Nancy Reinisch remembered for team approach in all that she did
A community that stood beside accomplished triathlete, coach and organizer Nancy Reinisch through her decade-long cancer battle is now remembering her many contributions and planning a big May celebration in her memory after her death last week.
Following a second battle with breast cancer, Reinisch — known for her community involvement through a number of organizations, most notably the Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Club — passed away peacefully Feb. 15 in her home, surrounded by family.
Reinisch, 65, recently became the 235th triathlete in the United States to complete 100 career triathlons, allowing her to join heralded company.
Over the years, she also guided blind triathlete, Nancy Stevens, to a World Championship in the Physically Challenged Division in Honolulu in 2005, and represented the United States at the ITU World Championships in the 60-65 division in Chicago in 2015.
Originally diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, Reinisch continued to push through more than 16 chemotherapy treatments, all while remaining committed to training and competing in triathlons.
“It meant so much to her,” said her son Marco Salmen, an accomplished track and field athlete himself, along with older brother Chas, while they were growing up in Glenwood Springs.
“Training and competing gave her life,” Marco said. “Without those, she would have been different. She really doubled down on a couple of events each year. Getting through some of her side effects of her treatments or medications just to make sure she showed up and competed on the day of the event taught us so many lessons over the years.”
Marco recalled that his mom would set a goal, plan for it, adapt the plan if it didn’t quite go right, and always celebrated crossing the finish line.
“She was just so happy doing that. I’m just so happy she was able to continue doing that,” he said.
Being part of a team was important to Reinisch. It meant she was never alone in anything she did, and she always seemed to have a great team around her throughout her time in the Roaring Fork Valley.
going the extra mile
Outside of her commitment to triathlons, Reinisch was the founder of numerous community initiatives, including: Project ChARLIE (Chemical Abuse Resolution Lies in Education), the Advocate Safehouse Project and its long-time fundraiser, the Mother’s Day Mile, and the Valley View Cancer Coffee Walk and Talk Group.
She was the 1995 recipient of the Garfield County Humanitarian Award, and the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association’s Athena Award winner in 2007.
“I hope her legacy is remembered for service to the community,” said Dr. Paul Salmen, Nancy’s husband of 36 years. “Nancy always said that, ‘service is the rent we pay for a place on Earth,’ and she truly lived by that.
“She envisioned so many service projects and just loved to be imaginative about what could be done, and then make it happen, especially for women in this community.
“We’re just so deeply touched by the outpouring of support from the community,” Dr. Salmen said. “We’re just so proud that Nancy had a chance to touch so many lives through her psychotherapy, her triathlon team, and her walk and talk group. She just loved people, and it’s really gratifying for us to see how many people she had an impact on.”
One thing that always stood out with Reinisch was how driven and organized she was, say those who worked alongside her. She had to be, with everything she had on her plate, said Julie Olson, longtime executive director for the Advocate Safehouse Project.
“I can’t imagine a world without her. She is a special woman that had drive,” Olson said. “She made things happen. If Nancy was in charge, she got things done. That’s what I always admired about her.”
Olson met Reinisch in 1995 after joining the administrative team at Advocate Safehouse Project. Reinisch was a founding board member for the organization back in 1987. She left the board in 2008, but continued to organize the marquee fundraising event, the Mother’s Day Mile.
Through the years, Olson and Reinisch teamed up on many projects, highlighted by the Mother’s Day Mile. The popular 1-mile race drew everyone from walkers, moms with strollers, lots of kids and top competitors.
The event, which also featured a silent auction and a slice of pie for each of the participants at the finish line, ran from 2006 to 2016. According to Olson, Reinisch was the driving force behind the race.
“It was certainly her idea,” Olson said. “We thought we wanted to do a fundraiser at the time, and Nancy was a runner and a triathlete even at that time. So, she came up with the idea to celebrate moms in a healthy way.”
At the height of the Mother’s Day Mile, more than 700 people participated in the event.
