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Still playing hard

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post IndependentHelen McQueeney teaches a recent fitness class at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – For Helen McQueeney, age isn’t an excuse to slow down.

“Age doesn’t have to do with years,” the 60-year-old Roaring Fork Valley resident explained. “It has to do with how you spend those years. You’ve just got to keep playing harder and harder every year.”

And McQueeney, a fitness instructor and accomplished endurance athlete, plays hard.



Triathlons, trail runs, foot races and snowshoe races are staples of the Texas native’s weekends.

McQueeney’s weekdays are filled with exercise, which comes in the form of bike rides, runs and the fitness classes she teaches at the Glenwood Springs Community Center and elsewhere.



Some call it training. McQueeney calls it play.

And McQueeney is still very fast. She can’t think of a good reason to slow down.

“I kind of think that’s an attitude thing,” she said. “I think people slow down because they think they’re supposed to.”

McQueeney, who grew up in San Antonio and swam in college at the University of Texas, says triathlons are her favorite form of competition. Trail running is a close second.

At this year’s Tri-Glenwood Triathlon, held on Sept. 11, McQueeney finished sixth overall. Surrounding her in the standings were much younger women.

But age is merely a number to McQueeney, whose love affair with triathlons began some 15 years ago when her friend Charlie Wertheim urged her to give the Tri-Glenwood a go.

“He used to work for the Forest Service,” she recalled. “It was in the same building my husband and I worked. We worked for Aspen Ski Tours. He talked three of us from Aspen Ski Tours into doing the Tri-Glenwood.”

Triathlons quickly became McQueeney’s “thing.” She hasn’t missed a Tri-Glenwood since, not even in 2007 when a broken leg kept her from entering the event as an individual. She still swam as part of a relay team.

“I had a freak accident at my house,” McQueeney said. “I fell into a crawl space and just broke the heck out of my tibia and fibula.”

Not one to sit idle, it didn’t take long after her June accident for her to get back on her feet.

“I was back running in October,” McQueeney relayed. “I was cycling in August and swimming before that. Swimming was the first thing. I jumped in right after by sutures were healed. That’s all I could do.”

Once healed, it was back to the triathlon grind for McQueeney.

“She’s always out there doing something,” said Heidi Vosbeck, McQueeney’s good friend and training partner. “She’s not sitting on the couch.”

And that’s probably because McQueeney genuinely enjoys being outdoors and being engaged in physical activity.

“She likes to go out and have fun,” Vosbeck said. “It’s kind of funny. We’ve talked about this. She’ll have goals and stuff, but it won’t be like she has to go out and run 10 miles a day. It’s more, ‘Let’s go out for a run. We’ll take the dogs.’ Her training, I feel, is more like going out and having fun.”

Vosbeck quite often carpools to various competitions with McQueeney. The two joke their dogs are boyfriend and girlfriend. Vosbeck has a female black lab named Latte and McQueeney a male border collie named Doogie.

“They’re good buds,” Vosbeck joked. “They’re good running partners, too.”

Partners in fitness, just like McQueeney and Vosbeck.

And fitness has long been central in McQueeney’s life, though the triathlon bug didn’t bite until relatively late in life. Given her swimming background and a deep affinity for distance running, why did it take McQueeney until her mid-40s to complete a triathlon?

“I used to look at the results in the paper and think, ‘God, I can’t do that. I can’t do three sports all at once. That’s crazy,'” she said. “Then Charlie talked us into doing it that year. After the triathlon, I thought, ‘What’s the fuss?’

“That’s why it took me so long. I’m not really a pioneer.”

Though she didn’t blaze any trails on her path to triathlon success, McQueeney’s been borderline dominant as a competitor.

And she seems to keep getting better.

A whirlwind summer for McQueeney featured all three Boulder Triathlon Series races, the Aspen Triathlon, the Bolder Boulder, several trail races and, of course, Tri-Glenwood.

Her most memorable 2011 race might have been the Vasque Golden Leaf Half Marathon in Aspen.

“I won my age group by 20 minutes and beat all the guys by 15 minutes,” McQueeney said with a grin and a chuckle. “That was my favorite day in the whole world, beating the guys.”

And that’s just scratching the surface. Most every weekend, McQueeney was off competing in some sort of race.

She’s taking some time off now.

“I’m just mountain biking and training-slash-playing,” she joked.

Winter races are next, including the Day of Infamy Snowshoe Race at Sunlight in December and Aspen’s uphill series.

McQueeney will also put in plenty of days on the slopes. She snowboards and skis. Her son, Paul, got her into snowboarding about 10 years ago.

McQueeney squeezed in more than 100 days on local mountains last year.

“A friend and I were having a competition,” she shared. “It was over 100 days. That included cross-country skiing. I think it was about 120 days.”

Skiing is what brought McQueeney to the valley back in 1980.

“I just moved here out of the blue,” she said. “I loved skiing and I lived in Texas. That’s not a very good place to be when you love skiing, so I thought, ‘I’m going to pick up and move. I don’t have any ties here.'”

Two years later, McQueeney met her husband-to-be, George, and the two have been here ever since. They currently live just south of Glenwood, and they don’t plan on leaving any time soon.

Nor does McQueeney plan on slowing down any time in the near future. And why should she?

“In the Bolder Boulder last year, I did 48 and change and I won my age group,” she said. “Ten years earlier, I did 48 and change and I came in 12th in my age group. I think those 11 women thought they were supposed to slow down, so they slowed down. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. You think, ‘Because I’m older now, I’ve got to slow down a little.’ So you don’t work as hard, and of course you’re going to slow down.

“You’ve just got to work harder.”

Or, as McQueeney phrases it, play harder.

jcaspersen@postindependent.com


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