Snowmass rider overcomes odds |

Snowmass rider overcomes odds

Snowmass Village's Jane Finsterwald negotiates a Deer Valley downhill on July 8 en route to winning the National Off-Road Mountain Biking Series event. (Courtesy Jane Finsterwald)

Snowmass Villages Jane Finsterwald relinquished first place. She watched a fellow competitor open up a gap of nearly 100 yards the largest of the cross-country race on the third and final lap. Thoughts of second place raced through the 49-year-olds head. It turned into a mental game on that last lap, Finsterwald said Tuesday of the National Off-Road Bicycle Association Mountain Bike Championships in Sonoma, Calif., on July 14.To win a third consecutive national title, Finsterwald would have to overcome seven miles and 700 feet of climbing on pavement, dirt roads and cattle fields and racer Cheryl Roth. Following the struggles she has endured for the past nine years, the task before her was hardly daunting.When Finsterwald, a computer technician for Chaffin & Light Real Estate, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1997, doctors gave her a 1-in-5 chance of survival. She had surgery to remove a tumor soon after being diagnosed. After a recurrence of the disease in 2000, Finsterwald underwent extensive radiation treatment. Following surgery, Finsterwald struggled to regain depth and cognitive perception. She remembered going from the supervision of rehabilitation to being alone in her apartment for the first time; she had trouble opening the refrigerator door.I couldnt figure it out, and I remember crying in frustration, Finsterwald said. Everybodys got stories like that. It was difficult there for a while.It was during these trying times that Finsterwald searched for something to drive her. Something to give her hope. She found both on the seat of a bike.It started with a not-so-simple goal: to finish the famed Leadville Trail 100 (mile) Bike Race in August 2001. She accomplished the feat although her sinuses, delicate because of radiation treatment, were damaged in the process and needed reconstructive surgery as a result. Despite the setback, Finsterwald was undaunted. While she shied away from ultra-endurance events while she continued to build up strength, Finsterwald developed an obsession with the sport. Riding was purely a recreational endeavor for her growing up, but now she was committed.This is my passion. Finsterwald said. Its something thats been a very great gift to me. This is my statement of health.She returned with renewed strength and purpose, posting impressive results in 2003. She finished first among expert women 40 and older at the Storm Peak Thunder race in Steamboat Springs and in the Battle at the Bear in Denver both cross-country events. She also competed in the Mountain States Cup series for the first time, and finished second overall in the final standings. The finish qualified her for a trip to the International Cyclist Union Masters Worlds in Bromont, Quebec, where she took second.Finsterwalds dominance on the NORBA circuit began in 2004, when she won her first national title at Mammoth Mountain in California. She also finished first at the NORBA Nationals on her home course in Snowmass. She finished fourth at the UCI Worlds. Despite her rise through the ranks of the masters elite, Finsterwald said she is no different from the competitors who line up beside her.A lot of women this age have a story behind them, something that has motivated them, she said. They may have put some things on hold, and now that they have time for themselves, theyre going for it.The real story, Finsterwald insists, is not what shes overcome, but how a town has rallied behind her. The community has been a great support in helping me do this, helping me be normal, she said. People have believed in me and wanted to help out. What Ive accomplished is almost an acknowledgment of what everyone else has done for me. Finsterwald has accrued debt as a result of radiation and other treatments. Her cause is one many businesses have stepped in to support. Local companies have provided funding, and local bike shops have given Finsterwald equipment discounts. Mitchell and Co., a local computer support firm, raised money to fly Finsterwald to this years world championships in British Columbia on Labor Day weekend. They also helped with her accommodations in Sonoma.I live in a special place and work with special people, Finsterwald said. They have always come through for me.Finsterwald won a second NORBA national title at Mammoth in 2005. She overcame yet another debilitating injury [she had surgery in the spring for necrosis of her gall bladder caused by trauma from a bike fall] to win seven races that season. Finsterwald, like she has so many times before, pushed onward. Thus far this season her last in the 45-49 masters division she has won seven races. She wasnt phased by a late deficit at the national championships in Sonoma.Finsterwald quickly closed the gap with Roth, then surged into the lead. Roth sat on Finsterwalds back wheel for much of the lap, and they exchanged words that were not printable, Finsterwald joked. The two were locked in a battle until the final downhill.There Finsterwald, with the support of a community behind her, charged. She opened up the distance between the two, then pedaled hard to the finish. Her time, 2 hours 5 minutes 48.69 seconds, was one minute faster than Roths.This is a huge accomplishment, she said. My coach told me I should be commended for winning three years under three different circumstances.While doctors say she will never be in complete remission, Finsterwald said with fingers crossed she is feeling good. She will compete this weekend in a NORBA event at Brian Head Resort in Utah, then in the NORBA Nationals Aug. 10-13 at Snowmass. Her scars provide a lasting reminder of what she has endured, but Finsterwald is raring to push forward. Im not a pro, Finsterwald said. Im just an old lady chasing a dream.Jon Maletzs e-mail address is

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