Off in a flash

Super Taqueria employee Rafael Gomez prepares some burritos as

Local mountain biker Hector Pareja is always on the go
GILROY – In a flash, 29-year-old Hector Pareja is out of bed, washed up, into his racing gear, and on his mountain bike headed for work at the Super Taqueria on 10th Street in Gilroy. It is a 13-mile ride from his Morgan Hill home to his day job – but Pareja enjoys pedaling his own way down.

Five days a week, Pareja manages the Super Taqueria – where he has been employed for the last five years. When it’s time for his break, the up-and-coming competitive mountain biker hops back on his ride and heads to Christmas Hill Park for some more cycling. He can’t get enough.

“I just love it. I wake up every morning and decide where I want to ride. The weather doesn’t matter. I’ve got my gear already set the day before,” said Pareja with a wide smile on his face. “I prefer it that way. I do have a car. But in my mind, I hurt now so I don’t hurt during the race.”

Last weekend, Pareja competed in a mountain bike race in Napa Valley with 80 other riders. He took first place overall for the first time in his young biking career.

“It was kind of weird. I didn’t know if I was first or top-5,” said Pareja, after he completed the 22-mile course an crossed the finish line. “My group caught up to the guys in front of us and I lost track who was in my group.”

A pack of riders left in three-minute intervals so Pareja could not determine if he won the race until all the times were posted.

“I knew I had a real strong run. I asked my nephews how many guys were ahead of me and they thought I won it,” Pareja said. “Then they posted everything and I was pretty stoked.”

Pareja – who began mountain biking 10 years ago and rides a Trek Carbon mountain bike – took the victory in stride and now he wants “to prove that it wasn’t a fluke” by winning his next race.

“I race hoping to win, but I don’t really expect it. There are a lot of variables,” said Pareja, who also works on his own bike. “I’ll take it as far as I can. I want to ride until I’m 80. I want people to say, ‘hey, look at that old guy riding.'”

Pareja rides his bike six times a week – 12 miles on the road and eight miles off road. His training regiment includes using 40-minute intervals of all-out pedaling to improve his times and get him ready for the next big race. Two weeks ago at Laguna Seca, Pareja finished 10th out of 80 competitors on the 18-mile course.

“I prefer inclines because you know there is a downhill on the other side,” said Pareja, who likes the longer distance courses. “I enjoy the whole aspect of racing. I like that it’s an individual thing. It’s just me on my bike.”

But Pareja is also a team player as well. Besides riding his mountain bike any chance he gets – with any of his seven brothers (he’s the second youngest), by himself, or in a race – Pareja also spends time coaching two soccer teams. He plays and coaches on an adult team in San Jose and also coaches an under-9 Orchard Valley Youth Soccer team.

“It’s cool. The older guys look up to me. I’m more organized so they respect me. When I’m coaching, they listen to me. I take care of all the paper work,” Pareja said.

“I don’t want to change the whole country, but if I can change one kid’s perspective on soccer, then I’m satisfied,” he added. “I want to teach them what it’s all about.”

Pareja runs the practices for both teams (twice a week for each squad); he brings all the necessary equipment; and he handles all the registration for his players.

“It’s different levels (with the adults and the kids), but the result is the same thing, especially with the U9s. They soak everything up,” Pareja said. “Cycling and soccer have always been a part of my family. It keeps you out of trouble.”

All of Pareja’s brothers raced bikes at one time or another – and they all still ride together around town.

“They can’t keep up with me now,” said Pareja, who now races with his youngest brother. “We were just kind of bored riding with everyone so we thought it would be fun to race more competitively.”

While he welcomes the idea of racing professionally as a career, Pareja is just happy doing what he does on a daily basis – working at the Super Taqueria, riding in his free time, and coaching his soccer teams.

“It’s fun. It’s one of the coolest jobs. With the schedule I have, it gives me the flexibility to do all the other things,” Pareja said. “The crew makes it special. I look forward to work. And you’ve got to pay to play.”

The dedicated rider is always looking for ways to better himself – searching the Internet for different training programs that best suit him.

“If I’m able to do it, I stick with it. I wish I can do everything,” said Pareja, who looks up to Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and Mountain Biker John Tomack. “If I could (race professionally), I would. There’s a lot of time and effort you have to put into it. Some racers are born with it. For others, it’s twice as much effort.”

Pareja enjoys riding so much that he’s “surprised there’s not a lot more people in the sport” – which has been growing in interest the past couple of years.

“You’ve got to enjoy it while you have it,” Pareja said. “That’s what kind of pushes me… I just take it one day at a time and see what I can squeeze in.”

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