Henn finds the fast track
Downhill mountain biking sends Cranberry resident to world events
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Eagle Staff Writer
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July 12, 2017
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Cranberry Township resident and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic graduate Josh Henn is in Europe competing in a pair of Union Cycliste Internationale World Cup events. Henn, 18, is classified as a Junior Expert, the highest level attainable by someone his age.

La MASSANA, Andorra — Heading down a mountain on a bike at high speeds may not seem like fun to most people.

But it suits Josh Henn just fine.

The Cranberry Township resident is a first-year member of the Defiant Racing team and recently competed in a pair of Union Cycliste Internationale World Cup events in Europe, one in Andorra and another in Switzerland.

“I turned 18 (July 3),” said Henn. “It’s cool to be able to celebrate your (birthday) with some of your best friends halfway across the world.”

Henn is currently classified as a Junior Expert, the highest level attainable by someone his age. He is ranked sixth in the U.S. out of over 100 competitors in his division.

Henn, who recently graduated from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, used to ride dirt bikes with his friends.

“I had a few injuries and my parents said, ‘No more of that,’” he said. “I got involved in downhill at Seven Springs when I was 12 and I fell in love with it after my first day on a proper bike. There was just something about going downhill as fast as I could with all my friends.”

Henn competed in a number of events after he reached his teenage years, but it was last year when he reached a turning point in the sport, as his goals in downhill mountain biking advanced.

“I competed in an event in the Catskill Mountains and placed fourth out of 21 kids,” said Henn. “It’s my best finish in the national (Gravity Racing Tour 18-under) series to date. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is something else.’”

Henn also finished fifth at a GRT series event in West Virginia last year and eighth in Vermont. Those efforts helped him finish ninth in the overall standings. He earned his spot with Defiant Racing in January.

The team consists of eight members, ranging in age from 13 to 30-plus.

“They were looking for guys who were 16 or 17-years old and it came down to my results from last year,” Henn said. “My teammates are from all over the U.S. They’re so fast and they make me better. The friendships I’ve made, I don’t know where I’d be without them. It’s been like a second family for me.”

Henn hopes to turn pro next year.

“Basically, I need results that show the officials at (USA Cycling) that I can be competitive in the Pro class,” he said. “So my results this year at the (GRT events) will determine whether or not I will be able to move to pro.

“Since the beginning of this season, I haven’t had the results I wanted,” he added. “You finish a few seconds back and that can get you down, but teammates are there to pick you up.”

Henn competed in two GRT events during this past school year. Both were held on weekends. He also raced in the U.S. Open in New Jersey on Memorial Day, placing sixth in the junior class out of over 75 participants.

“The schedule was great because it didn’t interfere with school,” said Henn. “I did have to miss two World Cup races to take part in graduation, but that was something I wanted to do. Being able to take part in graduation with my friends at North Catholic, it’s something I’ll always remember.”

When he’s not competing, Henn practices at North Park and Seven Springs, regardless of weather.

“I usually train two or three times a week. We race in all conditions, so training in all conditions is key. I also spend a few days every week in the gym, at either the YMCA or at home.”

Henn hasn’t been able to stay completely injury-free. He sprained his wrist at a GRT event in Tennessee and said, “That held me back a bit, but this sport takes such a toll on your body. Fortunately, I haven’t sustained any significant injuries.”

The events Henn has taken part in this year lasted from between two- to six-minutes. They require unwavering concentration.

“These are very intense races, where you are traveling through rock sections and dropping off 10- to 12-foot drops on the bike. At the race in Andorra, there was a 50-plus foot jump.”

Though he is determined to succeed at his chosen sport, Henn is ready and willing to continue his education.

“I’m attending Saint Vincent College (in Latrobe) this fall,” he said. “I have that set as my primary plan because you never know what the upcoming season will bring. I don’t want to waste any time getting my degree and joining the work force, just in case cycling doesn’t work out.”