Endurance MTB pro Monique ‘Pua’ Parmalee killed by motorcyclist
Parmalee—best known as "Pua Mata" on the U.S. MTB scene—was 42 years old when she was struck and killed by a motorist on Wednesday.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Retired endurance mountain bike pro Monique “Pua” Parmalee (née Mata) was struck and killed by a motorcyclist while riding her bicycle near her home in Yucaipa, California on Wednesday, January 25. The Yucapia Police Department posted an update on Wednesday about a fatal collision involving a cyclist and motorcyclist on Wildwood Canyon Road on the eastern edge of town. Parmalee’s family later confirmed to VeloNews that she was killed in the collision.
“It is with great sadness to announce the passing of Monique “Pua” Parmalee (nee Mata), professional cyclist, seven-time marathon mountain bike national champion,” read a statement from her family.
VeloNews has requested additional details of the collision from law enforcement, and will update this story if and when the details are released.
Parmalee was 42 years old at the time of her death. She is survived by her husband, Chris, and two sons, ages six and four.
A native of Oahu, Hawaii, Monique Parmalee rose to prominence in the U.S. mountain bike scene in the early 2000s as a top cross-country rider on the National Mountain Bike Series (NMBS) circuit. A tenacious and focused racer, Parmalee was known best as both Monique Sawicki and Pua Mata. She excelled at cross-country races that stretched beyond the typical hour-and-a-half duration, and began winning ultra-endurance and Marathon-length MTB events on the budding U.S. circuit. Parmalee also blossomed into one of the top 24-Hour solo MTB racers on the planet.
She claimed three U.S. titles in 24-Hour solo racing and seven national Marathon MTB titles. In 2009 Parmalee finished seventh place at the UCI Marathon MTB World Championships. Parmalee also won Costa Rica’s grueling La Ruta de los Conquistadores mountain bike race in 2012 and 2013, and finished second at the U.S. cross-country mountain bike national championships in 2013.
“She was a fierce and ferocious competitor,” longtime friend Joy McCullough told Outside. “People talk about natural athletes—those one-in-a-million athletes who have a huge engine and focus—and that was Monique.”
McCullough said Parmalee had brought her intensity and competitive spirit to her new career, which was running an at-home daycare business.
In 2011 Parmalee joined the Sho-Air—Specialized pro mountain bike team, which was managed at the time by Ty Kady. In a phone call, Kady said Parmalee had two distinct personalities on and off the bike.
“She was tenacious and stubborn when it came to racing—just absolutely dedicated and mentally so tough,” Kady said. “Off the bike she was back and kind of quiet, but really kindhearted and compassionate. She could flip the switch when she got into race mode.”
In 2012 Parmalee transitioned from ultra-distance cycling back to traditional cross-country racing in hopes of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. She and Kady traveled the U.S. mountain bike circuit together as she pursued the overall points title for the USA Cycling Pro Mountain Bike Cross-country Tour—the premiere professional circuit for XC racing. Parmalee eventually won the series title. Kady remembers the time they spent off the bike just as well as her victories on it.
“She loved to cook for the whole team,” Kady said. “Every day we’d go soak our legs in the creek together after a ride. Those are the moments with her I’ll remember the most.”
Jeremiah Bishop, one of Parmalee’s Sho-Air teammates, told Outside that she helped him maintain a healthy perspective on racing when he would overanalyze the sport.
“She would gladly bust my chops for being too obsessed with details, and remind me it’s really just about not holding anything back on the course,” Bishop said. “Pua left her mark on all of us—the riders, fans, and kids who saw her in her element knew she was a positive force in this world. My thoughts are with her family.”
Parmalee faced plenty of setbacks in her career, including her near miss at qualifying for the U.S. Olympic mountain bike team in 2012—compatriot Georgia Gould beat her out for a spot and earned a bronze medal at the London Games. Around that time Parmalee also crashed and suffered a broken ankle, and spent months rehabilitating the injury. Adam Pulford, her coach at the time, moved to Yucaipa to help her bounce back from the injury. Pulford said Parmalee could barely walk when she decided to attempt her first ride back.
“I had to hold her arm so she could clip into the bike, and we went to climb her favorite hill,” Pulford told Outside. The two decided to just ride the climb and avoid using her power meter. “When we reached the top I had to put my bike down and go over to Pua so she could grab my arm and gently unclip. We both started crying tears of joy, because it had been months since she climbed a hill outside, and this could have been a season-ending or career-ending injury.”
Pulford said Parmalee actually improved after the injury, because the time off simply boosted her motivation to race again.
“I had never seen her climb as fast as she did after that injury, but that was Pua,” he said. “Don’t stand in the way of something she wants.”
Parmalee stood out in the mountain-bike crowd as a tenacious athlete, and also because of her Polynesian heritage. Pro gravel racer Amanda Nauman, who was coming up in the SoCal racing scene in 2013, said Parmalee’s success gave her inspiration. Nauman, who is Asian American, said she recently saw Parmalee at a bicycle race in Mammoth, California, and told her how important she had been to her as a budding cyclist.
“I went up to her and told her how much of an inspiration she was to me when I started MTB racing—It was 2013 and she was a star,” Nauman said. “Not only that, but she didn’t look like every other bike racer. She looked more like me, and that was a big deal for me coming into the sport then.”
Parmalee retired from cycling in 2015, but she continued to stay involved in the sport as a mentor and coach. Jeana Miller, a longtime friend and cyclist, said she and Parmalee operated a kids cycling camp and coaching group in Orange County for several years. Miller, an endurance coach with Carmichael Training Systems, said Parmalee took great passion in working with novice cyclists.
“I work with athletes of all levels, and the pro athletes don’t always go back to their roots the way she did,” Miller said. “No matter how hard [Parmalee] was crushing us on the bike, you knew she was going to come back and ride with the person at the back and motivate them to get to the top.”
Miller and Parmalee recently organized a beginner cycling camp for the Los Angeles-based group Girlz Gone Riding, and the experience stoked Parmalee’s desire to someday start her own cycling camps for beginners.
“Most of the cyclists we were working with started later in life, and most weren’t super duper skilled, but she didn’t care—she wanted to share that passion and flame that was alive in her,” Miller said.
Kady said he learned of Parmalee’s death early Friday morning and was shocked and “crushed” by the news. He said the two saw each other at cycling events intermittently after he left the team to pursue other professional goals, and that Parmalee remained a treasured friend.
“Call those people up you’ve been thinking about and tell them you love them,” Kady said. “I thought about calling her 100 times over the last few years and didn’t.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Chris Parmalee and the boys through this extremely difficult period.