Inspiring Mountain Biking Students from 20 Years of Coaching, Part 1
As you can imagine in my 20 years of coaching mountain bike skills I have had a lot of interesting and inspiring people take my camps. Some of these people have gone on to become famous racers, some legends in the industry (more about them in Part 2) but many of the most interesting stories come from my passionate students who simply love riding bikes.
They say that with age comes wisdom and I have definitely learned a lot from some of my oldest students. While most people aged 50 plus are retiring from sports or watching their performance in their sport/s of choice decline many of my “older students” have inspired me to keep learning, improving and getting better for the rest of my life!
My first older student was a 55-year-old grandmother who had learned to ride a bike that year! She never had a bike until she was 55, impossible for me to even imagine how scary and intimidating it must have been for her. Did I mention she had four fused vertebrae?! She said her friends thought she was crazy and that they just sat home and watched TV most of the time. I remember telling her that her friends were the crazy ones, she was smart enough to continue learning, growing and exploring. I will never forget the smile on her face when she did her first wheelie! (unfortunately, I did forget her name, it was 19 years ago!)
Two other “older students” I coached were Nancy Harris (aka Den Mom) and her husband Roger Gutierrez. Nancy and her husband Roger took my first ever Bootleg Canyon Downhill Camp (with Luna Chick Marla Streb as my guest coach) in 2005. Nancy had grown up riding motorcycles and now both of them were into downhill mountain bike racing. While her heart was willing Nancy’s knees were failing her, years of dirt bike riding had left her knees not functioning too well.
Nancy taught me to be tough! Seeing her grimace in pain but keep riding hard made a big impression on me. If she could ride in that pain I could push her bike (and my bike) up the trail to the top during that camp as her knees were really hurting in the cold (yes, it snowed in Las Vegas that weekend!). She has gone on to have both knees replaced, did her painful rehab and his still riding and racing downhill 14 years later! Roger is still riding and racing too, what an amazing couple!
I once coached a 67-year-old student in Fruita who rode up and over this rock on Prime Cut in Fruita (a student is riding down in this photo):
He did it with ease (using the manual and weight shift from this article: http://betterride.net/blog/2018/mtb-manual-over-obstacles-w-overlocked-move-video-tutorial/ ). That isn’t the coolest part though. I was coaching in Fruita three years later and this elderly gentleman walked up to me and he said, “Gene, I don’t know if you remember me but I took a camp from you three years ago and you said that I was the oldest rider you ever saw go up the rock on Prime Cut”. I excitedly replied, “yeah, I remember you, you were 67!” He then, very nonchalantly said, “I just wanted to tell you, I did it again yesterday, thanks for your coaching.” He went up that rock at 70! Wow!
My oldest student so far has been Fred Schmid who was 78 when he took a camp from me in Dallas, Texas eight years ago. Now that alone is impressive, mountain biking at 78! But wait, there’s more, he did the Leadville 100 when he was 80 and finished in under 12 hours earning him the coveted Leadville 100 belt buckle! Fred started mountain biking in his 70’s after being a rancher in Waco, Texas. Last I heard from him he was doing the Telluride 100 at 83 years of age! If that doesn’t inspire you nothing will!
I’m sure I have left a few older riders that I have coached but don’t think you didn’t inspire me too! Here’s to all the older riders out there inspiring the youngun’s that they don’t have to grow old! Thanks for the inspiration!