Originally published on mtbproject.com, this article now appears on REI Co-op Journal.
Sarah Wood found bliss by riding bikes—then joining the male-dominated ranks of their builders.
Everything we are destined to become is often spelled out in our teenage years—if we only know how to read the clues. That was true for Sarah Wood, a mountain biker who recently ditched her executive director position with the successful 5Point Film Festival to become a wheel-building newbie at Industry Nine, North Carolina makers of (among other components) famously loud freehubs. Such a career re-invention might seem cavalier for a 35-year-old but Wood’s teenage self would definitely approve.
As a kid growing up on a southern Indiana farm, Wood didn’t know a single cyclist, and trails were scarce. Yet she yearned to ride a mountain bike, so she worked a lot of hours at the local ice cream shop in order to buy a Trek 820 hardtail. Defying her parents’ decree, Wood rode it 16 miles to school—where, tragically, the bike was stolen. “But I loved every minute of that ride,” Wood recalls. “I had a car that I could drive to get places, but as all riders know, the feeling of freedom that you get on a bike is pretty unique.” The urge to ride seemed to be coded in her DNA.
So did her knack for mechanics. Her grandfather was a machinist in the Air Force and later at Cummins, the engine manufacturer for which her father also worked as an engineer. Wood inherited their aptitude for assembly. “I don’t need to see an image or hold an object in my hand to understand it,” Wood explains. “I can visualize 3-D objects in my brain.” She didn’t know it at the time, but her background and unique skill set would set her off on an unlikely path for a girl from rural Indiana.