Elite triathlete Heather Gollnick makes new home in Steamboat Springs
April 4, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Heather Gollnick sat at Steaming Bean Coffee on Thursday, her mind wandering to what was going on outside. She was itching to get on her bike and try to find a cloud on a cloudless Thursday.
This is what life is like for Gollnick.
There isn't enough time in the day. She jokes she wishes she didn't have to sleep. And when it comes to spending a day inside, doing nothing?
"Never," Gollnick said. "Unless I'm sick or injured, I rarely sit on the couch."
She likes it that way. In fact, she insists on it being that way. Gollnick, winner of five Ironman competitions and a glut of half-Ironmans, moved to Steamboat Springs three months ago from Florida with her husband, Todd, and their three children — twin 16-year-olds Josh and Jordan, and 13-year-old Zachary.
The move was partly a result of a shift in her personal life and partly so her teens could grow up in a place she loves.
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Gollnick lived in Steamboat from the sixth through eighth grades and the family regularly vacationed here.
"Where we were, we weren't at peace with where we were living," she said. "It was a little rougher. Here, if my son wants to walk downtown, he can. There, I wouldn't let them go out on their bikes."
A love is born
Gollnick grew up an athlete in Wisconsin, eventually attending Valparaiso on a gymnastics scholarship.
After graduation she started working for General Electric in its corporate fitness center. The company sponsored a triathlon fitness challenge. She was hooked.
"I had competed so many years as a gymnast and I felt that competition void," she said.
It didn't take long for her to start collecting top results. She soon was accomplished enough to become a professional triathlete in 1999, but with young children, the timing wasn't right.
"I think we recognized we had kids and if it was going to be something we wanted to do, it was going to be a real team effort," Todd said. "We were both on board on what it was like to turn professional. We were going to enter into it as a team. We looked at it and realized she had an incredible amount of talent, so we thought we should see where it led. And it's led to some awesome things for us."
It didn't come without struggles. The couples twins were born prematurely. They spent eight and 11 months in the hospital, and doctor told the Gollnicks the chance of their survival wasn't good.
Heather could fit her wedding ring around Jordan's leg. It was the most trying time in the couple's life, but it also was a time that started to set in motion Heather's career.
Jordan has cerebral palsy and doctors told the Gollnicks she would likely never walk. Jordan currently walks with the help of a cane.
"They're little miracles," Heather said.
A professional shift
Heather officially turned pro in 2002, making her debut at Ironman Wisconsin. She thought she could win, but she hit a mental block after the 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride. Her legs didn't want to move. She was tired, she wanted to walk and even thought about quitting.
But a glance over to Jordan changed the race, and eventually her career.
"I looked to the sideline and she was sitting in a wheelchair," Heather said. "I said, 'OK, she'd give anything to just walk in a marathon.'"
Twenty-six miles later, Heather had won her first Ironman.
She went on to win the Ironman Coeur d' Alene and repeated her win in the Ironman Wisconsin in 2003. She also won Ironman Arizona and Ironman Louisville in 2007.
Heather continues to compete in triathlons, but the move to Steamboat has also led her and the family to focus on other things.
She operates her own coaching business — Iron Edge Coaching — and the family has started Get Fit Family Racing.
They'll put on a family triathlon at Old Town Hot Springs on June 29. She also will host three triathlon camps in May, July and August. The couple is running the outreach program for the Steamboat Christian Center, hoping to make more outdoor and athletic programs available for youths.
Of course, none of it will involve sitting around. And the competitive edge she inherited from her father — "he couldn't sit for a minute," Heather said — is still readily visible now.
She'll compete on a four-person team in the Race Across America this summer. Their goal? To set the course record.
She'll also do a pair of triathlons, continue coaching, teach classes, try to keep up with her children, speak at events and continue her work with the Steamboat Christian Center.
"I have to do something," she said. "It feeds the competitive nature I have. I love new challenges. I've done so many Ironmans that's it's appealing to find a new challenge."
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com