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Furtado, Juli

Juli Furtado


American mountain biker

In her prime, Juli Furtado had more endurance and a higher peak heart rate than any of her competitors.

Combined with her drive and determination, these physical attributes made her a standout in the world of professional mountain biking. Furtado made her foray into the world of professional mountain bike racing after nearly a decade on the U.S. junior ski team. When injury forced her to stay off the slopes, she gravitated toward cycling, first to road racing, where she earned a national championship, and then to the hills and trails of mountain biking where she won the National Off-Road Bike Association (NORBA) overall titles four years in a row. The 1993 Velo News Cyclist of the Year dominated her sport from 1991 to 1996.

Growing Up

Juli Furtado was born on March 4, 1967, in New York City. When she was a girl her parents divorced and her mother moved the kids to Vermont. There Furtado attended the Stratton Mountain School ski academy. She joined the U.S. junior ski team in 1980 and was well on the way to fulfilling her dream of skiing in the Winter Olympics. When offered a skiing scholarship to the University of Boulder, Juli took it and, at 18 years old, moved west to train in the Rockies.

In 1987, a series of knee operations left Furtado unable to compete on the slopes. She left competitive downhill skiing. As part of her physical therapy regimen at the University of Colorado, however, she was told to ride a bike. She immediately fell in love with the sport and began to train as a cyclist. Soon she was back in winning form as a road racer.

Realizing that she would rather be back on the slopes, however (although this time on a bike rather than skis), Furtado made the transition to from road racing to mountain biking. Her first full season in the sport was in 1991. She took first in most of the events in which she participated, and by 1993 Furtado had become a force to be reckoned with. She won each of the six NORBA nationals she raced, and nine out of ten Grundig World Cup races. In a little under eight months, Furtado collected 17 first-place finishes in 18 events.

Forced Out Before Her Time

In 1994 Furtado won her fourth consecutive NORBA national championship. But by 1995 she felt that something was going wrong. She could not understand what was sapping her motivation and desire out on the course. "My training has been lackadaisical," she told Velo News. "I've lacked motivation for it." Yet, in spite of her "off" season (a season which many still considered fantastic), Furtado continued to train in hopes of competing on the 1996 Olympic squad. She qualified for the games in Atlanta that next summer, but finished a disappointing tenth overall.

The fatigue and poor finishes convinced Furtado to see a physician. The initial diagnosis, in February of 1997, was for Lyme disease, but with medication and patience, Furtado was certain that she would be able to return to the sport at full strength. Yet that season she consistently finished lower and lower in the rankings. As she became more exhausted, Furtado realized that something had gone seriously wrong.

In late 1997 she was diagnosed with systemic lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, the disease "causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood and kidneys." Unable to rid herself of the disease (she can only take medications to relieve some of the symptoms), and unable to remain competitive with lupus, Furtado announced in November of 1997 that she was retiring from professional mountain biking.

Critics believed that Furtado was pushed too early from the sport she controlled for the first half of the 1990s. Many believed that, were it not for her illness, she could have been a dominant star for many years to come.

After retiring, Juli Furtado moved from her home in Durango, Colorado, to Santa Cruz, California. Though she has left the competition, she still attends many mountain biking events, often as a commentator out on the trails or as a fundraiser for any of the various philanthropic organizations with which she is associated.


1967 Born March 4 in New York City
1974 Parents divorce and mother moves kids to Vermont
1979 Attends the Atratton Mountain School Ski Academy
1980 Joins the U.S. National Junior ski team
1987 Knee injury forces her out of skiing
1989 Prescribed bike riding as part of physical therapy for her knee injury. Falls in love with riding
1989 Wins championships in road racing, but soon finds her true passion is for mountain biking
1990 Takes the World Cross Country Championships
1991 Spends her first full season as a professional mountain biker
1991 Earns her degree in marketing from the University of Colorado
1996 For the first time in four years she fails to win World Cup title
1996 Earns spot on the U.S. Olympic team, but fatigued, she finishes only tenth.
1997 Consistently tired and finishing lower and lower in results, Furtado sees a doctor and is diagnosed with Lyme disease in the spring. In November the diagnosis will be changed to Lupus
1997 Announces her retirement from competitive mountain biking, and spends more time at her home in California

Awards and Accomplishments

1989 Wins U.S. National Road Racing Championships
1990 World Cross Country Championship
1991-94 National Off-Road Biking Association (NORBA) Overall Title winner
1991-95 National Series Overall Champion
1992 World Downhill Championship
1993 Named Velo News Cyclist of the Year
1993-95 Wins the World Cup
2000 Voted to Sports Illustrated 's Top 100 Women Athletes of the Century

In her prime, Juli Furtado had more endurance and a higher peak heart rate than any of her competitors. Combine that with her drive and determination, and these physical attributes made this naturally talented and truly gifted athlete a standout in the world of professional mountain biking.



"Juli Furtado." Great Women in Sports, Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.


Drake, Geoff. "The Reluctant Hero." Bicycling (May 1994).

Giesin, Dan. "Ex-Mountain Biker Has Had Uphill Climb." The San Francisco Chronicle (March 26, 1998).

Kane, Michael. "Putting on the Brakes." The Denver Post (March 3, 1998).

Martin, Scott. "Cycling Sisters: Meet 4 women who shape the sport." Bicycling (May 1996).

Martin, Scott. "First Lance, then Juli." Bicycling (November/December, 1997).

Walters, John. "The Caffeine Queen." Sports Illustrated (August 7, 1995).


Corbett, Sara. "The Marvelous, Manic Drive of Juli Furtado." Outside Online (January 29, 2003).

"Illness Forces Mountain Bike Champ Furtado to Quit for Good." (January 29, 2003).

"Juli Furtado." Sports Illustrated Top 100 Women Athletes of the Century. (January 29, 2003).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren

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