Attorney and professional cyclist Liz Heller with her second-place medal from the 2012 UCI Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships held in Kentucky, and a third-place medal from the U.S.A. Cyclo-cross National Championships held in Madison, Wis., on
Jan. 4. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
February 29, 2012Lifelong Central West End resident and cyclist Liz Heller recently returned from the UCI Masters Cyclo-cross World Championships in Louisville, Ky., with a second-place medal around her neck.
The 54-year-old lawyer whose background includes racing as a professional cyclist took second in her age group (55-60) while sporting her hometown Dressel's Pub jersey.
"It was four inches of frozen, muddy ruts, but it was a great course," Heller said of the 1.5-mile course she lapped multiple times during the 50-minute race on Jan. 14. "I hope to win next year."
Ben Dressel, who owns Dressel's Pub in the Central West End and sponsors 708 Dressel's Racing cycling team, is excited about Heller's accomplishment. The two are longtime friends.
"She wanted to wear one of our jerseys and then she goes out and wins a silver medal at the (cyclo-cross) world championship with it," Dressel said. "We're very proud of her. She's very modest, but also very talented. She's committed to her craft and her sport."
Two weeks before she won second at worlds, Heller took third place at the U.S.A. Cyclo-cross National Championships (Masters Women 55-59) in Madison, Wis., on Jan. 4.
"I'm floored – I still can't believe she won third at nationals and took second at worlds," said Kurt Fletcher, president of 708 Dressel's Racing and owner of 708 Cycling urban roadwear. "I'm happy to have her on the team. I have a lot of respect for Liz and she's a great racer."
With dozens of local, state and national championship titles to her name, Heller is no stranger to the podium. However, the majority of her wins came several years ago. After more than a decade-long hiatus from competitive road racing, Heller started exploring the world of cyclo-cross a few years ago.
"I cycled less as my career got more intense," said Heller, who is a partner at the law firm of Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland, P.C. in Edwardsville, Ill. "I picked it up again when I got hooked by cyclo-cross and started competing locally about three years ago."
She described cyclo-cross as "road racing off road."
Cyclo-cross tires have a little more tread than road bikes, which help cyclists maneuver through mud and sand on the race courses, which are typically shorter than traditional road races. There are also obstacles riders have to overcome.
"There are barriers where you have to dismount and put your bike on your shoulder and run," Heller said, adding there's also a "pit" area where cyclists can change bikes mid course should theirs become unrideable during the race.
Make no mistake – the races are tough.
"It's a full-contact sport – you will inevitably fall or crash," she said. "When I got back from Louisville, I was black and blue all over."
But it's all par for the course, said Heller, who trains in Forest Park.
Riding To Win
Liz Heller with medals and trophies she has won from local, state and national championship competitions. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Heller, who grew up on Lenox Place and now lives with her husband on McPherson Avenue in the Central West End, started racing in the early 1980s after she graduated from Beloit College.
She started with triathlons, but soon put all her training toward cycling, which served her well. She was the Missouri State Road Race Champion 10 years in a row (1988-1996) and the Missouri State Mountain Bike Champion for five consecutive years (1990-1995). She is also a five-time Missouri State Criterium Champion, five-time Missouri State 40-K Time Trial Champion and has four U.S.C.F. National Masters Championship titles to her name (1989 and 1990).
"Back in the day she was one of those girls most of the guys were pretty intimidated by," said Fletcher, who has known Heller for several years. "Off the bike she's really quiet and subdued, but on the bike she's a monster."
When the 1988 Olympics approached, Heller got even more serious about cycling. She quit her job with May Department Stores Company, went to law school at Washington University and trained full time. She failed to make the U.S. cycling team for the 1988 Olympics in Korea, but continued to ride and graduated from law school in 1991.
One of her cycling career highs came in 1992 when she and a blind male partner won silver medals in the Paralympics Tandem Road Race in Barcelona, Spain.
"That was very special," she said. "I was blown away by the experience in Spain. It was huge. There were 15,000 athletes and they were all in great shape. We won a silver medal, which was unique because they weren't big on co-ed teams."
Although Heller joined the law firm where she's now a partner in 1991, she continued to cycle competitively in the 1990s. She won several races in 1996 and in 1999 she was named Cyclist of the Decade by the St. Louis Cycling Club.
After that she continued to cycle recreationally, but spent the majority of her time and energy practicing law. After a 10-15 year break, Heller is happy to be competing again and said she'll do it as long as she can.
"What keeps me doing it is I can," she said. "I want to do it as long as I am able. I love competition and I race to win. My goal is to win (the Masters World Cyclo-cross Championships) next year in Louisville."