I first met Wendy Skean at the 2010 Breck Epic in Breckenridge, Colorado. I was there working with Mike McCormick, race promoter extraordinaire. My job was to wrangle the bloggers and get information out to the media everyday, no small task for a 6 day stage race.
I spent the week watching athletes attack the miles of mountain trails topping out at 12,500 feet, day after day. I watched, wrote, and wondered if I could ever finish a race like this. If you haven’t spent time in Breckenridge, it’s quite the experience, beautiful mountains with amazing riding. But factor in the altitude and endurance mountain biking takes on a new meaning. I watched as other women did it, they seemed normal, not so super human as I had expected, still I wondered… could I do that? This question still remains, but I know one thing is for sure… Wendy Skean did it… at the age of 65… and again at 66.
I finally caught up with Wendy this week in an effort to learn her secrets. I was expecting nothing short of a fountain of youth hidden deep in the basement of her California home. I imagined her drinking from it daily, going to great lengths to transport this inspirational water to each and every race, being sure to pack enough yet cautious not to seem too fanatical. No one must know about the secret fountain of youth.
Getting Wendy on the phone, anxious to ask the question that haunted me for months, wondering if she would let the secret slip… I jumped right in, “how do you do it?”
Wendy’s answer seems simple… “Well, I just keep going. Pedal, pedal, pedal” she says. “It is just like life, you just keep going to get where you want to go, one lap a time or one section at a time. You have to just keep moving forward. My husband says I get in the “24 hour zone”.”
From Moab to Leadville, Wendy has been racing since 1985. When Wendy was 51, she placed third in the Solo Open Women’s category in her first 24 hour race. She has raced Leadville 5 times. Wendy holds the title of the only woman over 60 to finish in under 12 hours. Just like wine, Wendy keeps getting better with age, completing Leadville in 11:24 at 61, over an hour faster than she did at 52.
Wendy gives a lot of credit to her husband and two sons who got her in to mountain biking. “They are great coaches, very positive.” She often races on teams with her family. Wendy does most of her training near her home in Southern California and attributes her consistant improvement to working with coach Kristen Dieffenbach of Peaks Coaching Group. “I got a coach 8 years ago when I wanted to finish Leadville at 60 and wasn’t sure I would be able to. I believe a coach helps keep me focused on the proper training as well as mental attitude. On those days I really would rather not ride, having someone I don’t want to tell I didn’t ride gives that little push to get out the door. Kristen knows how hard to push and when to back off. I have been able to have continual growth with her guidance.”
Full of great advice, Wendy also praises her sponsor Hammer Nutrition. “I believe in their products. You must have proper food while riding and for recovery. You pay for it if you don’t replenish.” Eating well all the time is also paramount. “I have a salad with lunch and dinner everyday and lots of protein” she says. “It keeps me healthy, I don’t get sick. My mom turns 100 this year.” Wendy shares her use of Hammer Nutrition products on her website along with a sweet little incentive to try it yourself.
I asked Wendy how cycling has impacted other aspects of her life. “I ride my bike to work at least once a week, the kids love seeing my bicycle in the classroom.” Teaching first grade for the last 29 years, Wendy said that although she doesn’t mention her racing much at school several students have been inspired to take their riding to the next level and have had their training wheels removed.
When asked how her riding has changed, Wendy was quick to thank her other sponsor Siren Bicycles, seeing a vast improvement in her riding since switching to a custom 29er. The bigger wheels give her “more confidence.”
“It makes everything smaller. My Siren 29er handles better, even in sand pits, I flew through them!” Recently, Wendy also started riding a single speed 29er. This has helped with climbing out of the saddle. “You don’t have a choice, you either get off and walk or stand up and pedal.”
Its never too late to change your technique either, as Wendy learned. “I took a clinic in June, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It raised the level of my riding immensely. I use to look down at the trail.” Despite years of knowing she needed to work on this, the clinic helped Wendy to finally focus on the trail ahead. She said the Better Ride Clinic from Gene Hamilton was a positive experience, learning from an expert and not just a friend or family member telling you what to do.
Wendy also commented on how racing has changed. “Promoters are starting to catch on and create more age groups and categories for women. We need to get more women out there!”
“While I consider racing to be important I think that women can gain the most by riding for pleasure. Riding the trails and soaking in nature simply adds to the quality of life.” To get started, Wendy suggests “find a good riding partner, one that is encouraging. And ride on trails that are FUN!” She continues “I just wish more women would try it and believe that they can do it. There is still a lack of women at races and out riding. Its all about believing in yourself and your equipment.”
And what about Wendy’s future plans for mountain biking? This year Wendy wants to do some mountain bike touring along with a few races. She plans to return to Leadville when she turns 70, along with the Breck Epic after she retires since the race dates conflict with her school schedule.
After an hour of uplifting, empowering encouragement from Wendy there is still no mention of a secret fountain of youth. Instead, she shares with me the story of a 100 year old man who rides his bike 17 miles up hill everyday. “That’s what I want to be doing (at 100).” She says. “If you do it everyday, why can’t you just keep doing it?”
Follow Wendy and her adventures on wendyskean.com.