Heather Zimchek-Dunn first got on a mountain bike to impress a boy. “He went by the wayside,” she says, “But the bike did not.”
Heather’s love affair with cycling led her to her first XTERRA off-road triathlon in 2013 in La Grande, Oregon, where she won her age group and was the third female overall.
“It was the hardest mountain bike race I’d ever done,” says Heather. “It went straight down this power line trail, and if you braked, you were screwed. I thought, ‘wow, this is pretty awesome.”
Her sophomore showing at XTERRA Black Diamond in August resulted in another age-group win and a ticket to the XTERRA Pan Am Championship race in Ogden, Utah. There, she finished second in her 25-29 age group and qualified for the XTERRA World Championship in Maui a month later.
“Heather is fierce,” says her husband, Jeff Dunn. “She crushes us on the trails and then can drink us under the table afterwards.”
Last year at the Pan Am Champs Heather proved this point by winning her 30-34 age group by five minutes. On the mountain bike section, she jammed down hills on her bike and left many white knuckles in her wake.
“The hardest part of the day was the last 200 yards or so at the top of the mountain bike climb. I was trying to stay in front of the people behind me because my plan was to rip down the hills. I crested that hill with just enough energy for one more pedal stroke.”
Her victory in Utah almost didn’t happen, not because of the course, but because of her husband. “Just about a mile from the finish, I was running down the single track and saw Jeff and then tripped. I came very close to rolling down the mountain. The best part is that he caught it all in a series of photos.”
Heather and Jeff co-own Joy Ride Bikes with three friends in Lacey, Washington. Hundreds of miles of Pacific Northwest single track are in their back yard, so it’s not surprising that the couple's first date was a trail ride.
“He was on a single speed with a belt drive,” says Heather. “That’s how I knew he was the one.”
While their home base is in Olympia, Washington, the couple has been living in a 20-foot trailer for the last few months while Heather trains in Arizona with her new coach, XTERRA Pro Lesley Paterson of Braveheart Coaching.
“I’m kind of in awe of her,” said Heather. “I’m trying to turn pro this year and having Lesley as my coach gives me confidence. “
Heather enjoys the mathematical thought processes that underlie much of her training. In her former life, she was a civil engineer, and she still has her professional license.
“My boss wouldn’t give me time off for the XTERRA World Championship so I quit,” she says. “But working in an office really wasn’t a good fit for me. I’m too much of a free spirit.”
Heather’s sense of humor, determination, and love of life bode well for her 2017 XTERRA Pan Am circuit. “I just successfully backed our trailer in!” says Heather. “If I can do that, I’m pretty sure anything can happen this year.”