He’s a professional athlete. He walks the BYU halls and fights for the same parking spots as everyone else.
He’s not a professional football or basketball player coming back to finish his degree, nor a volleyball or soccer player from a foreign country.
Danny Van Wagoner is a professional mountain biker and full-time BYU student.
Ever since Van Wagoner was a young boy he loved biking. The sophomore from Highland, who is studying to get into BYU’s accounting program, would spend every day of his summer vacation on a bike.
At the age of 9, he went mountain biking with his father for the first time on the infamous Slickrock Trail in Moab.
“Slickrock is an 11-mile loop, and it is tough, technical and hard,” said John Van Wagoner, Danny’s father, coach and mentor. “He did it, the whole thing, when he was 9 years old and the first time ever mountain biking.”
Ever since that moment Danny Van Wagoner knew he wanted to race.
“I remember thinking when I was little how cool it would be to race and envisioning that,” he said.
When Danny was 11, his family celebrated his birthday by going mountain biking at Sundance Resort.
“We took him and a friend up to Sundance and rode the lift up,” said Lisa Van Wagoner, Danny’s mother. “I was with them, and I thought no biggie, I can handle it with the 11-year-old kids.”
What she didn’t expect was Danny’s speed and precision going down the mountain.
“I started picking up speed to keep up with them, and I hit a hairpin corner and flew off of my bike,” she said.
Covered with mud, blood, scrapes and bruises, Lisa Van Wagoner learned that even though her son was only 11, she would never be able to keep up with him.
Danny approached his dad at the age of 12 and asked if they could enter a race.
“There was a race out at Five Mile Pass, and we both registered in the beginner divisions,” Danny’s father said. “He took second or third place and had a ball at it, and we decided to start doing them all.”
From there Danny Van Wagoner exploded. Every year he would become more competitive as he would move up divisions from beginner to sport to expert until he finally reached the professional level.
“I’ll never forget that last race of his expert-level season,” his father said. “He won his category by eight minutes. He basically had the fastest non-pro time. It was at the end of that season when he decided that he was going to race pro.”
Lisa Van Wagoner has always been amazed at her son’s dedication to the sport.
“He has a passion for biking; he absolutely loves it,” she said. “He never complains about having to ride; he absolutely thrives on it.”
Danny Van Wagoner raced successfully at the professional level for two seasons before deciding to take a two-year hiatus to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Many athletes struggle when deciding to serve a mission. For Danny Van Wagoner it was never a question.
“It would have been difficult if it wasn’t always the plan,” he said.
He was called to serve in the Oslo Norway Mission.
Once home, he wasted no time getting back on a bike.
Ryan Van Wagoner is Danny’s older brother. He hated the fact that his younger brother would always beat him biking.
“I couldn’t wait for him to get home from his mission out of shape so I could finally beat him,” he said. “But even after he got home I still couldn’t keep up.”
“Taking two years off got me super motivated,” Danny said. “My mission taught me hard work, and now it’s not as much as a mental game as it was before my mission.”
Danny immediately started racing again, and it was as if he never missed a day of training.
“He was home from his mission five days when he entered his first race,” his father said. “I thought he would race in the middle category since he hadn’t been on a bike in two years. He told me no, he would race at the top level.”
Since that first race, Danny has competed and finished in the top five against several expert racers and recently took first place at a race in Colorado.
Danny Van Wagoner’s training schedule consists of a ride every single day of the week except Sunday.
“His discipline is crazy,” his father said. “He never misses … he always gets enough rest, and he is absolutely diligent about how he eats.”
Besides spending 12–15 hours a week on a bike, Danny is a full-time student and works 30–40 hours a week at a local bike shop.
“It’s hard for me to go a day without riding,” Danny said. “It’s my stress relief after a tough day of school or work. I have a tough schedule right now, but I honestly think it would be harder for me if I couldn’t spend time on the bike.”
Brian Terry, a fellow biker, respects Danny.
“His discipline is unmatched,” Terry said. “He always takes his training to the next level, and whenever I ride with him, he pushes me harder than anyone I know.”
When asked what the future will hold, Danny said, “This is going to be one of the last years I can really dedicate myself to biking. I really want this to be my ultimate year.”
Danny is currently training for the national championship race that will be held in Pennsylvania this year.
After placing eighth in his last national championship race, despite being injured, he is eager and excited to see what he can do this year as he is lighter, faster and healthier then ever before.