Flashback to October 2008. Jessica Cerra was called on stage at the awards dinner at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui as the “lucky winner” of a random prize drawing, except there was nothing random about it.
Her boyfriend at the time, Pedro Noyola, had been secretly working with “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas for months on a plan to bring Jess up on stage so he could drop to one knee and ask for her hand in marriage.
It was a beautiful, Hallmark moment as Jess said yes, and then broken up by raucous laughter just moments later when her coach, XTERRA Pro Lesley Paterson, grabbed the mic on stage and said something to the effect of “if you thought that was romantic, you shoulda been in my shoes. I shared a place with these guys this week and let me tell ya, I barely got a wink of sleep!”
That priceless memory laid the foundation for a fun-loving relationship with XTERRA and Paterson that transformed Noyola from a fledgling triathlete into the 2010 overall women’s amateur XTERRA USA Champion.
“Lesley has been a huge influence in my life as a friend, coach, and role model,” said Noyola. “Every year I am learning more and more about my potential and capabilities as an athlete and person.”
The off-road to success has been quick for the 28-year-old. While she grew up in the mountains of Whitefish, Montana, Noyola didn’t start mountain biking or racing until well after she moved to San Diego six years ago.
“I started off on a 35-pound mountain bike with "bear cage" pedals at the end of 2007, and found that I had some natural talent so I got a little nicer bike in 2008 when I did my first XTERRA. I'd only been a runner recreationally here and there until I started training for this sport and Lesley taught me how to swim just two months before my first XTERRA in 2008,” said Noyola. “I literally had to ask her how to put a swim cap on!”
In that first race – at the XTERRA West Championship in Temecula, California – Noyola placed second in her division and qualified for Worlds. “It’s what started the addiction,” she said, and it also paved the way for that unique marriage proposal.
By 2009 Noyola was winning her division at points series races, and finished third in the 25-29 division at the highly competitive XTERRA World Championship.
This season, she got really fast. She won her division at the XTERRA Deuces Wild and Lake Tahoe off-road tris, and was the top overall female amateur at the XTERRA Wild Horse Creek in her home state of Montana. Still, winning it all in Utah was far from her thoughts.
“I didn’t think I could win, not at all,” said Noyola. “Especially because I live and train at 11 feet. I knew I felt strong going into the race but my goals were to 1) place in my age group, 2) go sub 2hrs on the bike, and 3) keep it together on the run in the altitude.”
She did that and more, turning in the fastest amateur female bike split, a 1:52:11 that was seventh-best among women (better than eight other pros) and she held it together on the run alright, posting the second-best amateur split in 44:48, second only to the defending national champ and this year’s runner-up, Jaime Brede.
“I didn't have the best swim, never found my rhythm because I was getting knocked around a lot. Then the cold morning air made it hard to warm up but once in the sun I really found my rhythm on the bike. One of those days where the legs are just turning over and everything is clicking. I think I took the lead at the second road crossing (about mile 8), but I didn't know I was in the lead. Wasn't until I got up to Snowbasin and some girls in the crowd were yelling "good job, you are the first amateur girl". But then coming into T2 there was no announcement that I was first, so I was still unsure, but decided to run my heart out until I bonked or finished.”
Noyola never bonked. She finished in 3:06:29, the 12th woman overall and more than two minutes ahead of Brede, to win the amateur championship.
“When Jaime finished she asked me if I won, and I told her I didn't know but she seemed confident that I had and that she was second. I was still nervous until I got the time card, and even then, I saw 12 out of 84, so I waited to see the results on the board. That’s when I realized the other 11 in front of me were pro women,” said Noyola.
The champ, who earned her masters in exercise physiology at San Diego State University and owns her own business called 'Fit Food' where she cooks in clients homes and caters dinner parties, “all in a fresh and healthy way,” will now turn her attention to Maui and race for an XTERRA World Championship.
“XTERRA has changed my life in so many ways,” said Noyola. “I enjoy the challenge and beauty of each race, but my experience in Utah this year stands out. I felt so much support from the locals in Ogden, the Snowbasin volunteers, and all the other volunteers; as well as the XTERRA team and family. I really couldn't be more passionate about the spirit of XTERRA.”