In a span of about six or seven years, Canadian Kasper Wooley has gone from racing BMX, to racing enduro, to racing his first EWS, to consistent top ten Enduro World Series results. Not long ago, he was a professional downhill skier. All the while, he’s dealt with a pituitary tumor which results in lower than average bone density. Wooley estimates he’s experienced at least 20-something broken bones. Wooley is 22. When we spoke on the phone, he was recovering from a broken wrist, though still training for the moment he can hop back on a bike – and to prep for the first EWS race of the season in June.
Woolley had a reputation for injury, even as a kid, he says. This past December he injured his ankle, and fractured his fibula head. When that healed up near the end of February, he rode for about two-and-a-half weeks – possibly rushing it – and had the crash that he’s healing up from now. He says it was a classic example of “compensating for one injury which will lead to another.”
Woolley lives in Squamish, BC, home to mountain athletes galore, where skiers, climbers, and mountain bikers grow up with gravity-fed playgrounds surrounding them. He started playing hockey of course, but skiing and bikes followed closely behind. Woolley’s dad was a ski coach and by age 10, he was competing on the slopes and filling in his summers with mountain biking and BMX. Also at age 10, he suffered one of his first major injuries on a mountain bike: breaking his back in several places at the Whistler Bike Park. He brushes that off now.
“They were compression fractures. There weren’t any huge concerns, but that was a huge thing to deal with at that age.”
BMX racing drew him in as a kid. It was competitive, even amongst elementary and middle schoolers. Splitting his year between skiing and BMXing kept him from being dedicated to one or the other. He recalls BMX being so competitive that even in his early teen years, it was challenging to keep pace with other kids. “BMX is such a power sport and racing bar to bar with other guys, I was just getting knocked around,” he says. He’d have one season where he felt good and another where he was struggling.
In 2016, he bought his first proper enduro bike and raced in a nearby Squamish event. He didn’t do great, but he was fast enough that he felt great about it. At the same time, skiing grew stale. He weighed about 115 pounds at the time, where it would have been more advantageous to compete at 180 pounds. But what really slowed his skiing down was hamstring tendinitis he developed competing in Sweden in 2018.
“That was really a turning point to switch into riding,” he says. Skiing grew more and more difficult, but the hamstring wasn’t an issue for him mountain biking. The previous year, racing the Enduro World Series in Aspen set him up to make the decision too. He placed 12th overall in the U21 category, and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 8th on four of the stages. Unfortunately a mechanical put him behind on another stage.
That same year in 2017, Woolley found out about his pituitary tumor, mostly due to his mom’s persistence, he says. After a blood test that year, he skipped a ski race that was already planned, so that he could go into Vancouver for an MRI, “which I was pretty pissed about at the time, because I didn’t feel like anything was that wrong and I was skiing well that year.”
The race actually ended up getting cancelled, and he received a diagnosis for a benign pituitary tumor. He started taking medication and slowly put on weight. Other than that, it wasn’t a huge change for him, he says. Woolley spoke with his doctor more, and felt relieved that he had an answer as to why he wasn’t making bigger gains in the gym, which was the most frustrating part for him. Now, he’s working with the tumor, focusing solely on enduro, and training, training, training.
“The main thing is that it just requires a lot more patience. So if I want to get a bit stronger, I gotta be super consistent,” he says, and “each year I get a little bit closer to where I want to be from a training and strength standpoint.” The payoff of switching from skiing to mountain biking has been almost immediate.
“Like skiing, I was so far away from where I needed to be that it was really, really frustrating. Just mentally, it wasn’t working. For riding, I’ve been able to be really competitive with what I have, so that’s a lot more motivating.”
Supplements are helping him too, he says. Woolley is sponsored by Blonyx and takes creatine, protein powder, and other supplements for recovery. Giving himself time to heal and recover is essential. Not all of his injuries are full-on breaks from crashing; some are hairline fractures, which still call for a 4-6 week recovery, so being careful about overtraining is essential.
Woolley started racing on a team through his coach, Joel Harwood at Blueprint Athlete Development, and tried out a few EWS races on Europe’s tight and twisty tracks in 2018. He was hardly a breakout success on either front. He didn’t get the results he’d hoped for and “just riding in Europe was a big slap in the face.”
He was hoping to get on a team that season, and was working with OneUp at the time, learning how difficult it actually was to land a team sponsorship, even with decent results. OneUp helped him get a bike together for his last season in the U21 category in 2019, and he had also talked to Yeti Cycles about riding for them in 2020.
His first year riding a Yeti SB150, unofficially sponsored, he racked up a gold medal at a regional enduro in Colorado, a bronze in Montana, and podiumed nearly every race of the CLIF Crankworx Summer Series in Sun Peaks and Silver Star, BC. After riding a Yeti frame in 2020, and conversations between OneUp and Yeti that materialized, the dream came to fruition for 2021 with the Yeti/OneUp Pro Team. Woolley’s teammate is none other than Jared Graves, who is competing again after beating cancer.
So, the format isn’t much different for him than it was a year ago, but having signed a pro contract is a big deal. Woolley says that they’ll be traveling with Richie Rude and Shawn Neer, the pilots on the Yeti/Fox Factory team, for most of the season. All six races of the Enduro World Series this year are slated for European countries — Italy, Great Britain, Switzerland, and France — so he’ll be again be looking to conquer Europe’s infamous enduro trails. But, he seems hopeful, and with the right training – and the right sport, it looks like he’ll be more competitive than before.