Leadville Racing Lays a “Family” Cyclist to Rest
By Kathy Bedell, Leadville Today
“He loved that race,” said Connie, the wife of cyclist Scott Ellis, who died last Saturday, Aug. 15 while participating in the Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) Mountain Bike race. “He liked the people. He liked the town. He liked the atmosphere,” she added.
And that, in the ultra world, is what’s known as the Leadville racing family spirit. So, heads and helmets will be bowed along the trail this week in honor of Scott Ellis, 55, of Johnstown, Colo. who died near the end of the 100-mile course. It’s the first death in the history of the iconic high-altitude mountain bike race, which is owned and produced by Life Time out of Chanhassen, Minn., and was added to the “Race Across The Sky” series in 1994.
“It’s devastating to Merilee and I, because we’ve preached, taught, and believed that Leadville is about family,” said LT100 Founder Ken Chlouber in an interview with Leadville Today on Monday. “This guy is an 18-time finisher. We’re the ones who gave him his 1,000 mile buckle, his 11-year jacket. It’s an incredible loss.”
Ellis’ wife Connie crewed and supported her husband for 17 of those years. However this year, an ailing pet prevented her attendance at last Saturday’s race. But in a place like Leadville, it doesn’t take long to realize that everyone on that course, whether they are on a bike or volunteering at an aid station, is your crew.
For a veteran rider like Ellis, who was also a member of the Peloton-Specialized team, he had developed some serious “family” relationships after participating in the LT100 for 18 years. In fact, Chlouber stated, only 6 other guys had finished more MTBs than Ellis. Getting help on the course would not be an issue!
During their time in Leadville, Scott and his wife Connie were regular guests at the McGinnis Cottage Bed and Breakfast. Owner Donna McGinnis remembered Scott fondly in a conversation with Leadville Today. The innkeeper stated that she did not notice anything different about this well-fit athlete when he checked in last Wednesday, Aug. 12.
“He seemed like he was in good shape, in good spirits, socialized with the other guests,” said McGinnis. She added that he seemed a bit thinner than normal, but that he chalked that up to a recent training tip he’d been applying, about shaving time off uphill climbs for each pound lost.
Longtime cycling friends, Glade and Connie Weiser were also regular’s at the McGinnis B&B, and the foursome’s Leadville racing family story is typical of the binding friendships that develop around the LT100.
“We had met them up here each year and that’s how we became friends over time. We always stayed at the same lodging. He was a super, well-fit athlete and this race meant a lot to him,” explained Glade Weiser. “These things are always a shock when it’s someone who is that well-conditioned.”
The Weisers had been tracking Ellis’ progress along with a number of other friends they had in the race on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. They saw him go through Pipeline (aid station) at about the 74-mile mark.
“He looked fine, and he was on a good pace for about a ten, or a ten and a half hour finish,” Weiser said.
But when Ellis failed to come through at the 90-mile mark, they became increasingly puzzled.
“We had no idea why, so we started to assume that he had a mechanical problem and headed back into town to the finish line.” Eventually Ellis’ friends met up with some of the people he was riding with, and they relayed the details from the field.
According to Weiser’s report, his friend’s heart failure happened at the top of Sugarloaf (Powerline), although the official cause of death from the Lake County Coroner is still pending.
“He was at the top and about to descend,” repeated Weiser softly, for a second time, sharing a fact Ellis’ racing buddies might find solace in.
All accounts from the field indicate that Ellis received immediate medical assistance from other racers on the course.
“I was the first one to stop, the second guy, was an ER doc, and he knew what to do,” wrote racer Chris Brower on the “Leadville 100 MTB Participants” Facebook page. “A bunch of us helped with chest compressions, and I rode back up the trail to the white jeep at the top of Powerline, they were able to get though to 911, by the time I got back to the scene, the medics in the atv were there and they waved me on down the trail, I met the 4×4 ambulance on the way down and continued my race,” he concluded expressing his deepest sympathy to Scott’s family.
This is part of the LT100 success formula that makes this race safer than average. There are many riders with medical training participating in the race. And just like Scott Ellis did over his 18 years, cyclists stop and help out other members of the Leadville racing family. Unfortunately, efforts on the course were not able to revive Ellis and he was transported to St. Vincent Hospital in Leadville where he was pronounced dead.
Like many racers, Ellis also had a fulfilling career, as a engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) overseeing a number of projects throughout the state. According to his wife Connie, his heartstring project was the recent “temporary” rebuild of ravaged U.S. Highway 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon, following the September 2013 flood. Scott grew up in Loveland, and remembered the deadly flood in 1976 which devastated the area. Ellis was slated to be the project director on the permanent rebuild of the highway thru the Big Thompson Canyon. No doubt, his knowledge and expertise will be missed on that project.
“His dedication, passion and caring grace for the people of Colorado will be profoundly missed,” CDOT announced regarding Scott Ellis.
“He jokingly said to me this spring,” recounted Scott’s wife, Connie Ellis. “’I’m going to go for 20 and get my big buckle and then, I’m going to quit.’ . . . . I just responded ‘Oh, no you’re not,’ . . . . and he said ‘you’re right, I’ll probably do it into my 70s!’”
And while that 2000 mile belt buckle will never be garnered through Scott’s efforts, Ken Chlouber shared that he and Race Director Josh Colley have already begun discussions about honoring Ellis at next year’s race. They anticipate doing some sort of a memorial, including his wife Connie in the occasion, if she wishes, as well as acknowledging those riders who put their race on hold to help.
“He was one of the most compassionate and caring person that I have ever known, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my husband, he truly did care about people and always wanted to help them out. He was always positive,” Connie shared, honoring her husband.
And yes, for those who are wondering, or perhaps have publicly or privately demanded that “Life Time take responsibility,” all reports indicate that they have. Be assured that those sensitive conversations between Leadville race management and Ellis’ family have taken place, as they should, in private.
Because when it comes to Leadville and racing, well, this kind of family, always believes the best. Just like Scott. Rest in peace, brother.
Notes and condolences may be sent to Connie Ellis, 1107 N. 3rd Street, Johnstown, CO 80534.