Few cyclists whom I have profiled have brought a constant smile to my face the way 81-year-old Loren Hettinger did. This was partially due to his casual attitude toward competition. He counseled “Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you only define yourself by your race results, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.” But then again, Loren has seen both sides of that coin. In one of his early races, the lead pack got off course and a truck pulled up alongside them and began honking. Loren said that guys in the peloton were annoyed, thinking it was some local anti-cyclist and flipped off the driver until they realized why he was honking. Yep, the best laid plans of race directors and cyclists . . .
Loren grew up on a cattle farm east of Greeley with a bunch of brothers. As kids, they envisioned themselves as rodeo guys like Casey Tibbs and they staged their own events, weaving twine into bull ropes and riding calves. As a student at Fort Lewis majoring in agriculture, Loren was a bareback rider until he broke his ankle at the Cortez Rodeo. So, with his rodeo days behind him (and a realization that rodeo may not be a great career choice), he concentrated on his studies, graduating with a biology/chemistry degree before moving on to New Mexico State for a master’s degree and a thesis concerning annual plant distribution according to elevation and rainfall. Then he was on to the University of Alberta for a PhD studying the vegetation patterns in Jasper Valley and its history of fire and elevation. Then he was on to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska conducting pipeline route assessments as part of environmental impact analyses.
Athletically he had picked up racquetball and running, but his ankle problems limited his success in those sports. So, a WAPA (Western Area Power Authority) runner friend suggested he become the cyclist on a tri-athlete team—this on his commuting bike . Newly minted cyclist Loren and the runner friend found a swimmer for team Larry, Moe and Curly to compete in the Washington Park Triathlon. They did well- finishing second in their category. Then cycling became more serious and it was on to a criterium around the Capitol–Team Pegasus-Mobil Oil, then the Lakewood Racing Team -Earth Vitamins before finally settling into the Schwab Racing Team where he found his personal niche. He felt like he started out as “pack fodder.” For example, when a guy rode up next to him in a citizen’s race up Lookout Mountain carrying a watermelon with a knife stuck into it, all strapped onto a rack on the back of his bike. The fellow encouraged him to keep pedaling hard when he thought that he was doing just that. (It turned out that the guy had won the Iditabike Race in Alaska and was taking the watermelon to the top for a post-race celebration.)
The “pack fodder” experiences were finally shed as the Masters group at Schwab filled, including his early partner “in crime” and mentor, Ed Greivel and a nucleus of Dwayne Thomasson, Gene Mendez, Dave Firmin, Brad Snyder, Gary Dickinson, Bill Myers, Scott Tucker, and Ed Scholes. Their success made racing fun and may even have included some team tactics.
In one race, another racer saw Loren’s age (62 or 63) written on his calf for age-group purposes and commented with surprise- “Do I read that right?” “Yeah, old as dirt!” The younger racer indicated he wanted to grow-up to still be racing at that age, dirt or not.
But finally, at age 76, an arrhythmia in his heart started slowing him down. While racing, his heart rate would reach 190 bpm and he would have to “soft pedal”- prompting another rider to comment- “Hang in there, Old Timer, you can do it.”
Recently Loren wrote a treatise about cyclocross and bike racing in general where he quoted Mark Cavendish, “You know that thing you have in your head that says, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this!’ Well, we don’t have that.”
Loren speaks of his cycling career with a smile and great stories, but make no mistake- he is still an accomplished cyclist with a great sense of humor.