Kim Bear's favorite award is the "Last Ass Over the Pass" trophy she scored in a Leadville 100 trail run for being last to cross the finish line before the cut-off time. It's sort of her specialty now. "I've had lots and lots of coming in last or not making it, and that's inspired me to keep going on," she says.
So she thought it was fitting that she was third on the list of people asked to speak at "Outdoors On Tap," an event REI hosts July 17 at Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery.
"I'm not the biggest champion of people you could ask to speak, and that's kind of my background," Bear says. But at 62 years old, she says, there aren't many people her age who even show up for these things—and not nearly enough women of any age.
She's not without a few victories, like becoming four-time winner of the Fat Tire National Championships. Competition in her age group there has increased, she says, "which is cool—we're getting old and getting competitive."
This year's race required riding in soft snow that made it nearly impossible to accelerate without spinning out and falling over. But, she says, "Once I had a lead, it was great. I knew they couldn't catch me."
There are parts of dropping to the back of the pack that can be tough, she says, like knowing she'll spend the first portion of a race being passed by younger male riders. But there are also privileges, like the moments when she has the course all to herself and can feel like a hot, hard-charging rider ripping around tight corners. The illusion lasts, she says with a laugh, until the photos reveal drool, smudged mascara and dried sweat. Her kids are often cleaning her up at the finish line, says the working nurse practitioner who also teaches physical education at St. John's College and spinning courses to inspire younger and female athletes.
She'll present at the second-ever "Outdoors on Tap" event, which pioneers a model that REI stores elsewhere have already been asking to copy, says Robert Mosher, outdoor programs and outreach coordinator for REI New Mexico.
"For us, this isn't an opportunity to sell stuff," Mosher says. "It's just going to be to help create a community around outdoor recreation."
Bear's focus carries over last year's "Force of Nature" campaign that saw REI making a concentrated effort to showcase women in their marketing and hosting more than 1,000 classes nationwide for women. That effort followed a national study the retailer commissioned that found 63 percent of 2,000 women surveyed could not name a female outdoor role model.
"The easier it is for someone to name that role model, the more likely it is that they'll be inspired to go outside," Mosher says. "They can see themselves succeeding and excelling in outdoor recreation."
A nudge from another woman got Bear into the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race for the first time. She'd tagged along with her husband, also a multisport race competitor, and another woman told her, "'You should do the mountain bike race and the 100-mile run.' And I said, 'I can't do that, I don't even run. I'm terrible.'"
She was in her 40s—not generally an age for picking up ultrarunning. But she did, eventually even completing the "Leadwoman" event where competitors finish both the 100-mile runs and bike races, in addition to other events like a trail marathon. She'll go for her 18th (or so) effort at the mountain bike race this August.
"I have fun doing it, and it pushes me," she says. "I just like having fun and going out there and feeling good about myself at the end, and feeling challenged, and getting better at doing whatever it is that I'm doing."
There have been some hopeful signals, like the women she's seen pick up mountain biking in their 70s, but she still thinks there's work to do to get more women onto bikes.In some states, the number of women competing in upper-level age groups can't even fill a podium. In an effort to recruit more women, the New Mexico Spokettes, of which Bear is president, runs a time trial on Saturday July 8 in Algodones (get more info at spokettes.com), which includes a category for first-time racers. Talking about this stuff is fun, she says, but what matters more is going out and doing it, no matter the time taken to cross the finish line.
Outdoors On Tap
7 pm Tuesday July 17. Free.
Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery,
2797 Agua Fría St.,