Bill Linney might have to rework the saying “life begins at 40”.
The 62-year-old Pearl, Idaho, native entered a National Off-Road Bicycle Association race on Mount Spokane two years ago and rode his way to a fifth-place finish in the 55-over class.
“That was it for me,” said Linney.
“I fell in love (with racing) right there. Your heart rate goes up and down, man, it’s exhilarating.”
Linney has parlayed his mountain-bike racing into a No. 1 ranking in the downhill for a five-state region (Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Alaska).
“Things just kinda took off for me,” stated Linney. “I’ve enjoyed a lot of success for only being at this for three years.”
He’s also ranked 14th in cross-country racing, and that encompasses all classes.
Linney moved to Spokane in 1973 to attend Eastern Washington University. He graduated in 1977 with a degree in sociology and went back and earned his master’s.
“After I graduated I went to work for the state,” he said. “I got fed up with that. I was always challenging management and they didn’t like that too much.
“After that I ran a VW repair shop in Cheney. But 90-hour weeks got to be a little much.”
A stint with AARP (Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons) didn’t work out either.
“There’s just too many sad retired people out there,” chuckled Linney. “Too many people who think there’s nothing left for them to do.”
Through it all, Linney, who raised two daughters as a single parent, has always been an avid bike rider.
He road-raced for five years in the early ‘70s through the wine country of Northern California.
“That was a lot of fun,” Linney said. “Although I didn’t get to finish as many races as I’d have liked because of all the (wine) sipping.”
Now he’s happy working part-time for REI.
“I started out shoveling snow for them in 1992,” said Linney. “After that I asked if I could work part-time in the store. The younger guys at REI and Midway Cyclery are the ones who convinced me to give mountain bike racing a try.”
Linney’s list of accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but suffice to say in the three years he’s been racing he’s won 15 gold medals, including eight this year.
Among his highlights are winning the 1996 Idaho state championship in the downhill and a second-place finish at the national cross-country finals in Huntzman, Utah, this year.
Any time Linney needs inspiration he doesn’t have to look far.
“My high school gymnastics coach, a guy by the name of Ernie Marinoni, won a race in the 85-over class. Now that spurred me on.
“I called him on the phone and he remembered me. If I’m still alive at that age that’s where I’ll be.”
Linney impressed Midway Cyclery’s Dave Trefry enough to sponsor him.
“Bill is the coolest guy you’ll ever meet,” said Trefry. “He’s the coolest grandpa you’ll ever talk to. I mean there is no way you can’t like him.
“He’s got so much focus and direction that there was no doubt in my mind that he’d be successful. If you go to any of our races you can’t miss Bill … he’s out there cheering everyone on. I don’t mean just everyone from our team … I mean everyone. He’s something else. I wish I had his energy.”
Along with Midway, Linney also enlisted FM alternative rock radio station 105.7 “The Peak” to sponsor him.
“Not bad for a 62-year-old guy,” said Linney. “I’m also seriously thinking about contacting Geritol and Centrum Plus to see if they’d be interested. I mean, I’m at the age when most people start using their products, so who knows?”
Along with biking some 20 to 200 miles a week, Linney has begun weight training.
“I started working with a lady by the name of Rita Wirtz, who is the fitness director at Eastern Washington. I’m starting to bulk out and I feel really good about that. That’s really going to help me in the cross country races where you have to do more climbing.”
Linney has already set goals for the year 2000.
“My goal is to be the national champion at the age of 65. And I will get it.”
Linney had this to say about that “life begins at 40” stuff:
“For me, life begins every day I’m alive. There might come a time when they have to scrape me off the road and throw me in a coffin. That’s fine with me … one thing I can tell you, I’m not going to go in my sleep.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo