Be Strong. Be Courageous.
By Christina Freeman
Heather Gollnick holds the record for most wins of any current female triathlon or Ironman competitor. Photo courtesy Jay Kinghorn, Power Ice.
By Deborah Olsen
Steamboat Springs, CO - Heather Gollnick eats chocolate.
That’s one of the first questions people ask the five-time Ironman champion, who lives with her family in Steamboat Springs. “I do have a really strict diet,” Gollnick says, “but yes, I do eat chocolate.”
Some days it seems like everyone wants to know the secret behind this champion who has logged the most wins of any current female triathlon or Ironman endurance competitor, winning more than 200 multi-sport events throughout her career. People stop her on the street to ask for advice — and an autograph. Through her business, IronEdge Coaching, Gollnick shares her knowledge not only with Steamboat’s uber-athletes, but also with people who just want to get in shape or try a new sport.
“So many people are fearful of even trying,” Gollnick says. She trains all levels of athletes, as well as meeting with folks who are simply looking for direction as it relates to their health and fitness.
Physical training is essential for competitive success, but even more important is mental preparation, Gollnick says. “Forty percent is physical and 60 percent is mental. How you handle it when something goes wrong, how mentally strong you are, how well you can control the butterflies at the start of a race.”
Gollnick’s first book, “Triathlon E.Q.,” is due out this summer. Co-authored by Dr. Izzy Justice, it is written for competitors and includes exercises to sharpen mental readiness.
Also this summer, Gollnick is competing with three other Colorado women in the Race Across America. Billed as the “world’s toughest bike race,” the 3,000 mile course begins in Oceanside, Calif., and ends in Annapolis, Md. The team hopes to break the women’s four-person record of six days, 12 hours and 28 minutes, set in 1996.
Gollnick turned to endurance events after giving birth to one-pound twins, Joshua and Jordan, in 1996. They beat the odds to survive after a gestation period of only 24 weeks and 3 days. “They’re my little miracles,” she says.
That experience reinforced the belief of Heather and her husband, Todd, that facing challenges builds endurance. In 2002, when she competed in her first Ironman in Wisconsin, she was uncertain whether she had the stamina to complete a 26-mile run after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles. Then she saw her daughter cheering for her mom on the sidelines, herself struggling to overcome dire warnings that with cerebral palsy she would likely never walk. Gollnick won the race.
Today, at 16, Jordan walks with canes and excels in school, while Joshua is a member of the tennis team. Their little brother, Zach, is a gymnast and student at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
The Gollnicks moved to Steamboat from Florida in December. They felt an immediate kinship with Pastor Troy Lewis of the Steamboat Christian Center “We asked what we could bring to the church,” Todd recalls. “Troy wanted an outreach program, and since we do event planning through our business, Get Fit Family Racing, we thought that was an area where we could help.”
As part of the church’s Serve1’s outreach, and this year’s emphasis this summer on healthy living, Get Fit Family Racing is organizing a “try-athlon” at Old Town Hot Springs on Saturday, June 29. The idea is not only to attract competitive athletes, but also to encourage adults and children to come out for fun. “It’s a day for kids and families to give it a try,” Heather explains. Beginners may swim only a few laps, then ride a short distance and run or walk a couple blocks. Distances increase with experience. Teams can compete, with one person swimming, the next biking and the third running.
Heather will be conducting free training sessions following services on Sundays at the Christian Center, leading up to the event. Training, coaching racing across America, writing a book, raising her family and organizing a triathlon: and that’s just this summer.
“She amazes me year after year,” says Todd Gollnick. “I don’t know how she does it.”
Try your first tri, or step up your training regime – advice for every stage
For beginners, Gollnick
says “it's all about getting active and accomplishing something new.”
Swim: Triathlons that use a pool instead of open water are a great way to start. Use fins or a noodle, touch the bottom if you need, or rest at the wall.
Bike: Borrow a bike from a friend or local bike shop.
Run: You can walk, jog, run or a combination of them.
Achieve a new goal: Join with two other friends and form a relay, each doing a sport for the June Triathlon
For more advanced triathletes, Gollnick offers everyday training ideas – and a reminder that if you do get an injury, seek professional advice immediately.
Swim: Most advanced races are in lakes or longer distances. Join the Old Town Hot Springs Masters program for camaraderie and a push. Practice in open water as often as possible
Bike: Ride up Rabbit Ears to build strength and confidence.
Run: Build the volume of your runs (adding no more than 10 percent each week to avoid injury). Then add speed work and tempo runs.