a little girl. My father is also tattooed, and I would look at him and want it for myself, too. By the time I’m 30, I plan to be completely covered. I have three years to go.

Are the drawings by one artist?

Most of the tattoos were done by a Hungarian guy named Timar Otte especially for me. My apartment is next to a tattoo studio and I would see him at work. I waited a long time until he took me. I go to him each time for two days and he tattoos a different part. Besides his drawing ability, I also need a connection with the artist. These aren’t tattoos that you do for 50 euros in Ayia Napa when you’re drunk. This is something spiritual.

Is it painful?

Extremely. And you sit there a long time, talking or listening to music, trying to breathe deeply like when giving birth. Every time I go, I think, “Wow, this hurts so much, I won’t do it again.” But then I get another idea and ask myself if I really need another one.

And the answer is yes.

Yes. I’m supposed to go back to him again in March, and I’m planning to do a few tattoos with a certain woman artist. I feel like I should try something else. It’s a hard scene for girls, so if she’s into it, she must be really good.

How do people react to them?

In Lucerne, which is a city that is more like a village, there are people who look at me and point, but in Zurich people are more open. I don’t always notice, but my boyfriend says that people are always staring at me. Here in Israel they looked, too. It’s actually nice; it’s very sociable here. Most Swiss people are closed, they don’t talk to you and they all have headphones on. They are generally very much into the scene of work, work, work, school, school, school, making money, and that for me is not happiness. But there are also atypical Swiss people with a free spirit – like me and like my friends, for example.

You don’t work?

At the moment, I’m working at a restaurant in a hotel that has a shabby-chic atmosphere, and I put all the tip money I get in a jar. That’s the money for my tattoos and for my studies.

What are you studying?

I want to be a social worker and help people who live in the street. You see a lot of them in the main train stations in Switzerland. In the summer it’s relatively easy, but in winter the temperature is minus 10 [Celsius].

A fine goal.

I finish in January, but I hope to continue for another three years. In principle, it’s possible to finish your studies in two years, but then you have to live at home with your parents, or they have to help you, because going to school in Switzerland is really expensive if you don’t have a scholarship.

You’re working, you’re going to school, so maybe you’re a bit of a typical Swiss person after all?

I am an open person, but I also know that it’s important to have an education. You can’t really be a free spirit if you can’t survive [financially]. There was a period at 14 when I rebelled and didn’t go to school. I also got mixed up with the police. I guess I had to grow up a little.

All of us do.

My whole life people have said that to me, both my parents and at school, but when you’re a teenager you think you know best. Since then I have understood that it’s impossible to just live in some tent, and that you need a little discipline in order to be truly free.