At 15 years old, Mckay Hunt is a ball of potential energy. He's a jet, gathering speed on the runway, rumbling with power, getting ready to take off.
And this Saturday, he's scheduled for takeoff at 9 a.m. at Pineview's Port Ramp Marina in the Xterra USA Nationals, as he vies for a national age group championship and a spot at Xterra Worlds.
Xterra is a bruising way to learn the art of triathlon, with open water mile-long swims, 18-mile technical mountain biking trails, and ending with 6.1 miles of trail running, but Hunt has skyrocketed through the learning curve.
After only a year of doing the full-length Xterras he's ranked third in his age group in the Mountain Region, and has a shot at placing in his own backyard.
Hunt, a North Ogden Junior High School student, is exuberant about the race. When asked what he's looking forward to, he sighs.
"Everything. Just the enjoyment of being part of Xterra USA National Championships, competing against some of the best Xterra athletes and having them as my competitors will be very, very neat. Winning my age group would be awesome, and qualifying for Maui, the worlds, would be great. I'm going to have an enjoyable time at Snowbasin, the most beautiful resort ever," said Hunt.
Hunt's Xterra journey started with a mountain bike that he received for Christmas 2009. That following spring, Hunt started riding a little, and began doing the weekly mountain bike races at Snowbasin.
"One of the guys from Bingham Cyclery, Bryce Young, the first guy I ever talked to about bikes, said, 'If you get a bike you should go do the weekly races at Snowbasin.' I had no idea what it meant to race," said Hunt. "I had no idea how far it was. I hadn't really trained but I went up and did six miles, for beginners. The first one I just took it really easy. I went really slow and had a fun time and as that year went on, I kind of kept going."
That year, Hunt laid low in the beginner class, continuing to improve. Then he caught the Xterra bug when he called a friend to do a mountain bike race with him, and his friend said he was doing Xterra.
"I had no idea what it was about, so I looked up Xterra, and some of their professional athletes, and figured out what there was and how it all worked. Then I decided two weeks before the race to do it, and I started swimming. I had never really swam before in my life, but I had already been biking, and I started running a little bit. I ended up taking sixth in the sprint course, and that boosted my energy."
After that first taste, Hunt was hooked. He set a goal to make it into the national championships, and then pursued it by competing in the Moab Xterra, the Beaver Creek Xterra, and the Indian Peaks Xterra this year. His placings in those races earned him an invitation to the Xterra Nationals, which is an invitation-only event that runs concurrently with Xterra Utah, a course that is open to all athletes.
"He's an amazing athlete and he's one of the best climbers I've been around on the bike," said Mark T. Miller, a mentor and sponsor for Hunt, who has encouraged Hunt's rocketing rise. "He just loves mountain biking period. It's neat to see how gifted he is at it at such a young age."
Miller said that he and Hunt both started mountain biking at the same time, and it's been fun to see Hunt progress in all three disciplines. This year Hunt raced the Snowbasin weekly races in the expert category, his skills had improved so much.
"He's a great swimmer and a fairly good runner, but he's such a good mountain bike climber. He's so good on the uphills; I would say that's far and away his best gift. All I do is sit and chase him," said Miller, who will be participating in the Xterra sport course, one of the venues open to all athletes.
Hunt, who squeezes in his training around school and serving as the student body president, said that although his first love is mountain biking, he enjoys being able to switch it up.
"I never get bored of one single event," he said. "My swim definitely relaxes me for the bike. I'll push it hard enough on the swim and I'll go bike, and bike pretty hard, and then run and just try to push it until the end."
Hunt said that he enjoys being on the trails and the reward of seeing his training bringing in results.
"I like goal setting for each race," said Hunt. "I want to get under a certain time and it just bumps me up and I keep going if I get under that certain time. "
This Saturday, Hunt said he hopes that besides his skills on the bike, his mental game will put him ahead of his competition.
"With endurance sports you need a lot mental focus and mental exertion. When you're fatigued your brain starts going haywire and you start getting tired and you get down on yourself and say, 'I can't do this anymore.' I've noticed that I have a real power that I can keep that goal in mind and keep going because I just love it so much," said Hunt.
The pros and qualified age groupers, including Hunt will start the Xterra USA Championships at 9 a.m., with the Xterra Utah long course starting at 9:20 and the short course starting at 9:40 a.m. from Port Ramp Marina.