From flab to fabulous: Utah cyclist racing across the country
Dina Hannah worked in the health-care industry, but was anything but healthy.
Years of stressful jobs, graveyard shifts and poor eating habits had left her, at nearly 40 years old, carrying some 230 pounds, so heavy that she once broke a bone in her foot simply by walking down the hall.
It would have been impossible, in other words, to envision riding her bike across the United States.
"I could not even imagine," she said.
Yet here she is, a decade later a lean, mean, 130-pound cycling machine who hopes to help her team break an age-group record in the annual Race Across America in June.
Now a 48-year-old vice president at ARUP Laboratories, Hannah will trade off with three teammates around the clock during the race, hoping to cover some 3,043 miles in less than six days and 11 hours and at the same time promote a message of health and wellness for everybody, regardless of age or condition.
"You can do it," she says. "You can do whatever you want, if you just put your mind to it."
Certainly, that's not always easy.
After breaking her foot, Hannah finally determined to make some changes in her life. She joined Weight Watchers to improve her diet and started running. But running was too hard on her body, and she wound up having surgery for osteoarthritis in her knee.
It wasn't until a couple of years later that Hannah took up a "commuter challenge" sponsored by ARUP, resolving to ride her bike 15 miles to work every day, from her home in Murray. She bought an inexpensive mountain bike for the effort, equipping it with road tires and making her first trip on a Saturday, just to see if she could do it.
"And I made it," she recalled, "And I was like, "Wow! This is so cool!' "
From there, a fanatic was born.
It wasn't long before Hannah was competing in races, joining a local cycling team Team BadAss Coffee and even participating in marathon events such as the 206-mile LoToJa Classic from Logan to Jackson Hole, Wyo., a race in which she's the two-time defending champion in her age group.
Not bad for a woman whose only claim to athleticism growing up was playing clarinet in the high-school marching band.
"That's what I want to encourage in other people," she said, "that you can imagine. You don't have to race across America to do it. Just make little changes. Find what you want to do. â¦ There are all kinds of sports. You can do whatever your passion is, you just have to find that passion."
Hannah emphasizes that she was past 40, overweight and with no experience in sports or athletics when she finally discovered cycling and changed her life.
Now, she almost can't help but gush about why she loves her sport.
"It's fun," she says with a laugh. "I don't know. It's just plain fun. To this day, even when I have my massive workouts â¦ I still am having fun. It's something you can do with your friends, something you can do alone. You get to see so much scenery. To me, there's nothing better than going to the top of a mountain just looking out and looking at how beautiful everything is."
The big test is looming, though.
Hannah acknowledges that she's starting to get butterflies in her stomach as the Race Across America approaches.
It's a demanding race that Hannah wasn't sure she was prepared for. But when a spot opened on a team composed of acquaintances in Denver, she just couldn't turn it down.
"I said, I'm going to give it a try," she said.
It was only earlier this month that Hannah met her teammates on Team Love, Sweat & Gears for the first time. She wears a tiny bike sprocket in the shape of a heart as a pendant around her neck and they're all raising money for charity as part of their adventure.
"The challenge is going to be keeping it in perspective," Hannah said, "just taking it one stage at a time, one stage at a time. Try not to get overwhelmed. And that's kind of like in life. If you think of something huge you have to do, you can get overwhelmed and just decide, 'oh, there's no way I can do it.'
"But if you just bite it off a little at a time, you can do it."
Funny, but that sure sounds healthy.
Race Across America
The Race Across America is the longest bike race in the world. It starts June 16 in Oceanside, Calif. Founded in 1982 as the Great American Bike Race, it stretches some 3,043 miles across the country, cutting through 12 states and hundreds of cities and towns on the way to its finish this year in Annapolis, Md.
O Follow Dina Hannah and her colleagues on Team Love, Sweat & Gears as they try to break the record of six days and 11 hours for a team of women whose average age is between 50-59. • http://www.Facebook.com/DinaHannahUltraCyclist or http://www.LoveSweatandGears.net.
Hannah is raising money for Autism Give as part of her participation in the Race Across America in June. Fans and sponsors can make donations to the nonprofit at http://www.utahautismgive.org/race.