Mercier: Meet Aspen’s Rachel Beck, a mother of three and world-class cyclist
Special to The Aspen Times
Meet Rachel Beck: mother of three, police officer, wife and badass bike rider. I first encountered Rachel when she caught and passed me on the Government Trail during the 2017 Aspen Fifty race.
Rachel ran in high school, but her love of endurance sports was solidified when she joined the crew team at Brown University as a walk-on. As a latecomer to the sport, she was never quite able to master the technique, but she had fallen in love with the team environment and the suffering.
Rachel, her husband Chris, and their children Ella and George moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2005. Their son Owen was born in 2009. She turned to the bike later in life as a restorative, healthy outlet to help her get control of her mental and physical well-being. She never anticipated competing in the sport, but she entered the Leadville 100 mountain bike race in 2012.
The Leadville 100 was her first race, and, to use her words, she “did horribly.” She knew next to nothing about bikes and had a poor gear shift on a climb. She wedged the chain so badly that her rear wheel wouldn’t turn. Some bystanders helped her with the mechanical issue, but it took a long, long time for her to get going again. She was dead last and squeaked by the first time-check at Twin Lakes by a mere two minutes. She finished the day with a time of 11:15.
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The Leadville 100 solidified Rachel’s love for bikes and, in particular, her love of racing mountain bikes. She’s done the Leadville 100 three more times and is hoping to give it one more go in an effort to crack eight hours. She hired Scott Leonard as a coach in 2015 and immediately began to see improvements in her speed, power and results. Rachel improved so much that in 2018 she was offered to ride with the Sho-Air Team 2020 women’s professional cycling team. Triple Olympic gold medalist Kristen Armstrong was the director of the team.
Rachel was by far the oldest member of the team and her teammates nicknamed her “Team Mom.” One of her teammates had rowed crew at Brown with the same coach — only 20 years later! Women’s professional road racing is run with shoestring budgets; most of the riders were either enrolled in graduate school or working another job in addition to training 20 hours a week, traveling and racing. They raced for passion, not profit.
One of Rachel’s most vivid memories was riding in the peloton of the Chico Stage Race. It was actually her first experience racing in a women’s-only peloton. The matron of the race, Leah Thomas, of the United Healthcare Team, ordered a nature break and everyone stopped by the side of the road. Rachel placed 18th in her first ever time trial during the Chico Stage Race. Her primary job, however, was to help her team leader, Allie Dragoo. Rachel sacrificed her personal ambition and result to help Allie win the race.
However, despite an auspicious start racing on Team 2020, 2018 was not to be a banner year for Rachel. She had back pain that she chose to ignore. The pain kept getting worse and worse until she could no longer bear it. When she finally went to a doctor, she learned that she had a degenerative disk and it required two surgeries to repair.
Today, Rachel is healthy, pain-free and riding again. She was hired by the Aspen Police Department last fall as a community response officer. She was initially out of her comfort zone and struggled to find balance between work, family and sport. But she wanted to do something of service to the community. She also felt it was important for her kids to see her doing something difficult.
Cycling is still an important aspect of Rachel’s life. She’s lean, and I have no doubt that she could drop me on most climbs. But today, it’s more about the joy of riding, and especially sharing that joy with her kids. Her eldest daughter, Ella, raced in the high school league at Colorado Rocky Mountain School before heading off to college, and her middle son, George, races for the Aspen High School team. George is one of the top high school mountain bikers in the state — he also competed in the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in ski mountaineering — and it’s been very rewarding to Rachel to see his progression.
Rachel is drawn to the suffering of the sport; in some ways she feels it’s meditative. Her competitive juices still run hot and she intends to race with the Aspen Cycling Club and give Leadville another crack. But today, it’s not so much an obsession, nor something to be conquered, as it is a way of life.
I couldn’t agree more.
Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Herman is the freestyle skiing winner of the Summit Daily’s Peak Performers project, which honors the greatest athletes and most influential figures in Summit county ski and snowboard history.