For XTERRA Pan Am Champ Johnny Davis, 64, XTERRA Beaver Creek is more than just another race. It’s even more than a chance to race with his heroes. For Davis, XTERRA Beaver Creek is a celebration of his second chance at life after suffering a debilitating illness four years ago.
In 2013, Davis overcame a major health challenge that kept him in the hospital for nine months. He lost 25 pounds and much of the strength he took for granted as an expert skier and Ironman triathlete.
“I was no longer capable of much,” Davis admits. “But the surgeons who worked with me knew I needed oxygen in my body and brain. And the fastest way to do that was to start exercising again.”
When Davis left the hospital and returned to Boulder, his friends began coming by to visit and encourage him.
"My cycling friends would come up my driveway and say, ‘Get on your bike. We’re going around the block.’ Then they would come the next day and we would ride two blocks. They took me to the pool and we would run on the trails."
After several months, Davis reclaimed the strength and balance to follow his friends into the Rockies on his mountain bike.
“My friends introduced conversations of hope back into me,” says Davis, with emotion. “They told me what was possible in the future and they said, ‘Let’s get you fit enough to go into the mountains.’ Once I was back on the single track with my friends and strong enough to ride my bike, I thought, I know I can take this farther. That’s when the XTERRA boys showed up.”
Davis credits fellow XTERRA Pan Am Champ Rife Hilgartner with getting him into XTERRA. “Rife was one of the first people on my doorstep.”
Both men share a love of the Rockies and of nature, which Davis, a native of Hawaii, believes is the best healer.
“Getting off the roads and into the wilderness on my bike is like getting into the ocean and diving into the coral reefs. You’re back with your ‘One.’ I just had no idea it would help save my life.”
Now, Davis admits that XTERRA has become extremely important to him. “It’s so much a part of my second chance.”
Almost one year from the day he walked out of the hospital, Davis won his age group at the 2014 XTERRA World Championship in Maui. In 2015 and 2016, he was second. Now, Davis wants his title back - but he's also facing some tough competition from his peers.
“I’m at the top of my age group this year and now have competition from previous XTERRA world champs who have moved up,” said Davis. “This year will be my chance to see if I can compete with the longtime XTERRA athletes I’ve read about. To even step in the arena with athletes like Tom Monica and Peter Dann is big. I’m completely thrilled to have that chance.”
Monica was the 55-59 age group champ at XTERRA Beaver Creek last year, and in May, he was the 60-64 age group champ at XTERRA Oak Mountain. Dann won the 60-64 age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek in 2015 and was the XTERRA world champ in that age group that same year.
“For the first time, the actual threat of not getting a spot in Maui is on my horizon,” said Davis. “Good thing I love rising to challenges.”
And yet, it's clear that Davis isn't just talking about climbing to the top spot on the podium.
"My story is a true story of the support humans give each other. It started out with a ride around the block. Then pretty soon, my whole life came back to me because of my friends."