While she may have started later in life than most people, Alice Spriesterbach always wanted to be an athlete.
Priorities came first, however, which meant working her way through college and years of being "too busy to do anything other than work and study,” said Spriesterbach.
She had her first child at age 24 and the priorities shifted to family and work, and it wasn't easy work. Spriesterbach spent many years as an intensive care nurse at a local hospital and then at Bethesda Naval Hospital helping soldiers who had returned from Iraq with serious injuries. She always took care of herself and exercised, however, and in her mid-forties, a friend in her kickboxing class convinced her to sign up for a triathlon. And so she did, at age 45.
About five years later, Spriesterbach heard a race report from an XTERRA athlete and decided to take up mountain biking.
“Mountain biking scared the crap out of me,” she admitted. “But I’ve come a long way now and can ride trails I never thought I could do. Getting over the fear of mountain biking is a lot like getting over a fear of heights. You just have to face your fear head on and do it anyway.”
She joined a beginning mountain bike group for women called Muddy Pedals and that eventually led her to XTERRA. She did her first one at age 55 in 2017 and that year won the XTERRA Atlantic Regional Championship and went on to compete at XTERRA Worlds.
“From the beginning, I loved to race,” said Spriesterbach. “I guess I’m more competitive than I thought.”
Spriesterbach surprised herself by winning her age group at XTERRA Myrtle Beach and coming in second at XTERRA EX2 and XTERRA Jersey Devil. Just as impressive was the fact that her second places were behind Steph Landy, an accomplished XTERRA athlete who won her age group at the XTERRA World Championship in 2016.
“I hadn’t thought about going to XTERRA Worlds in 2017, but I thought, what the heck? My husband wanted to join me but couldn’t so I flew 17 hours alone, and dragged my suitcase and bike behind me.”
She had never traveled that far alone before, but she is quick to credit Margo Pitts with making her feel at home even though she was so far away from home and Landy for encouraging her to compete at XTERRA Worlds.
“Margo is one of the most competitive athletes you will ever race against,” said Spriesterbach. “Yet, when she found out I was in Maui alone, she said, ‘You’re sitting with me at the athlete's dinner tonight.’ She was so welcoming and gave me a lot of great tips about the course.”
Spriesterbach finished her first XTERRA World Championship with the third fastest swim split in her age group, the 9th fastest bike split and the 5th fastest on the run.
“I’ve worked hard at swimming and running, but starting on the mountain bike so late, I still have a lot to learn. But I just love XTERRA and the XTERRA Tribe. Even though I finished at the bottom of my age group at Worlds last year, two elite athletes spent half an hour chatting with me in the parking lot. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
This year, Spriesterbach continued training for XTERRA and setting goals. She won her age group at XTERRA EX2, XTERRA Knoxville, XTERRA Charlottesville, XTERRA Myrtle Beach, and was second at XTERRA Jersey Devil, again to Landy. However, her happiness was derailed with the kind of news every mother dreads. In June of 2018, her daughter Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“My daughter is a forensic scientist with the FBI explosives unit so she’s tough,” said Spriesterbach. “She loves Hawaii and knew I was coming back to race XTERRA so she planned her wedding in Kihei a few days after XTERRA Worlds. We already had everything planned when she got diagnosed, so we decided to think positively and go along with our plans.”
The 32-year-old had been through the worst of the chemo and got a 10-day break from treatment for her wedding, and three days after XTERRA Worlds, she and her fiancé Stephen were married on the beach in Maui.
“The wedding was absolutely beautiful,” said her mother. “She’s been through a lot, and I’m so proud of her and her strength.”
No doubt Amy was proud of her Mom for getting through a challenging day of racing a few days before.
Spriesterbach finished 8th in her age group in Maui and was happy to finish the tough course in a competitive age group that included Sharon McDowell-Larson and Tammy Tabeek.
“The waves were so huge but I felt that I did well,” she said.
Before the race, lifeguard and Maui County Councilwoman, Tamara Paltin, told Spriesterbach about the waves and current and helped her find a good spot to enter the water.
“I knew I could handle the waves, but that second loop was pretty darn scary,” she admitted. “I remember going back in and there was a whole group of women just standing there paralyzed with fear. I totally felt it too but ran and dove under the waves when I knew I had a chance. On the bike, I was off more than I was on because of the mud. I have never felt so beat up after a race but I knew I was strong enough.”
This year Spriesterbach’s goals are similar to her goals for XTERRA Worlds.
“Foremost, I want to help my daughter get through this year,” she said. “This week is her last week of chemo, but next is radiation and then two surgeries. She has a great attitude and a wonderful husband, and the chemo is working and reducing the tumor so we are all hopeful.”
This year, Spriesterbach plans on racing XTERRA Myrtle Beach, Charlottesville, and EX2. Once again, she hopes to be an XTERRA Regional Champ and qualify for Maui.
“Mountain biking has made me humble,” she said. “My daughter’s illness has also brought me to my knees. But being humbled is also a gift because it enables me to see other women who are struggling. When you are humbled, you can connect because you understand the struggle. If you aren’t humbled, you don’t always appreciate what you are given. But when things don’t come easy and you do well anyway, well, you appreciate that.”