We’re celebrating Women in Sports with stories from badass athletes and powerful voices in the endurance community. Jenn Dice is both. The 14-time Leadville Trail 100 MTB competitor finished her first race when female participation was exceptionally low, and went on to become a fearless advocate for all forms of cycling as the VP of Business Network and Government Affairs for PeopleForBikes.
This is her story.
When I finished my first Leadville Trail 100 MTB race in the year 2000, I remember the crowds going wild, Ken and Merilee (the race Founders) cheering, and, in my delusion, I think the Rocky theme was playing as I hit the red carpet and crossed the finish line.
In reality, the photo of my finish tells all—it was almost dark from the heavy storm, most of the volunteers and spectators had gone home, and I look exhausted. Ken was right behind me in his famous flaming black truck following me to the finish (he had driven in the storm to find the last few racers).
That first race was a defining moment in my life, to the point that I can easily gloss over the negative moments: five hours of snow and freezing rain, 13+ hours on the bike, a flooded and muddy race course, a non-shifting derailleur, and two hours in the medical tent with hypothermia.
All that mattered then, and still matters today, is that I finished the 104-mile course. Roughly 800 people lined up that day and less than half finished. The weather was truly awful but it never occurred to me that I could quit. The race, and all that comes with preparing for it, has rewarded me in immeasurable ways. I’ve experienced lasting friendships, the kindness of strangers, the Leadville Family, and the process of testing yourself beyond what you think you can do. All of it has made me stronger, both personally and professionally.
Seventeen years later, there is no place I would rather be on the second Saturday in August than Leadville, Colorado. I have become an evangelical ambassador for the Leadville Race Series and Leadville Trail 100 MTB, encouraging friends from around the world to line up on race day. I’ve gone 14 times as a racer and, for the last three years, as crew. When you are a weekend warrior-type rider like me (my best time was 10:35) it is more about the journey than hardcore racing. I cheer for friends, try to make strangers laugh, and have two sections of the course, embarrassingly, where I always make a friend—my way of taking my mind off the monotony and pain.
Like everyone, I’ve had my fair share of unfortunate incidents on this ride. One year, my rear cables severed and I couldn’t shift for the last 30 miles. During another race, my rear brake went out for 20. Once I broke my elbow at Mile 8 when another racer clipped my handlebars. But there are also the life-changing moments that have made me who I am today. I met my husband in the registration line. I consoled a racer who had recently lost his dad and was riding in his honor. Every year, I watch countless acts of kindness and camaraderie as bands of racers work together to get their best times and finish one of the hardest mountain bike races in the world. What starts as a test of an individual’s grit and strength often becomes a group accomplishment.
Like the hundreds of other racers with demanding jobs, I juggle training with work, family and heavy travel. I personify the label “weekend warrior” in trying to cram for the Leadville test by training mostly on weekends with only a few rides mid-week. For years, I would travel to Leadville to train with friends. Life was grand – we would spend all day riding in the breathtaking beauty that is Lake County, finish with a tailgate of beers, sea salt kettle chips and pizza, and watch the sun set over Twin Lakes. To this day, these are some of the best memories in my life.
The connection between the ride and my daily grind is, of course, bikes. My day job for the last 15 years has been bicycle advocacy: lobbying for more bike infrastructure, funding and access, both on road and off. I spent 11 years at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and have been working with PeopleForBikes for the last four.
Bike advocacy is difficult work—I spend my days trying to persuade key decision-makers at the federal, state and local levels to invest in and build all types of bike infrastructure while protecting access to trails. For every win, there are naysayers and setbacks. But behind every trail, protected bike lane or bike park, there are years of hard work by local advocates.
One benefit of riding Leadville has been the opportunity to use my training rides as brainstorm sessions. I love riding and thinking about how to tackle tough bike access issues and create new and effective programs. I’m not the only person for whom bike rides are great for active meditation; the ideas that come to me on a bike have led to programs and tactics I’ve implemented professionally.
What I’ve come to understand from both my rides at Leadville and my work in bike advocacy is that the bike can open minds and doors at all levels. You can tell someone over and over how great riding is, but actually get them on a bike and they understand immediately. That’s why we have hosted rides for land managers, planners, governors, mayors, members of congress and even a president. That’s why we continue to tap into the personal stories of the 1.2 million PeopleForBikes grassroots members who take action to influence policy for better biking across America. I work so every rider can find their personal Leadville.
Friends who know of my profound love for all things Leadville often ask me which year is my favorite. Was it my personal best time? The time I hit 1,000 total miles and got the big belt buckle? The year I met my husband? The year Dave Wiens beat Floyd Landis, or the year Dave beat Lance Armstrong? I always answer that my best year was the worst year back in 2000 because it opened my eyes to the power of the bike, and the power in me to Dig Deep and overcome pain and self-doubt. That was the year I learned that I could take what I was doing on the bike and apply it to my personal and work life. Whenever I feel challenged professionally, whether there’s an attack on bike funding or a trail is at risk of closing, I tap into that same power.
I will be back at Leadville again in 2017 for the 18th year in a row, crewing for family and friends and hosting a spectacular post-race party. There is no place I would rather be than helping others cross the finish line and get a little taste of what I know makes Leadville so rewarding. And when the race is over, I’ll take that inspiration and get back to work making similar amazing bike riding experiences available to everyone.
If you believe in the beauty of biking, join millions of like-minded cyclists in the movement for better biking and become a member of PeopleForBikes.
Jenn Dice — PeopleForBikes Vice President Business Network + Government Affairs
PeopleForBikes has 1.2 million members united for better biking in America. Jenn Dice and her team work to make sure elected officials at all levels of government know the benefits of bicycling and the economic development it brings to local communities. Before PeopleForBikes Jenn worked as the chief lobbyist for the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and directed their national and local public lands initiatives. In 2011, Jenn was recognized by Outside Magazine’s “power list” of the top 25 people that influence the world outside and was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 2014. She has also hiked up and mountain biked down Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, twice.