Remembering Karen Hornbostel

On Missing Karen

by Lennard Zinn

A bright, vibrant light has gone out in the cycling community as well asin the community of cancer survivors. Karen Hornbostel, a four-time master’s national road champion and recipient of the 2003 Lance Armstrong Spirit of Survivorship award passed away peacefully at home in Littleton, Colorado, surrounded by family and friends on Tuesday, October 24, eight days past her 54th birthday. She had battled metastatic breast cancer for over 13 years. Hornbostel made a difference in the cycling community with her devotion to improving opportunities for women in cycling as well as with her infectious wit and charm. But it is for her work making a difference in the quality of the lives of thousands of cancer survivors after her own diagnosis of breast cancer at age 40 for which she will be most remembered.

I first got to know Karen in 1984, when my wife and I were creating a women’s cycling team. Seemingly everyone we talked with about the team said that we simply had to invite Karen on board. An exercise physiologist who loved to ride and to laugh, Karen immediately took charge of selecting and coaching the team. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and she was instrumental in creating a nurturing and fun-loving environment on the team, one that not only produced breakthrough cycling results, but that also rippled out through the women on the team, inspiring and empowering them in whatever they took on in life. I loved to just be around them, not only building their bikes, but also serving as driver, mechanic, soigneur and manager at hundreds of races. It was Karen who brought sprinting for every deer-crossing sign to the team, including sprinting for the sites of where there had been deer-crossing signs in the past that had been taken down! Driving to races, the “girls” even dove for the windshield at deer-crossing signs to “outsprint” each other inside of the team van. Karen’s nickname of “Kellen” was the pronunciation of her name by the Japanese women who came over every summer to race on the team. I believe that the Zinn-Alfalfa’s Market-Shimano Women’s Team helped pave the way for many other women’s-only cycling teams, and Karen’s nurturing leadership was the glue that held it together as well as helped spawn many national road and time trial champions. Among them was a top University of Colorado alpine ski racer named Juli Furtado. Furtado had endured too many major knee reconstructions to tolerate a ski career any longer, and Karen identified Juli as a budding talent we simply had to sponsor. I admit to questioning the wisdom of this when Furtado’s custom bike I had only completed a week or so prior blew off of the roof of her jeep on her way to the airport for her first race, the Tour of Texas. The bike, in a box, flew over the Highway 36 divider in front of oncoming rush-hour traffic, and every part of it ended up completely flat. Karen laughed about it while feeling my pain and said I would not regret making Juli another one, even though she had no race results. She was right, of course. I built Juli another bike, and she went on to win the national road championship on it with a long, solo breakaway in Milwaukee in her first year of bike racing. She also won the collegiate nationals before departing the road for mountain biking. Hornbostel herself won many national championships and brought in several junior riders who did the same. She later became a certified USCF junior coach.

The colors of the team, inspired by Karen, were pink and blue, and during her final hours she was wearing blue flannel pajamas and was covered with a pink knit blanket. At her house on the eve of her passing, I discovered a treasure trove of pink and blue road, time trial, and mountain bikes in her basement that I had built for her and that she had saved despite being outdated in materials and components. Hornbostel was an athlete her entire life, always celebrating the sheer joy of movement and competition and decorating her houses with medals and banners of Olympic spirit. Her father, Charles Hornbostel, was a two-time Olympian in track and field during the legendary 1932 and 1936 years. The1932 Olympics in Los Angeles during the Great Depression were the Gamest hat made Babe Didrickson a household name and which banned legendary Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi from competing because he had received “excessive” expense money on a trip to Germany in 1929. The 1936 Berlin Olympics, were Adolf Hitler’s attempt to prove Aryan racial superiority that was turned on its head by Jesse Owens and his four gold medals.

