With heavy heart, Aspen’s Callahan set for 25th Leadville 100 mountain bike race
Despite it all, the streak is set to continue for Aspenite John Callahan. Saturday, the 1992 Olympic cross-country skier will compete in his 25th Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, which just so happens to be celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Sure enough, Callahan, 55, is one of only two people — the other being Todd Murray, a Colorado Springs police detective — to have competed in every race since its inception.
“I hope he keeps doing them, too. I really don’t want to be the only guy that does them all,” Callahan said of Murray, whom he considers a friend. “I joke that I was fortunate enough to be in the start line in the first one and foolish enough to come back 24 more times.”
This year’s race will be significantly different than the previous 24 for Callahan. For one, he’ll get to compete alongside his son, Kevin, who will be a junior at Fort Lewis College in Durango this fall. This will be Kevin’s first Leadville race.
“It’ll make it fun for me, and new and interesting for sure. To have him there and wanting to do something with me is always fun,” John Callahan said. “Riding with Kevin is one of the joys of my life. I’m looking forward to that.”
Both of the Callahans will be racing with a heavy heart following the loss of Hunter Callahan, who died July 10 after “a long and courageous battle with depression.” Hunter, John’s son and Kevin’s brother, was himself a talented cyclist.
Naturally, John Callahan hasn’t done much in the way of extended training this past month to get ready for Leadville.
“It took a lot of out of me this last month, so I have no idea where I’m going to be physically or mentally. I’ll just wait and see,” he said.
John’s experiences in the Leadville race have come with plenty of highs and lows, including one year where he raced with shingles.
It all started in 1994 when friend and fellow Aspenite Roger Marolt talked him into it. They were two of the 157 entrants in that inaugural race, which is now capped at 1,850 racers each year.
While not technically challenging, according to Callahan, the race gets you with the amount of vertical climbing and sheer altitude athletes must navigate.
“We talked about it and at the time we had never heard of anyone riding 100 miles on a mountain bike. We didn’t know if you could do it,” Callahan said of Marolt’s pitch. “Now it’s pretty obvious you can do it, but back then 40 miles was an epic day. The sport was so new. I was lucky enough to be on the start line for that first one and had a great time.”
While relatively unprepared and with a heavy heart, John Callahan still fully expects to finish Saturday’s race, which starts and ends in Leadville. Whether he can keep up with Kevin or how many more Leadville 100s he’ll take part in remains to be seen.
“It’s been a hard month,” John Callahan said. “Each year it’s a different challenge. Sometimes it’s a challenge during the race. Sometimes it’s a challenge prior to the race. That’s kind of what keeps me coming back. … I don’t want to keep doing it just because I’ve done all of them. As soon as it’s not fun, I want to be able to step away.”
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