Tamara Wilm Speed Skating

My Walden Pond: Ending a Speed Skating Career

In the year 2000, I was 20-years-old when my speed skating career came to an abrupt end. It wasn’t something I had anticipated happening until I was at least 30, and here I was, barely out of my teens, hanging up my skates.

I was devastated and ashamed. All I wanted was to get my head on straight and heal. My former coach, Dianne Holum, invited me to move to Colorado’s Front Range to live with her. So, I did.

My little red Ford was weighed down with far too many belongings one late October day when I drove away from my parent’s house in Wisconsin, with my mom crying at the front door. After getting past the guilt, I enjoyed the four-hour ride to Iowa City, where I’d spend the night with friends from high school.

There’s a lot of corn and flat between Wisconsin and Colorado until you finally hit the foothills. Then, the excitement begins to build. You know what awaits you: the mountains, the special quality to the air, beauty everywhere you turn.

Having spent many vacations out in Colorado with Dianne and her daughter, Kirstin, one of my closest friends, it felt like a dream to finally be moving there. That took away some of the sting of leaving my sport behind. At the time, I couldn’t think of a better place to live.

Colorado was filled with all the things I loved: high peaks, endless road cycling and Mt. bike routes, skiing, hiking, and trail running, that lead to incredible vistas everywhere you turned; not to mention people who wanted to do all these things too. At every trailhead, training ride, campsite, and mountain resort people were happy, smiling, and genuinely comfortable in their own skin. It was a far cry from the repressed land of Wisconsin I had left, where people told you one thing but meant another.

Passive aggression was decidedly absent out west. To me, this was freedom. Maybe more than the mountains, and the wide-open spaces of the Front Range.

My days would look like this: wake up early and drive out to the day’s designated trailhead. My go-to spots were Eldorado Canyon and the Marshall Mesa trails, next to Boulder. One minute you’d be driving down a fairly commercial road, with the FlatIron Crossing Mall on your left, and the next, you’d be turning into a sun-drenched canyon that time forgot. A house maybe here or there, but otherwise wide open spaces, mountains and hills jutting up on both sides while the road split the landscape like some ancient grey scar. Cyclists riding up the road to my left, and runners heading down into the canyon on my right. All the while, my anticipation rising, because I knew that shortly, I’d be out there among them.

I tried to be out on the trails by 7:00 a.m., so I could fit in another workout later that day before I had to go to my waitressing job. Months after quitting the skating, and I still had two-a-days embedded into my DNA. I didn’t know a life without at least two workouts a day. The afternoons might consist of cycling or lifting at the gym, where I was given a gratis membership by a friend of Dianne’s. But mornings, mornings were always the best.

After getting out of the car, lacing up my trail runners, and strapping my dual water bottle carrier to my waist, I’d head up the trail if I were hiking or running. This being land the government shared with the ranchers, I’d pass gates every so often that needed to be secured, so the cattle wouldn’t wander out of their designated pasture.

There’s nothing quite like coming upon a herd of cattle, grazing on and alongside the trail. Even having grown up in Wisconsin, I don’t think—other than maybe milking a Guernsey cow on a field trip or two as a kid—I’d ever come face to face with cattle before. They are big. And by big, I mean, huge. A healthy fear compelled me to give the cattle a respectable amount of personal space, while I waited patiently for them to take their time and mosey on past the trail, and out into the field.

Happy that they were less than mildly interested in me, I’d continue on my way down the trail, with the flat irons rising up ahead of me, and hugging the hill on my left. With the cattle grazing in the green pasture, I felt like I was in Switzerland, and America was only a dream I had left behind me.

Other days I’d mountain bike on the impressive trails at Red Rocks, or at one of my favorite places, Green Mountain. The latter being a small mountain-ish hill and rock ensemble that was hugged by the freeway. It was also the place where I learned—quickly—the importance of being able to unclip your feet from the pedals on either side of your bike, not just on the right like I had become accustomed to. If you didn’t acquire this skill, falling off a cliff was something you were bound to experience sooner than later.

I can recall cool, but dry, days on these trails, riding myself hard, and enjoying each challenge: each bump, big rock, and crevasse. I felt like I was doing penance out there, and the harder and longer I pushed myself, the more I cleansed my soul of what was troubling it—the early demise of my career.

Colorado was peaceful. It was healing. It was filled with new adventures. I ate well, I exercised, and I focused on getting the demons that haunted me out of my head. As a fellow server at the restaurant where I worked suggested, it was my Walden Pond. I was living deliberately, and with a purpose—and more than a little bit of leftover discipline from the sport I had recently departed.

My co-worker was right—to a degree. It was all of those things, but it was also lonely.

It was being in the most incredible place I could imagine, but not having anyone to share it with. There were not enough adjectives to describe the beauty, the awe, the feeling I had every time I was alone in the mountains … on the trail. Every day was the most extraordinary, more impressive than the last.

Who would think that’d be a bad thing?

With the hindsight of age, I can see how things would have changed, had I stuck it out. How I would have made more friends, gone to college out there, and probably stayed out west.

But, it’s hard to tell a 20-year-old that. I had a quasi-boyfriend back home in Wisconsin, I had friends, I had a college I could go to and run cross-country. These things pulled me home prematurely. Yet, I can’t complain too much, because if I hadn’t gone back I wouldn’t be where I am now.

So, after just over two months in the land of my dreams, I packed up that little red car to overflowing, and left Colorado on a beautiful 50-degree day, wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Headed back to the cold, snow-covered land of Wisconsin.

I drove 16 hours straight. Somewhere in the middle of the night, or early morning, I crossed the Illinois/Wisconsin border, about 45 minutes from my parent’s house. It was dark out, quiet—snow covered everything. But inside, every fiber of my soul was screaming, “turn around! Go back!” Yet, I drove on.

About the Writer

Tamara Johnson is a freelance writer and editor; she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Keith. The couple spends as much time as possible in the Adirondacks. Tamara fell in love with the mountains when she was 15, on her first trip to Lake Placid for a speed skating meet. You can find her on Instagram and the web.


  1. Jerry Zimmerman

    Although a great read of a beautiful (but too brief) written article, I am left with many questions. I feel as if I had skipped chapters one and two, read only chapter three, and missed reading the following and “the rest of the story.” The good news is, I was left wanting to have read the entire book, (;-)


    1. Hatie Parmeter

      Hi Jerry!
      We agree – this was an interesting snippet that left us wanting more! We’ll let ya know if Tamara shares another story with us. 🙂 Thanks for reading!


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