Forced Out Before Her Time
In 1994 Furtado won her fourth consecutive NORBA national championship. But by 1995 she felt that something was going wrong. She could not understand what was sapping her motivation and desire out on the course. "My training has been lackadaisical," she told Velo News. "I've lacked motivation for it." Yet, in spite of her "off" season (a season which many still considered fantastic), Furtado continued to train in hopes of competing on the 1996 Olympic squad. She qualified for the games in Atlanta that next summer, but finished a disappointing tenth overall.
The fatigue and poor finishes convinced Furtado to see a physician. The initial diagnosis, in February of 1997, was for Lyme disease, but with medication and patience, Furtado was certain that she would be able to return to the sport at full strength. Yet that season she consistently finished lower and lower in the rankings. As she became more exhausted, Furtado realized that something had gone seriously wrong.
In late 1997 she was diagnosed with systemic lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, the disease "causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood and kidneys." Unable to rid herself of the disease (she can only take medications to relieve some of the symptoms), and unable to remain competitive with lupus, Furtado announced in November of 1997 that she was retiring from professional mountain biking.
Critics believed that Furtado was pushed too early from the sport she controlled for the first half of the 1990s. Many believed that, were it not for her illness, she could have been a dominant star for many years to come.
After retiring, Juli Furtado moved from her home in Durango, Colorado, to Santa Cruz, California. Though she has left the competition, she still attends many mountain biking events, often as a commentator out on the trails or as a fundraiser for any of the various philanthropic organizations with which she is associated.
In her prime, Juli Furtado had more endurance and a higher peak heart rate than any of her competitors. Combine that with her drive and determination, and these physical attributes made this naturally talented and truly gifted athlete a standout in the world of professional mountain biking.