After two recurrences of her own cancer, Karen started the Summit Cancer Exercise Program for cancer survivors in 1999. She founded and directed Summit Cancer Solutions a program running in five locations around the Denver area that has inspired similar programs all over the country. Karen’s own path guided her work. After her original August 1993 diagnosis, surgery, and chemotherapy, she said, “In 20 years of bike racing I learned what it was like to push my body. I told myself, okay, I can handle this. I won’t feel great, but I can get through it. ”Two years later, Hornbostel was racing her bike again, now giving her winnings to a cancer research fund. Other racers followed suit. The following year, Hornbostel was back to her old form, once again winning her age group at the U.S. Road Nationals. But later that same year, in December 1997,Hornbostel’s cancer was back with a fury, this time in her bones. She chose to endure a stem-cell transplant, a procedure destructive to the immune system but which provided the best chances for long-term survival. In advance of the procedure, Hornbostel trained hard on her bikes and cross-country skis, and in the weight room. “I knew I needed to have my body in top shape. I needed to do everything I could to get strong and get my immune system ready,” she said at the time. Many of us in Hornbostel’s enormous group of friends worried that this stem-cell procedure would be the end of her. But though weakened, she came through it even stronger in her convictions, devoting herself to working with other cancer survivors. She was determined not to see others set back by the lack of guidance available to her for integrating exercise into her recovery program. “As an exercise physiologist, I was taught that exercise is a very strong component of rehabilitation, yet it seemed that no one had a clue about exercise for cancer rehab,” she recalled. She wanted others to understand that, “those days where I just felt sort of bad were the days when exercise was most important. Once I got out on my bike or my skis, I’d be energized. ”Left with a paralyzed left shoulder after the stem-cell transplant, she began to swim and trained for a triathlon. “As my shoulder began to function again,” she said, “I knew I had to do something extra to get it back to 100 percent.” Starting in 1999, she participated in the Denver Danskin triathlon with Rocky Mountain Team Survivor, a group of women who have survived cancer and on whose board of directors she served. Also in 1999, Hornbostel quit her regular exercise-physiology job in favor of a small cancer exercise program at the Foothills Parks and Recreation District in Littleton. “I’d found my calling,” she said. She expanded the program and brought in new money. Funded by the Denver chapter of the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation, it has provided scholarships to fitness programs for hundreds breast cancer survivors in the Denver area. In 2000, Hornbostel found a new cancerous lump in her throat and went on to spend most of this decade battling recurrences with a combination of chemotherapy, exercise, a boundless determination, and a constant sense of humor. Even in the darkest moments, she kept her those around her in stitches. Even her AOL user name, KarHorn, was funny. From a man near and dear to both the cancer and cycling communities, Hornbostel received the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s 2003 Carpe Diem Spiri tof Survivorship award for her groundbreaking work in integrating exercise into the cancer recovery process. Struggling through yet another round of chemotherapy in her fifth bout with cancer at the time of the Live to Ride Gala awards ceremony in Austin in February, 2003, Hornbostel drew on her vast inner reserves to make the trip. She brought the room down by yanking off her wig and joking and laughing throughout her acceptance speech. Hornbostel has single-handedly defined the importance of integrating exercise into the cancer recovery process. In addition to the LAF award, she has been awarded the following: Ultimate Drive Award (from Susan G. Komen, BRC and MBMW of North America) for being an honorable supporter of breast cancer awareness, 20057 News Everyday Hero Award, 2005 Jackie Madson award for The Race for Cure, 2004 Jefferson Women’s Award (for community service) given by Jefferson County, 2004 Susan Miller Award for Day of Caring Breast Cancer Awareness, May 11, 2002 As relatives, Hornbostel leaves her older brother and two nieces from Connecticut, as well as her two 55-pound best friends, Amber, a 4-year-old lively female yellow lab, and Squirt, a 3-year-old male golden retriever mix who are currently seeking a home they can share together that has a large yard to romp in and loving people willing to do some training.

Remembering Karen Hornbostel

by Gary Harty

I’m sitting here reflecting on my return to bicycle racing last year and specifically on using the Karen Hornbostel Memorial Time Trial series at Cherry Creek Reservoir to reacquaint my legs and lungs to bicycle racing. It appears as though the time trial will be cancelled for the second week in a row and that is going to disappoint a great many people. The popularity of this time trial series is tremendous – and I cannot think of a better tribute to Karen’s legacy.I first crossed paths with Karen when she joined Columbine Cycle Club in the late 19070’s. Some of our better riders were competing on various teams in the 1979 Red Zinger. We even had a women’s team competing in our yellow and green Columbine jerseys. Karen was a member of that team and would be lining up to race against some real legends of the sport. That would include a young Connie Carpenter, future world champion Beth Heiden, and multiple world champion Keetie van Oosten Hage of the Netherlands. Karen would go on to ride for some very good teams in Colorado and apply her degree in exercise physiology to help others learn to ride or just gain fitness.In the late 1980’s, Karen and I crossed paths again. I was now racing in the SM 35+ category and Karen was still racing with Senior Women. As luck would have it, the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado was looking to hire a new executive director and office manager. Karen and I interviewed and were offered an opportunity to job share this one paid position. We jumped at the opportunity with enthusiasm. While working as Karen’s colleague, I witnessed her dedication and love for the sport first hand. I also became the beneficiary of her abilities as a mentor. I remember accompanying her with a group clinic of new racers, mostly women, to a new industrial park in Louisville. She took us through a series of structured exercises leading up to full speed criterium cornering techniques. I learned a lot that day and she made me a better rider.

During the week in the office between races, we often discussed the past week’s races and our respective results. Hers were always better than mine. One day she casually asked me about my weekly training mileage. I stated that I routinely logged 300 miles a week. “Are you out of you cotton picking mind?” she demanded. “You need to cut your mileage immediately and then train harder in the middle of the week.” Sound familiar? That is still the advice given to many riders who substitute quantity for quality.

