In awe of Colorado’s awfully good athletes

yoga on the rocks

Listen to Brenda tell the story

Each area of the U.S. has its own subculture and is influenced by different ethnicities, climates, histories and geographies. In Colorado, the state’s topography breeds athletes that put the rest of the country to shame – and me especially.

On the East Coast, people are obsessed with work, but in Colorado they are more interested in finding out if you are a future hiking partner. Failing that, then biking. Or maybe skiing?

This attitude is laid bare by the answer to the question, “What do you do?” In the fast-paced, business-focused environment in the Eastern U.S., the questioner is interested in what you do for a living. Are you an accountant, lawyer or stockbroker? And especially: how much money do you earn?

Not in Colorado. Here, when people ask what you do, they want to know what sport you do. They couldn’t care less about your job. In Colorado, people march – or rather ski, hike and bike – to the beat of a different drum.

My friend’s daughter Jackie learned this when she left Colorado to attend college in Ohio. She discovered that while her athletic skills may be considered average in Colorado, they practically make her an Olympian in Ohio, a state better known for snowstorms, tornadoes and sluggish, horse-drawn Amish buggies that hold up traffic on rural roads, none of which particularly incline the residents to set foot in front of their doors, let alone on a hiking trail.

Back home in Colorado, if she says, “I’m a skier” or “Sure, I like to hike!” it elicits invitations such as:

“Cool! How about doing a fourteener (i.e., a 14,000-foot mountain or 4,225 meters) this weekend?” or

“Let’s do some backcountry skiing!” (down one of the fourteeners, no doubt).

While touring the Denver area, I visited the Buffalo Bill Museum, a tribute to William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. I expected to see Native American headdresses, cowboy boots and posters of Annie Oakley, which I did, and had no expectations of any displays of athletic prowess (excluding my performance in the kids’ area on a mechanical bull). But even the winding road leading to this mountaintop museum was lined with steel-muscled bikers battling their way up the hairpin turns.

As if this grueling upward climb weren’t impressive enough, on our way down the mountain we were passed by a man in a spandex suit riding a unicycle. Yes, he passed us. It’s almost as if there were a secret campaign to convince us that Coloradans are crazy about sports. Either that or he was a circus performer late for practice in the striped mountain tent that we’d somehow missed. Any doubt I had as to the state’s athletic prowess was whisked away by the burst of wind in my face left in the trail of the speeding unicycle.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Embarking on a bike tour in Croatia several years ago, I felt pretty physically fit. Regular biking had put me in good enough shape to (semi) comfortably make the trip.

My pride was quickly dampened by a 40-something couple from Denver, Colorado, who were booked on the same bike tour.

“How did you guys prepare for this bike tour?” I asked them tentatively, expecting to hear of a detailed training program.

Instead, they just exchanged glances. And shrugged.

It was at that moment that it hit me: they hadn’t trained at all. They didn’t need to prepare for this week-long bike tour because they were always this fit, probably by biking up and down fourteeners every weekend. Surreptitiously scrutinizing them more closely, I saw that they looked as if they had been doing that for the last few decades – or longer. I could practically see the sinewy steel of their biceps raising a disdainful eyebrow at my question.

By posing the question of something so banal as “training” I had outed myself as a non-athlete. My sole recourse was to sit up straight and pull in my stomach. At least that made me feel fitter in the presence of these muscular souls.

But it got worse. Much worse.

We had the option of having the tour company transport our bikes up one particularly steep mountain. I have to confess: my friend and I had signed up for this. With our bikes firmly strapped to the rear of the van while our very friendly tour guide, Ladislav, drove us up the hill, I looked absent-mindedly out the window. To my horror, I saw the couple from Colorado. They were bravely biking up the mountainside. I ducked when we passed them. No need to deepen my shame.

At least I did find one sport where I was able to keep up with the Coloradans, and in one of the most scenic venues imaginable: the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. We arrived at 7:00 am along with a good 1,000 others to a mass yoga class on terraced benches wedged in between two stunning red rock formations. The Beatles and many other top performers have played here, but on that magical morning, only the voice of the yoga instructor was audible over the loudspeakers.

I’d like to think this makes up for the fourteeners that I’ll never climb or bike up, nor ski down. I choose to engage with them the same way I engage with the people who do: letting them do their own thing while standing in awe at a respectful distance.

Brenda Arnold

Photo: Yoga on the Rocks at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, by Brenda Arnold

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