Amanda Nauman, or Amanda Panda as she's colloquially known in the cycling world, was a name I first heard back in 2016 at the Belgian Waffle Ride in San Diego.
That year, Amanda took top honors in the egregiously arduous event that follows an anfractuous quest through 140+ miles of San Diego County, usually fairly evenly split between gravel roads, single-track, and pavement. To simply finish the event will have you lauded, but to win is truly a sign of a precocious athlete.
Fast forward 6 years, and I find myself driving toward Laguna Beach, camera in hand, to ride with Ms. Panda herself at the bequest of Kali Protectives, one of Amanda's sponsors, who was releasing a new gravel-focused helmet. The job is innocuously simple: capture Amanda in her element, on her backyard trails. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't somewhat nervous.
As I pull up, Amanda is already there in her modest, but awesome, race Sprinter van she's just driven back from altitude in Mammoth to prepare for the Unbound Gravel XL, a race more than twice the distance of the race that solidified my admiration for her in the first place.
I go and introduce myself, finding a wonderfully gregarious individual, a nice contrast to the aged apathy that sometimes plagues professional athletes. We engage in the usual small talk: mutual friends in the industry, races we've technically done "together", her real job as an Engineer (and the subsequent high level of secondary education she needed for that job), promulgating her own gravel race, The Mammoth Tuff, and of course, her upcoming plans for racing.
As we head through a sinuous network of trails around the Laguna Hills, Amanda's comfort and professionalism on a bike is immediately recognizable. "Do you want me to smile, or do you want resting bitch face?", she yells out to me as a perch just ahead of her for a shot. I laugh, and simply tell her to do whatever comes naturally, which she does with exuberant ease and fluidity, somewhere between a genuine smile, and yes, a slight tone of "resting bitch face" that comes with a hyper-focused individual such as Amanda. Kali is proud to have individuals like Amanda as part of the #kalikrew.
Want to keep up with Amanda and her adventures? Follow her Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/amanda_panda.