5 Reasons Why She’s Beth Heiden And You’re Not

By Gary J Boulanger | Photos Courtesy of Beth Reid

In 1975, during her freshman year in high school, Beth Reid played tennis and soccer. Her endurance-filled DNA produced a national record in the mile for her age, when she competed in the Wisconsin state championships for both the 800 meter and the mile. Today, she has three kids, and rides her bike to work at Apple Computers in Cupertino, a 10-mile jaunt from her home in Palo Alto, where her older brother Eric studied medicine at Stanford University in the 1980s.

This wouldn’t be so exceptional in the bicycle-friendly Silicon Valley if you didn’t know Reid’s history. The former Beth Heiden was a world champion and two-time Olympic speed skater, national and world cycling champion, and collegiate nordic ski champion. Eric, now an orthopedic surgeon in Utah, happened to co-found the mighty 7-Eleven cycling team after taking five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Olympics, in the year that some say was one of the most impressive sporting showcases in history, all provided by the 5’2”, 105-pounder from Madison, Wisconsin.

1. Heiden skated on the 1976 Olympic team, finishing 7th and 19th in the 1,500 and 5,000 meter events. She was a member of eight U.S. Senior World speed skating teams and four U.S. Junior World teams, winning many single-event medals in addition to the 1979 overall title, the second American female to do so after Kit Klein in 1936. She won all four distances at the speed skating World Championships in Oslo. This was just a precursor to her banner year of 1980.

2. Heiden and her brother were hyped to destroy the competition in Lake Placid, New York. Eric won five gold medals, but an ankle injury kept Beth from reaching her potential, although she won a bronze in the 3,000 meters. With Eric’s five golds, the Heiden family won half the medals awarded to Americans in New York.

3. Most Wisconsin- and Michigan-based speedskaters used cycling for cross training, achieving success in both disciplines. In Heiden’s case, she rocketed to the top podium in the U.S. Nationals several times. On the heels of her Lake Placid success (and being featured on the cover of TIME Magazine with Eric), she set aside her skates and clipped into her toe straps to beat a tough peloton, taking the general classification of the 1980 Coors International Bicycle Classic in June.

4. Not wanting to rest on her laurels, Heiden claimed the rainbow jersey in the women’s world championships in Sallanches, France. On August 30, Heiden out-sprinted Sweden’s Tuulikki Jahre and Great Britain’s Mandy Jones to win the 53-kilometer course in 1:45:15. Heiden was named ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ by the U.S. Olympic committee. She retired from bicycle racing the next year, and took up nordic skiing at the University of Vermont, winning the first NCAA women’s championship in Montana as a senior in 1983, along with the NCAA College Athletics award as one of the top five student athletes in the U.S. She still ranks among the top skiers in the country at 53 years old. Heiden was the last American to win the women’s world road championship.

5. A daily bicycle commuter. Heiden once picked up a repaired tandem wheel from a bike shop in Los Altos. Showing her Midwest practicality, she asked the service department for some twine, and jerry-rigged a shoulder strap to transport the wheel home on her back. She continues to compete in ski races nationwide, recently guiding blind skier Walter Raineri in the 30 kilometer Great Ski Race from Tahoe to Truckee, California, on skis she prepped for them both.