These famous words were uttered by a good friend of mine as we closed in on the last two miles of Pittsburgh’s Great Race 10K a number of years ago. My friend, who shall remain nameless for fear of embarrassment, is an ex-Marine and was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Tough guy, good guy, tough runner. But not quite good enough to catch Eileen Petrone. Eileen is pictured above in the zebra shorts and the Allegheny Nike singlet. Eileen was an elite runner for many years with women’s victories to her name in the Great Race as well as many other 10 Ks in the region. She was also a top finisher in the Pittsburgh Marathon for many years and is still a very good runner to this day. My friend, who was a top 200 seeded runner in the Great Race was ruined when he crossed the finish line behind her. I was happy to keep her in sight. A long way down the road!!!
The second picture is of my friend Eric Durfee’s daughter Kress. Kress is shown here skiing down one of the steepest backcountry chutes in the Tahoe region. Her father tells me that on that particular day, the snow conditions were so sketchy and the terrain so steep that she did not want to make a turn and staight lined the chute to where she could finally make some turns to slow down. Kress was the National Collegiate Free Skiing Champion and a terror in the terrain parks with her twin tipped skis. I have known Kress all of her life and whenever I get a chance to ski with her, she is a pleasure to watch skiing warp speed with fluid turns and all the confidence in the world over some pretty steep and nasty terrain. Her father raced for Cornell back in the day and her older brother Travis was top ten west of the Mississippi for Downhill and Super G for many years as a member of the Far West Team. Travis was a national class ski racer and to this day, he says that Kress is the best skier in the family. That is saying something seeing that her other brother is a fantastic skier in the parks and her mother skis flawlessly down any run, at any area in Lake Tahoe. Kress is a vision on skis regardless of gender.
The last picture is of Sue Haywood at this years Breck Epic Mountain Bike Race in Breckenridge,Colorado. She is shown here leading the GC for women and is also very well placed overall. Sue hails from West Virginia and currently resides in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a mecca for off road cycling. Sue was a member of the Trek Professional Cycling Team for many years and currently races for the Stan’s No Tubes Mountain Bike Team. I first saw Sue race in the NORBA races in West Virginia and Vermont and also at some of the West Virginia series races. She is one strong rider that is for sure, and she has several national championships to her name as well as many top finishes on the domestic and international stage. I got to see her talent first hand when in some of the regional races the women started behind the men. She came riding by me like I was standing still and I have followed her career with interest ever since. I don’t think anyone in the mountain bike community would have the audacity to make a statement like my friend did above, because Sue is a great rider……..period. She, Eileen, and Kress are to be respected as great athletes in their own right regardless of gender.
I have never had any preconceived notions about being competitive with women. I learned a long time ago that there is no place for chauvanism in the sporting world. I hear a lot of garbage from some guys like,” I could be the leading money winner on the women’s golf tour.” Yea right!!! Some of these over the hill golfers who still have a pretty good game can never compete with today’s women who are the consummate professionals. There is a big difference between tournament golf, tennis, ski racing, and the weekend warrior sporting events. These statements crack me up and I have witnessed many guys get their butts handed to them by some amazingly talented and fit women. Just the other night, I ran into a young friend named Beth who rides mountain bikes regularly with her husband Carmine and several other real strong guys. Beth and I rode together and caught up with the small talk but when the first major hill came, she was gone and I told her to keep riding and don’t worry about me. Like Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry) always says, ” A man has got to know his limitations.” Especially the 58 year old kid. I pull out all the tricks in the book to ride with the younger set but sometimes you just have to let nature take its course. Beth is strong and I have no issue with that at all. She is a mountain bike rider. I don’t see her as a female mountain bike rider.
Bottom line is that there are sports where strength plays a factor in the performance of a man versus a woman. Women could not compete as an interior lineman in the NFL. But on a running race course, a trail, or a ski slope there is a lot of equity that comes about especially with the recreational set of folks who are not professional athletes. A lot of us take our sporting achievements and training seriously and many times our avocation can climb to some pretty lofty heights. But we are all athletes to one degree or another and with the current training methods, nutrition, and strength training available, the gender gap is narrowing to say the least. One last thought which I am compelled to share came from Sue Haywood where she says,” Pat, just remember to mention that there would be more women in cycling if guys weren’t raging with testosterone all the time.” I am sure Sue has had her challenges from time to time and believe me, I would bet on Sue. But her flip side point here is that this notion that a guy can’t be beaten by a girl can be taken to the other extreme. How sad it is to see a guy riding ahead of his significant other on a mountain bike or a road ride with the poor woman trying to keep up. Talk about a turn off and how to instantly discourage a fellow rider. Same thing with the guy who takes his gal down some steep ski slope that intimidates her and she never comes back to ski. Come on guys, encourage your lady! If she has the courage to try a sport with you, don’t beat her into the ground to show her what a tough guy you are. Help her!!! Teach her. Be patient with her. If you do that, you will add to Sue’s friends on the trails and you will also have a friend for life to share the sport you love. Eileen, Kress and Sue will take it easy on you. Thanks for reading.