Age was just a number bobbing against the horizon, hovering into view, emblazoned on other women’s backs as the cyclist fought for her place among 30 competitors in the 5.5-mile race through St. George, Utah.
Every woman’s racing number, stuck to her back, bore the prefix of her age group. Some started with “50.” They ranged all the way to “85.”
Gay Woodhouse, 73, figured she’d stay with the fiftyish women, nestle up close behind one of them and let the younger woman battle the wind for her, while Woodhouse drafted in the low-resistance zone.
The Oct. 11 town race in St. George, Utah, was just part of a series of competitive athletic events for seniors. Woodhouse had biked the longest three miles of her life the day before, in an all-uphill race through the red rocks of the Snow Canyon. Unlike the hill race, the longer criterium Woodhouse raced on the 11th was not an individual time trial. That meant she could use other bikers’ efforts to her advantage. It also meant she risked a wreck with any wrong move.
The city’s trees reddened with the seasonal change, but the morning simmered to about 80 degrees. The criterium was a roughly 5.5-mile biking race composed of multiple laps within St. George, part of an events series last week at the 36th Annual Huntsman World Senior Games, the largest annual multi-sport event in the world for athletes aged 50 and over.
In her criterium age group of 70- to 75-year-olds, Woodhouse won the gold medal by default after two other women registered in her “experienced” racer category dropped out. She also did well overall, finishing with a time of 16:57 – about 19 miles per hour on average. This was 30 seconds behind the winner in the 65-69-year-old category and 10 seconds behind a woman in her early 60s who won the 60-65 age division.
“I was so happy,” said Woodhouse. Back home she has a bouquet of medals from various races around the nation. But this was her second gold-medal win for that event in St. George and her third time racing it overall. Her first year, she won silver in her age group.
“The best part was they had all the women together – all over 50 – and I actually hung with the 50, 55, 60 and 65-year-old ladies for most of the race,” Woodhouse said. “That’s what I felt best about.”
Woodhouse is no stranger to competition. She became Wyoming’s first female attorney general in the late 1990s. Competition is in her nature and translates nicely to the bump and rush of a crowded bicycle race, she told Cowboy State Daily.
A racing cyclist since 2012, she trains year-round and races at multiple seniors events in Wyoming and other states. She attends biking camps, subjects herself to coaching and competes in races up to 24 miles long.
Landed Right On My Head
Racing requires sacrifice and can be painful. Last year Woodhouse wrecked mid-race, but she got back up and finished.
At the National Senior Games in May of 2022, Woodhouse had to navigate a 90-degree right turn headed into the finish line, but a tough opponent held on right next to her.
“She kind of pushed me,” Woodhouse recalled. The other rider forced her into a curb, where Woodhouse lurched all the way over her bike and landed directly on her head; the bike followed since it was still clipped to her. The road scraped her arm and back.
Emergency personnel checked Woodhouse’s symptoms during a pause in the race and cleared her to finish. She took sixth, she said.
In a different, 12-mile race at that same competition series, Woodhouse won the silver medal.
Looking back, Woodhouse considers it amazing she didn’t break any bones in the wreck, and she’s glad she had a good helmet, she said.
In St. George it looked like Woodhouse would crash again.
“We were going around these corners,” she said, adding that the racers are supposed to maintain their own lanes around the corners.
“This one lady kept cutting over into my… line,” said Woodhouse. “I passed her finally and said ‘you’re moving onto my line. She didn’t say anything. But she didn’t do it again.”
Woodhouse enjoys the risk, she said with a laugh.
Wyoming has its own Senior Olympics each summer, said Woodhouse, who is on the administrative board for the event.
This year she competed in four different Wyoming cycling events: 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer time trials, and 20-kilometer and 40-kilometer road races.
And she won all of them. Here, too, it was because other women in Woodhouse’s age group didn’t turn out for the event.
She said she doesn’t mind the occasional win-by-default: it means she dared to show up, and her phantom competitors didn’t.
“I’m there and they’re not there,” she said. But even when she has competition, she added, she tends to be near or at the front.
Woodhouse touted the quality of the Huntsman games, saying the events are well-run.
At Huntsman, events range from running to volleyball to swimming – to square dancing.
“They try to make it interesting to every type of athlete, whether you’ve never raced before, or have,” she said.
Now she’s gearing up for next year’s Wyoming Senior Olympics starting July 31, 2024. This one falls on a qualifying year, a chance for athletes to qualify for the National Senior Games by posting superior results in a state’s games.
Woodhouse said she’s excited for the influx of people – and the promise of more competitors. And she wants to win.
“If you’re going to work that hard and train all year, you really want to win,” she said. “I’m not heartbroken if I don’t – but I’d be disappointed if I didn’t at least do well.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.