The Mother’s Day Mile was also part of the Sisterhood Exchange Program in Mfangano Island, Kenya, where sons Chas and Marco Salmen started a nonprofit organization called Organic Health Response.
In Kenya last Sunday, a radio station that Chas and Marco helped create through their nonprofit foundation announced Reinisch’s death, which led to an outpouring of support from halfway across the world.
Perhaps her biggest legacy in recent years was her impact at the Calaway Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital, where she created the Coffee Walk and Talk Group. That group united many people battling cancer in the valley, letting them know they’re not alone in difficult times.
Last summer, she joined a group of fellow cancer patients on a sky-diving expedition in Utah.
“As Nancy began her third act as mentor to Walk and Talk Group 12 years ago, I met her,” Richard Pierce commented on the Post Independent’s Facebook page posting of Reinisch’s obituary.
“She was a free spirit and a guide for many, many of us, and her compassion and guidance live in us and with us in the valley. You are already very missed. My deep regards to Paul, Chas, Marco and their wives and children.”
Being part of that group and letting others know they weren’t alone was very important to Reinisch, said Olson. After her initial diagnosis, she even wrote about her experience in an effort to help others battling cancer.
Again, it comes back to being part of a team. That team mentality and competing daily was a “carrot” for Reinisch, which was a word she used often during her battles to keep her going.
Chas Salmen added that his mother always had little carrots that helped her get through life in general, especially at the end when she made sure she didn’t go anywhere until all of her family was around to see her.
“The definition of winning for Nancy was very different from all of us,” added Olson. “Being first wasn’t necessarily as important as showing up. She was a great coach in that regard.
“She wanted people to show up and enjoy the event, not to show up and break a record, but to really enjoy the event,” Olson added. “Being part of a team was really important for her, and that’s really important for us to remember that we’re not alone. That was important with her walk and talk group, too.”
Arguably Reinisch’s biggest achievement was completing her 100th triathlon last July, racing as part of the Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team for one of the final times.
That 100th finish put her in rarified air with 234 other triathletes as the only ones to complete 100 in their lives. Even during the leadup to her milestone, Reinisch was committed to helping others in need, raising funds for the Valley Settlement Project to help those displaced by the Lake Christine Fire in El Jebel last summer.
Always organized and always planning ahead, Reinisch was that way until the very end, helping the family coordinate the arrival of relatives while in hospice care. Planning and following through was at her core.
“The cool thing about her was she was always so organized, but she was also flexible and adaptive,” Chas Salmen said. “She just really enjoyed the process, thinking about it and enjoying the process. Her big thing was always plan B; she always adapted.”
As an athlete, though, Reinisch impacted more women in this community than she’ll ever know, largely through the women’s triathlon team.
Following her retirement last summer from coaching, Reinisch passed off the reins to Carla Westerman and Sharma Phillips. Despite being coaches with Reinisch, the two said that the long-time competitor and coach had such a profound impact on them, not only as competitors, but as women.
“She really made you believe in yourself,” Westerman said. “The thing that kind of sucked me into the team was when Nancy said to me, ‘if not now, when?’
“That’s been our saying. She made triathlon accessible to all walks of women, from all different shapes, sizes, ages, abilities and disabilities. She fostered this environment that made it possible and believable to anybody that had an inkling that it was something that they wanted to do.”
Added an emotional Phillips, “She made everyone believe that doing triathlons wasn’t just about the race and competing, it was about empowering women and showing people that we aren’t done; that was the biggest takeaway that I had from Nancy, and we continue to see that ripple affect in the community.”
The triathlon team members plan to honor Reinisch this season on their official uniforms, with a patch or her initials sewn into the uniform.
A celebration of Reinisch’s life is being planned for May 11 at the Orchard Center in Carbondale. And, a reboot of the Mother’s Day Mile is in the works for May 12 — Mother’s Day — in Reinisch’s memory.