Courtesy of Lynn Van Lierop
In October, Lynn Van Lierop, 72, won three gold medals in her first-ever cycling competition.

The Riding Reporter: Ballardite develops a taste for bike racing at 72

Interviewee: Lynn Van Lierop

Occupation: Retired

Riding style: Recreational group rides
Her ride: a Rodriguez. "It's a steel frame and carbon components.The steel is just such a great ride. It absorbs the road," she said.

Last month Ballardite Lynn Van Lierop drove down to St. George, Utah to compete in the 2011 Huntsman World Senior Games with a local softball team.

Known as 'The Olympics of Senior Games', the Huntsman World Senior Games draws over 10,000 seniors to compete in a wide range of sports for two weeks.

The softball team performed poorly and returned empty handed yet Lynn return with no less than three gold medals.

"I took my bike with me and decided to compete in the cycling races kind of last minute," she said.

A recreational bike rider and Cascade Bicycle Club-trained bike leader, Lynn had never competed in a cycling race before. "I just decided to give it a shot," she said.

Participating in the recreational division, Lynn signed up for the time trial, hill climb, and road race.

First up was the hill climb, a 5k uphill climb with inclines ranging between 4 and 11 percent.

"The only thing I had to really deal with there was altitude. I was struggling but powered through it," she said. "My goal was to do it in 30 minutes or less and I did it in 26 -something so I did well."

"Well" is an understatement because Lynn's time was the best in her 70 to 74 age group, earning her a gold medal.

Next up was the time trial, a 20k race against the clock through Zion National Park.

Not only did Lynn win another gold medal, she also set a new record for her age group with a time of 44 minutes and 34 seconds.

"I had no aerobars. No special equipment. Just legs and lungs," she said.

While Lynn couldn't compete in the criterium race because it conflicted with a softball game, she finished with the road race. Starting and ending at an altitude of 3,000 feet, the 37k race had a gain and loss of 1,700 feet with up to 11 percent inclines.

"There was a hill, they call it 'The Wall', which starts at 6 percent and goes up to an 11 percent grade right away. People got off and walked but I ride here in Seattle, which is excellent training," she said. "When I get to a hill I say, 'OK, I'll get to that tree' or 'I'll get to that bush'. Then I just keep doing that until I am on the top."

Again, Lynn was the first in her age group to cross the finish line.

This unexpected success has led to a renewed taste for competition.

"I will definitely do it again and I'll probably will look for some other senior games throughout the year," she said. "I'd like to go back to St. George because I learned so much and I would like to actually train for it."

The success may not come as a total surprise however, because Lynn is one active grandma.

A 72-year-old with the body of a 55-year-old, Lynn is a bit of a gym rat who enjoys strength training and yoga. She's also an avid skier with more guts than I--at 24--will ever have. (Black diamond moguls are her thing).

She admits that she may be giving her family more grey hair than her kids have ever given her.

"They tell me to be careful but they know worrying won't do any good," she said. "They know their mom and they are proud of me. They think it's great."

While many people her age are letting themselves go, Lynn's is more active than ever.

"Letting go is a mindset. They think that when you get to a certain age, all these bad things are going to happen to your body and they accept it! I think that's wrong," she said. "Just look at all those people competing at St. George. The oldest person there was 93. A lot of it is the attitude and how you look at life. The people at St. George -- even with their braces, pains and aches, and gimpy walks -- they are still moving."

A motivator for her peers, Lynn stresses the importance of strength training.

You lose a lot of muscle when you get older and it makes you more fragile, she said.

"With strength training, you can get back up when you fall."

Lynn said she's a life learner, constantly learning and researching more information regarding health.

"I'm going to live to 100," she said. "I have already told my kids to be prepared."

Lynn said she's been competitive since she was a young child growing up on a farm in Puyallup Valley, competing with the boys in school.

"We started competing in the fourth grade with track meets. Nobody in the school could beat me," she said. "I was always competitive but I am only ever competing with myself. I just do it for the fun and fitness."

Suffering from back problems due to arthritis stenosis, Lynn said bicycling is a good option for her. She rides an average of 75 to 100 miles per week when the weather is nice and leads bicycling groups for Cascade Bicycle Club.

"Five years ago I just decided I needed to get out and do more. I started riding in the evening and sometimes weekends with Cascade Bicycle Club and that's what got me back into riding. I did the ride leader training so I could give back to the club and I have been riding ever since," she said.

Lynn said when people ask her why she does the things she does like go for a 45 mile ride, ski down ungroomed mountains or compete in the Senior Games, her answer is simple: "Because I can."

The Riding Reporter is a feature series in which BNT's bike-riding reporter, Anne-Marije Rook takes, takes interviewees on a short bike ride around town to talk bicycles, transit, and any other issues that may arise when seeing the city from a two-wheeled point of view. Previous interviewees include Mayor Mike McGinn, ultra-cyclist Chris Ragsdale, bike messenger world champion Craig Etheridge, Chuck Ayer from Cascade Bicycle Club, and more.

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