Nancy Waddell is the Delaware Senior Olympics Cycling Coordinator
At Nearly 70, Nancy Waddell Is Learning to Catch Air—Here Are Her Four Tips
“I THINK I’M PROOF THAT YOU’RE NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW.”
BY SELENE YEAGER Nov 4, 2020
Nancy Waddell was 61 years old when she decided to give mountain bike racing a serious go. After riding and racing on the road since 1985, the Delaware resident signed up for the 2013 Mountain Bike Nationals at Bear Creek in her neighboring state of Pennsylvania.
“I figured, how hard can it be? I had a strong road background and had done a little bit of offroad riding and racing in the late 90s and early 2000s,” she said.
So she went to a mountain bike camp in Michaux National Forest to brush up on the basics … and spent most of the first day taking her bike for a walk through the woods.
“It was a real eye-opener. Not only had the equipment changed, but the trails were much more technical. I walked most of the trail. And they said Bear Creek was harder. I was in tears by the end of the day,” Waddell recalled. “My husband talked me into hanging in there for the second day.”
She did—and it changed everything. Waddell met Harlan Price, owner and head coach at Take Aim Cycling, whose teaching style really clicked with her—so much that he ended up coaching her for two years, Waddell said.
Waddell didn’t go to Nationals in 2013, but competed the following year, which was held at the same venue. She got second in her age group, but was pulled after the first lap as the leaders came blazing through. It was simultaneously dispiriting and encouraging.
So in 2015, at 64, realizing she still lacked a lot of skills to succeed offroad, Waddell signed up for Queen of the Mountain skill clinic at Bryce Bike Park led by the legendary mountain bike racer Sue Haywood.
“I thought it was just a skills clinic,” Waddell says. “Then the day before I get an email saying I could rent a bike, full face helmet, and pads. I was like, ‘What the hell?’ I had no idea it was a downhill clinic until I showed up the next day.”
The clinic ended up being a great skills builder for Waddell.
“We spent the morning in a field practicing cornering, riding off small drops, and working on bike-body separation,” Waddell said. “After lunch, we took a lift to the top and did a run that included some wooden features, small jumps, which you could choose to do or not do, and tight switchbacks. There were go-arounds for all the wooden features, but no bypass for the switchbacks, so I just walked what I couldn’t ride.”
She kept going back to practice, and the work paid off. Waddell said she grew more confident and competent on technical cross-country trails, finding that she could do a little more than before each time.
She went on to compete in the 2015 and 2016 Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals in Augusta, Georgia, where she finished third and first, respectively. She then competed in Mountain Bike Nationals in Snowshoe, West Virginia, in 2017 and 2018, where she got first both years.
Now at age 69, she’s continuing to work with Price to get more comfortable getting air. “Getting air is scary!” she said, but she’s determined to keep sharpening her skills and upping her game.
“You’re never too old,” Waddell says. “It boggles my mind that I’ll be 70 next year. But if I’m lucky enough, I hope to still be riding and racing in my 70s, 80s, and beyond!”
Here are her tips for going big no matter what your age.
Work With a Professional
“One of my fears is crashing and getting hurt, and I tend to ride very cautiously, especially as I’m getting older. So I work with a certified mountain bike coach or sign up for a clinic—there are lots around and some are even women-specific—so I learn the right way to do skills like drops or steep descents,” Waddell said. “The risk and worry is still there, but not as much.”
Make a Positive Mantra
“One of my biggest struggles is that little voice in my head that tells me I can’t do something when I know I absolutely can,” Waddell said. “I have ‘I can do this’ tattooed on my forearm as a reminder.”
Practice. Practice. Practice (And Practice Some More!)
“I just worked on this drop with Harlan that was super scary because the view from the approach looked like the edge dropped off the face of the Earth. It wasn’t huge, but the gap between the edge and the ground was big enough that getting air was a must,” Waddell said. “To get me ready, we practiced a million times in a field on a small wooden drop to get the timing right. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard as it looked.”
“Ride as much as you can. Developing a good fitness base is important. It helps to find a group that’s supportive and encouraging, and is eager and willing to ride with you,” said Waddell, who rides four to six times a week, mixing it up between her gravel and mountain bike. She rides with the Sturdy Girl Cycling club, and also takes a couple of clinics each year to build her skills.
“I think I’m proof that you’re never too old to learn something new,” she said.
This article was published at Bicycling.com with permission of the subject.