Singlespeed Champion, Middle School Teacher, Dad
Chris Plesko would rise to the top of any Colorado badass conversation for one reason alone. He dominates the competition in some of the toughest mountain bike endurance races on the planet on a singlespeed … while everyone else is using a full complement of gears. But Plesko is no privileged cycling prima donna with a nutritionist cooking for him and a fawning assistant massaging his quads—the Pivot athlete and father of two teaches math at a middle school in Denver during the week as well as helping to coach a NICA high school mountain bike team and his school’s basketball team.
Yet, somehow he has found the time to tick off the TransIowa, the Iditarod Trail Invitational, Arizona Trail 300 and the Colorado Trail. He set the singlespeed record on the brutal, 2,745-mile self-supported Tour Divide in 2009 and then blew his own record away last year, setting a time of 15 days, 8 hours and finishing second overall in the process. “I enjoy the challenge, simplicity, and direct connection of a rigid singlespeed,” he says. “I understand that it seems pretty backwards in this age of 1×12 drivetrains and fantastic full-suspension options. There are a lot of reasons why I have made it my primary focus for the last decade, but, at the end of the day, I’m always having a ton of fun on it so why change?”
As for balancing work, family and training, Plesko’s coach Lynda Wallenfels understands and helps him juggle it all. On average, he rides five days a week with a couple of interval sessions midweek and longer rides in the mountains on the weekends, usually around Golden Gate Canyon State Park. “We look to save time wherever we can by splitting up workouts into chunks or commuting by bike,” says Plesko. “My wife Marni and our two young sons are hugely supportive. We make time to be together on a regular basis. Sometimes that’s stopping mid-ride to tuck them in during long training days or just making the most of rest days to climb at ABC Kids, go to the museum, or play at Jump City.” He will be focusing on the local scene more in 2017, with plans to race winter fat bike races in Leadville, too. But his big target is the 500-mile Colorado Trail Race in July, where he’s hoping to break the four-day barrier on his rigid singlespeed and lower the current fastest known time.
Paradox Sports board member, Leadville Racer, Sales Manager
This summer Rebecca Boozan stood on the podium as the third Leadwoman after the 100 mile run. She was new to mountain biking and had never completed a trail race over 50k before. “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to put it all together to pull it off,” she says. But Boozan was not in the race for personal glory. She raised almost $35,000 for non-profit Paradox Sports, which is dedicated to getting disabled athletes in the outdoors on the rock, trails, waves and anywhere else they want to get after it. Her dedication to the organization and her commitment to Leadville come from a personal place. Her twin brother Dan suffered a traumatic cycling accident in 2001, leaving him with a paralyzed right arm and hand.
“In 2014, Dan and I were talking about how we would be celebrating our 33rd birthday, and he wondered aloud if he should go on a trip to climb the Grand Teton offered by Paradox Sports. He wasn’t sure he could make it with his injuries. Having seen his recovery over the previous three years and his dedication when he was a cyclist prior to the accident, I had no doubt he could do it.” After climbing the Grand with Paradox, Dan became an ambassador for the organization. His sister remains his biggest fan and helps drive the organization in its mission to bring outdoor passion back to people like Dan. “Paradox creates a community that allows adaptive athletes to be able to overcome obstacles, push limits and change beliefs about what’s possible with a disability,” she says. “However, it’s about more than just rock climbing or ice climbing—it instills confidence that can be applied to any aspect of an adaptive individual’s life.”
Ultrarunner, Cancer Survivor
At 53, Junko Kazukawa is quite simply one of the fiercest competitors in ultrarunning. The Japanese native, knocked off her first Leadwoman in 2014 and completed the Ultrarunning Grand Slam—which includes the Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville Trail 100 and Wasatch Front 100—and the Leadwoman series in 2015, the first person to pull off both of those in one summer. In 2016, the Denver-based trainer, who once received the lowest possible grade a Japanese student can get in high school physical education, knocked off the famous, tough Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in the Alps. And she did all of that after twice beating breast cancer. “The breast cancer experience made me strong mentally and physically,” she says. “It has changed the way I think and it affected me positively. I am lucky that I learned a lot through those experiences and I am more of a positive person because of it.” In fact, Kazukawa ran the Boston Marathon in 2009 just five weeks after she completed chemotherapy for her second bout with cancer, finishing in four hours and 33 minutes. In the coming year, she will continue to motivate others and plans on heading to Patagonia for the Ultra Fiord 100 in spring. She’s also thinking about ticking off a few more 100 mile races to add to the 11 she has already completed alongside 48 marathons.
“When I am racing, it hurts but it is fun. If I do not keep moving, I know I will have regrets,” she says. “I encourage myself that I will get there as long as I keep on moving. I love every moment of tough times, and I can appreciate that I am alive, I am healthy and I have the mental strength to get through this. I feel so alive when I am suffering.”
ALL THE WINNERS
The voting for badasses was spread out over nine categories. Here are the winners in each.
Winner: Chris Davenport. Our 2014 Ultimate Resident Badass continues to be a reader favorite after skiing all 100 of Colorado’s tallest peaks.
Runner Up: John Gaston
Nominated: Gretchen Bleiler, Wiley Maple, Mikaela Shiffrin
Winner: Chad Jukes. The combat-injured vet who climbed Everest is raising awareness for veterans.
Runner Up: Janette Heung Nominated: Jeff Lowe, Will Mayo, Kim Reynolds
Winner: Phil Wortman. The Pikes Peak Mountain School guide got overwhelming support from readers.
Runner Up: Madeline Sorkin Nominated: Zen Mayhugh, Jes Meiris, Jonathan Siegrist
Winner: Chris Plesko (see above)
Runner Up: Kim Godfrey
Nominated: Wesley Sandoval, Mara Abbott, Howard Grotts
Winner: Junko Kazukawa (see above)
Runner Up: Joseph Gray
Nominated: Scott Jurek, Emma Coburn, Joe Grant
Winner: Tony Miely. The managing partner of 4Corners Riversports lost his hand in an ATV accident in 2009, but that doesn’t slow him down.
Runner Up: Shawn Rodine Nominated: Ken Hoeve, Spencer Lacy, Leslie Ross
Winner: Yuki Tsuji. The teacher and coach in Acroyoga, yoga, Thai massage, dance-climb fusion, handstand, sky diving and body flight won a very competive division.
Runner Up: Fractal Tribe
Nominated: Ted Davenport, Steph Schwartz, Simon Repton
Winner: Rebecca Boozan (See above)
Runner Up: Shannon Galpin Nominated: Ryan Vachon, Pemba Sherpa, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
Winner: Henry Wood. The Director of Sales and Marketing at Upslope Brewing is a former NOLS instructor who still finds the time to get out and crush it between beers.
Runner Up: Daniel Galhardo
Nominated: Ellen Miller, Jason Antin, Jeff Kagan and Paige Doughty