Tarah Gieger au naturel

Behind the scenes of Tarah Gieger's ESPN The Magazine Body Issue photo shoot.

How did you get into motocross?
TG: I was 10 years old when my dad got me a bike. It was just something I wanted to mess around on, and he was all about it. Originally I wanted a go-kart because kids in my neighborhood had them, but those are pretty dangerous. You can end up driving under a truck.

What was it like racing against boys?
TG: I grew up in Puerto Rico surfing against them and playing baseball with them, so it wasn't out of the norm. It was actually weird for me to race against girls. The guys respected me in Puerto Rico. We'd ride together; we were all friends. But when I came to the States, it was a little different. The boys would try harder to pass me than they would a guy. If they saw the hair coming out of the back of the helmet, they'd get a second wind. But that's changed over the years. Now it's not really a big deal when a girl is better.

You once said you "always had to be the crazy one" growing up. How so?
TG: That's just how I am. Stuff doesn't scare me. When we went out on dirt bikes, I'd be the one to hit the jumps. Everyone else would be scared, and I'd go for it. One time we built a big BMX jump, and it was pretty sketchy -- we didn't have helmets or anything. I think I was the first one to jump it, and there were 20 other kids who didn't.

What do you like about your body?
TG: I work hard on it. I'm in the gym four days a week, and I'm really healthy. Everybody says stuff about my arms, and I get self-conscious because I don't want to be like, "Yo, these are my arms. Grrrrr." I'm not embarrassed, but people assume I'm this gnarly, badass, tough chick who wants to beat people up. I'm a lover, not a fighter! Riding a 220-pound motorcycle takes a lot of muscle, so everything -- my back, arms, legs -- is pretty strong. But all my training is to get better. It's a byproduct of my sport. But yeah, I could probably beat them up.

If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
TG: I wish my legs weren't so big. It's really hard to find clothes that fit. Usually, if I get pants over my legs, the waist is big, and I'm pulling my pants up even if I'm wearing a belt. But I need strong legs, so it is what it is; I'd rather be strong than care about what I'm wearing.

What is your favorite thing to do to train?
TG: I love surfing. It's what I grew up doing. It's cross-training; you get cardio, your back, legs and arms get a workout, and you get a tan. Bonus!

How about your most unusual training?
TG: My stand-up Jet Ski. We'll set up a buoy course, and I'll go 35 mph, and I'm pretty much wide-open trying to handle all the power. If you get a couple other skis out there, it can get really bumpy, and you have to use your legs a lot to keep your speed. You usually can only go for about five minutes before you're just toasted. But I really enjoy doing it. It's another thing I like doing better than the guys.

What is the one workout you can't live without?
TG: Probably running. I hate running, but it's something you have to get through. I run four days a week as part of my workout. I'll spend 15 to 20 minutes doing cardio. Then we do circuit training for a mix of strength, core and cardio. We'll run through four different cycles for an hour and 20 minutes.

What is the biggest challenge you face with your body?
TG: Just staying healthy and not overdoing it. If you overtrain, you can hinder yourself. It's hard to think of rest as part of a workout routine, and it's hard when I can't allow myself to have fun being active because I need to rest. I hate sitting around. If I had my way, I'd be doing something 24/7.

Have you ever struggled with body image?
TG: I don't worry much about what people think. Everyone is insecure, so why should I care what they think when they are thinking the same thing? That's my philosophy. My mom is really active and fit -- she was a professional surfer -- so I think it's just the way I was brought up. Live your life, do what you want to do, don't worry about what people think.

What would you define as your edge, mentally?
TG: I know how much work I put into everything and how hard I train. There are a few others who I know work really hard, but with most, I've seen what they do on the track. It's nothing compared to what I do, so I'm like, "I shouldn't have a problem beating them."

When you put your body through stresses like I do, you learn what's serious and what you can handle, so I guess you just become numb to pain. When I get hurt, I just want to know how long it's going to be before it heals.`

What is a mental weakness you fight?
TG: Doubting myself. Did I do enough? Did I drink enough water? Doubting yourself is your worst enemy. Every time you line up to race, you have to push that back.

Are you an adrenaline junkie?
TG: I wouldn't classify myself that way, even though a lot of what I do involves a lot of adrenaline. I just want to be better at everything I'm doing. Once I feel like I can't get better at something, I get bored. I went downhill mountain biking for the first time last year, and that was pretty scary, but I just wanted to be better at it and go faster. Right now, I can't find anybody who can beat me jet skiing. I'm waiting for someone to be faster than me so I'm forced to push myself.

What is the worst thing your body has been through?
TG: In 2005, I started the year off by shattering my pelvis. I fell in a race, and someone landed on me. I was in a wheelchair for two months. I came back from that, and by about the fourth race of the Outdoor Series, I was in contention for the championship. Then, while leading a race, I got kicked over the front of the bike and landed headfirst into a bump. I woke up in an ambulance with a broken neck and was out another eight months. So that was a tough year. After my neck, I was thinking, "I really don't want to do this anymore." But by the time I was cleared to ride, I was ready to get back out there and show everybody who said I wouldn't that they didn't know who I was.

How good are you at handling pain?
TG: You figure out your body when you put it through stresses like I do. You learn what's serious and what you can handle, so I guess you just become numb to pain. It's a day-to-day thing in this sport. It's pretty funny when you go into a hospital and they ask, "On a scale from 1 to 10, what's your pain?" "What a normal person thinks is pain? For a normal person this would be a 9, but for me, maybe a 5." When I get hurt, I just want to know how long it's going to be before it heals.

Do you think there is anything unhealthy about how you treat your body?
TG: Sure. There's no way my body can take this many bumps and not feel it later on. Every time I break something, I have something to look forward to. When I broke my wrist, they told me, "You're going to have arthritis. There's nothing you can do about it." When I broke my pelvis, "You're going to have lower back pain when you're older." When I broke my neck, they told me I'd be dealing with pretty terrible headaches. Whatever. I'll deal with it when it happens.

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