Kathy Johnson

Kathy Johnson

1. Why did you get into cycling?
When I was a kid in Florida (in the 60’s & 70’s) my bike took me everywhere. To school/softball/volleyball, fishing in a nearby pond, to the Gulf of Mexico. I begged for a 10-speed and earned half the money for a Sears Free Spirit – what a great name! It was gold and I loved it, until I taco’d the front end in college. It’s replacement was a royal blue Bianchi touring bike, which started a love affair with old Euro-brand bikes.

2. Did you start riding determined to race your bike?
I had zero exposure to bike racing until the faintest of TV coverage of Greg LeMond’s success in the Tour de France. It didn’t even occur to me that he had to have started somewhere. It wasn’t until I started training for sprint triathlons in Clermont, FL, that one of our talented friends invited my husband and I on group rides. I had a road bike with clip-on aerobars so I could ride safely in a group. There still were no pure bike races for me, but the seed was planted in the 1990’s and I’ve been watching le Tour and other races ever since. I was so bad at running I eventually just focused on cycling, but it was a long time before I entered my first bike race in Colorado in 2005.

3. Who helped coach you in cycling along the way?
Oh my goodness, there are dozens of amazing people I could recognize! First, my mom for lessons 1-20 and that Free Spirit. Glen Peroni in Florida for my first group ride lessons and teaching me about heart rate zones. My husband for his observations and mechanical support as I learned to race. Living in Colorado gave me exposure to incredible people, from active to retired professional road and cyclocross racers. Road: Jane Finsterwald, Chip Chilson, Alison Powers, Will Frischkorn. Cyclocross: Tom Clark, Pete Webber & Brandon Dwight and the entire Boulder Cycle Sport crew, Jeremy Powers, Frank Overton, John Verheul, Alison Powers again – whom I got to race on-course with (ok, maybe for just a few yards). None of them were obligated to give me the time of day, yet they all did so much more. Pulling everything together now is my wonderful coach Jennifer Sharp, who has brought me to my best race condition ever.
You might surmise that I have an encyclopedia of cycling tips in my brain. I love this beautiful sport of bike racing even though I’m stuck in a softball player’s body. I make a better coach than a bike racer. Do not let fear or preconceived notions deter you!

4. What inspires you to train harder?
The wind in my face. Just having the freedom to do it and watching other’s improve makes we want to keep reaching. My racing has been on-and-off several times due to life’s challenges and I’m just grateful to race again. My best friend Jodie in Wisconsin (yes, I’ve lived there too) has proven to me that age does not matter. You don’t know how far you can go until you give it your very best, and I’m always wanting to ride faster!
The other thing that inspires me to train is to have the confidence to explore various terrain all over the world. I’ve ridden the storied cobbled climbs of the Tour of Flanders, Girona to the Mediterranean Sea in Spain, and around many parts of France including the famous 21 switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez. The most fabulous thing about being an amateur bike racer is that we can play on the very same routes that the elite professionals do.

5. What are your goals for 2017?
My goal always is to be a good ambassador for this sport. My training goals are to be a better all-around bike racer, and to advance in cyclocross. ‘Cross is the one bike discipline where I can put my other athletic skills to some use and enjoy my natural tendencies to go-hard-for-a-short-period-and-be-done. My goal is to have my knees keep up with me!

6. What quotes/observations/tips do you have to encourage other cyclists to race, not give up, and to train harder?

A) It’s about the journey and the people you meet along the way, not the results. It’s why I chose the muddy, grainy photo from the 2016 Jingle Cross in Iowa. I’m on the right, my teammate Amy Borkowski on the left. My bike and I became one with the earth 5 times in that race. My other teammate, Julie Higgins, picked me and my bike up off the soggy ground when I couldn’t hold myself up after crossing the finish line mid-pack. A few minutes later, there I am, upright, laughing, happy to be alive and in the moment. The mud washes off and the body recovers.
B) Pete Webber’s Six P’s of Prepardness: “Proper preparedness prevents piss-poor performance”.
Hold on, there’s another story, and I promise I’ll skip to the end quickly after this.
In 2011 Pete Webber taught me what it really means to practice those “Six P’s”. I was slogging along, mid-pack or worse, every road race in Colorado, but ever so gradually improving in time-trials, and every race practicing, refining, those Six P’s. Then it was ‘Cross camp with Alison Powers and others, and a final road time-trial which was also a State Championship and UCI Masters World’s qualifier. I had zero expectations; just keep improving and practicing the right things, and I was now using the training plan from Alison. For the first time, it all came together in Colorado and I made my first podium, a bronze medal. Which meant I had just qualified for World Champ’s in Belgium one month away. That’s the “Never give up” part.
Credit again to my husband Chuck when I objected to the travel costs. He said, “This could be a once in a life time experience; we’re going”.
So we did. Especially, I think, for a humble Cat4, it was like being launched into a dream where you get to be a pro for a day (almost). The set-up, the excitement, cyclists from all over the world, townspeople cheering you, the same kind of raised time-trial start ramp that I had watched the pros use in the Tour de France. My own motorbike lead-out!
The race itself, in pouring rain, was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. My motorbike botched a turn ahead of me and I nearly crashed. The water on this twisting course built up, I overshot a curve, and nearly came to a stop again. “Just find your rhythm, and keep going”, I kept telling myself. It was Belgium, I finished on cobblestones, first by three seconds. Amazing.
I said earlier it’s not about the results. The memory would be just as permanently etched into my mind if I hadn’t won a rainbow jersey; I certainly wasn’t expecting to. Others much more qualified than I chose not to go, and I was proud to represent the U.S.
The final tip is this:
You just have to toe the line and learn stuff in every race. No matter what your potential is you’ll benefit from a structured training plan, but at least do some research, watch some races and ask lots of questions. You’ll never, ever know what magic might happen if you don’t first cross the start line. The adventures that ensued because I was brave enough to try have all exceeded anything I could have imagined.
7. Are you married, any children, hobbies, special interests, profession you would like to mention?
My career passion is animal health and I work sales and marketing for a veterinary supply company. Chuck and I have been married 31 years and have lived in four different regions in the U.S. We enjoy traveling, biking, and great food in Europe and other places. I ride gravel and mountain bike just for fun.
8. What’s your Favorite Cycling Quote?
This is YOUR journey and no one else’s; enjoy it.
Kathy Johnson