On weekends, we were often on the race course together as the Senior Women and the SM 35+ shared the course at the same time. This provided me the opportunity to watch her mentor other women during the course of the race as our group passed her or her group passed us. When the men are overtaking the women on a tight criterium circuit, everyone’s HR begins to soar. The men sometimes revealed their nervousness by cussing and screaming at the women as if that would help the situation. In contrast, Karen’s calm voice would help to steady the women and help them hold a predictable line as our group passed theirs. If it was a road race, Karen might be in the chase group, but she would be coaching and guiding the women with less experience to help them chase in an efficient pace line.

When our year working together came to a close, the BOD of Bicycle Colorado wanted to move in another direction. I began a period of coaching soccer, while Karen became deeply involved in volunteering for the Bicycle Colorado BOD and other non-profit boards involved in cycling. Karen remained active in cycling, fitness, and then fate would throw down one more challenge and turn her into a cancer survivor. Our paths almost crossed one more time. I went to work for Foothills Park and Recreation District after a short span of teaching elementary school. When I was finally hired full time I became aware that Karen had a position at Foothills, something involving cancer solutions. I thought we would soon run into each other at an all staff meeting. Because of some IT issues and a shortage of computers, I was unable to access my e-mail for a 3 month period. I finally kicked my boss of his computer one day so that I could clear my mail box. As I deleted e-mail after e-mail, Karen’s last days played out in front of my eyes. She had become ill and contracted pneumonia. Day after day, her condition worsened. Then visitors were asked to stay away for a little while. Then she was gone. Then there was a fund raising sale of the pottery that she had created. I had missed the whole period while waiting for access to a computer. I had missed the opportunity to renew and treasured acquaintance – a chance to say good-bye.

So as I look at the success of the KHMTT series and its popularity, I can think of no better tribute to Karen. I am pleased that I had the opportunity to honor her by racing the series last year. I look forward to racing it again someday. I miss her. I will always remember her as a teammate, a friend, and a mentor. I believe her spirit is still with us in Colorado. I even believe a part of her spirit has infused my new team director and one of the inspiring influences on the Colorado scene – Megan Hottman. Karen, thank you for everything you have done for racing in Colorado. Long live your memorial time trial series.

Cancer Fitness Institute (CFI)

Your Subtitle Goes Here

Summit Cancer Solutions was founded by Karen Hornbostel, an exercise physiologist and champion cyclist diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 at the peak of her cycling career. When she asked if she could exercise during treatment, her doctor did not know, because at that time the medical community advised cancer patients to rest to regain their strength. Karen decided that she was going to continue to exercise, and over the next 13 years made it her life’s passion to help other cancer survivors regain strength and confidence through exercise.

In 1998, Foothills Parks and Recreation District received a grant from the Komen Foundation to create an exercise program for breast cancer survivors at the Peak Wellness facility in Littleton. Coincidentally, Karen worked for Foothills at the time and the Summit Exercise Program for Breast Cancer Survivors was born. Summit ran under the umbrella of Foothills until 2002, when it became an independent 501c3 not-for-profit, allowing expansion to four other municipalities in the Denver area.

Summit was the only program in Colorado offering cancer exercise support in a community setting, utilizing cancer exercise specialists. In fact, the only other organization in Colorado that provided cancer wellness/exercise programs was Navitas; a for-profit program that offered in-depth, one-on-one comprehensive services such as physical/occupational therapy. Navitas closed its doors in December of 2008.

At the time of its incorporation, a strategic decision was made to expand Summit’s mission from serving only breast cancer patients to serving patients with all types of cancer. This decision was prompted by a growing body of research that showed that consistent exercise during treatment produces positive outcomes generalized across all types of cancer, age and gender. As the programs began to grow, they moved away from “direct service” and began to focus on a “train the trainer” model. Summit Cancer Solutions changed its name to the Cancer Fitness Institute (CFI) in January 2011 and merged with the Colorado Parks and Recreation Association. CFI moved away from providing direct service and the exercise program offered in recreation centers is referred to as CancerFit©.

CFI’s mission is to develop and support quality cancer-specific exercise programs for survivors in a healthy and positive community environment. Our goal is to provide cancer survivors with a uniquely tailored, individualized exercise program to assist them in cancer recovery (physically, psychologically, and emotionally) and to keep the program affordable and accessible. Our vision is for any cancer survivor in Colorado to have access to the program, no matter where they live.

The CFI offers training to exercise physiologists, recreation and healthcare professionals on running the CancerFit© Exercise Program for adult cancer survivors. Exercise specialists with a cancer specialty oversee all aspects of the CancerFit© exercise regimen, which aids in recovery and general fitness during and after treatment. The fitness program includes flexibility, cardiovascular, and strength training. CancerFit© is unique! There are only a handful of organizations providing exercise/wellness programs to cancer survivors in the United States. CancerFit© is one of the few programs in the country that uses a community-based model. By operating out of community recreation centers, CancerFit©’s program is “health” rather than “hospital” oriented, gives participants the opportunity to exercise in their community and to adopt exercise as a lifelong habit. CancerFit©’s motto is Get Back to Being You!

For more information about the Cancer Fitness Institute or the CancerFit©, please visit