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EDWARDSVILLE — Being both a full-time attorney and a world-class cyclist is a difficult juggling act, but Liz Heller is living proof that it can be done.
Heller, a partner at Goldenberg Heller & Antognoli, P.C. in Edwardsville, broke two Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) world records for women over 50 in a cycling event held April 6-7 at the velodrome in Aguascalientes, Mexico.
In the individual two-kilometer pursuit, Heller posted a record time of 2 minutes and 34 seconds. Heller also set the one-hour distance record of 42 kilometers and 118 meters.
“The 2K pursuit is eight laps around a 250-meter track and this track is special because it’s considered to be one of the fastest in the world,” said Heller, who is 62. “It’s at an altitude of about 6,000 feet and it’s hot.
“My best time in the 2K was 2:40 and I set the world record in Manchester [England] in 2016 [at the World Masters Track Cycling Championships]. Someone broke it in Aguascalientes, but records are made to be broken and my goal was always to try to break the record again. I did break it and it was by a pretty substantial margin.”
Heller, whose legal practice includes real estate law, business and commercial law, class action litigation and employment law, continues to add to an already impressive collection of cycling records and gold medals. This was her first trip to the velodrome in Mexico.
“Lee Povey, who is also the junior cycling coach for the USA, was organizing the trip and taking about 10 older athletes to Mexico,” said Heller, who lives in St. Louis. “Most of them were from California, but there was one guy from Philadelphia who is the Irish national sprint champion.
“Lee knew me from other events, but I was lucky because my longtime coach and friend, Patty Walsh, was willing to go with me. I had all of the bikes and equipment and I had five carry-on bags that I had to take down there on the plane. Luckily it all got there in one piece.”
While the 2K pursuit is Heller’s best event, she was familiar with the one-hour distance record, which is one of the most prestigious events in cycling with roots dating back to 1893.
“You start from a standing stop and you have an hour to go as far as you can,” Heller said. “The slope at the velodrome [at Aguascalientes] is about 42 degrees, but it’s not as steep as the ones in Manchester or Los Angeles. “In order to beat the old record, I knew I had to do 168 laps and I beat it by almost a mile and a half.
“The first 50 laps were fun, but the last 118 were absolutely brutal. You’re not allowed to have any kind of timing device on your bike, so you don’t know how fast you’re going. The only input you can get is auditory, so I had a guy giving me my lap times and I knew to get 168 laps, I had to average 21 seconds per lap.”
For Heller, the world records in Mexico were the latest in a long string of cycling accomplishments. She made her first trip to Manchester in 2014, winning four gold medals and one team bronze medal, and has been back to the World Masters Track Cycling Championships every year since then.
“I went back to Manchester a couple times after that and it wasn’t as easy,” Heller said. “I won gold medals and I got faster every year, but the competition increased. Sometimes they combine age groups and that makes it more difficult.
“The last two years, the world championships were in Los Angeles, so I was able to go out there and practice.”
From 2014 to 2018, Heller was a 12-time UCI Masters world track champion, with titles in several categories. She holds more than 18 USA Cycling Masters National Championship titles.
She has raced competitively all across the nation and was on a pro team for a short while.
“I’ve continued my interest in track [cycling] and locally there’s an event at the Confluence [Point State Park in West Alton, Missouri] every Wednesday night that is sponsored by Goldenberg Heller,” Heller said. “Right now, we’re flooded out, at least for a few more weeks.
“I’m very lucky to have not only an understanding husband [Bill Joffe, a retired doctor] but understanding partners that allow me to cut out of here early on a few nights to compete.”
Heller has an extensive athletic background and played basketball and volleyball at Rosati-Kain High School in St. Louis, graduating in 1976. She went on to play basketball at Beloit College in Wisconsin.
After college, she got involved in triathlons, which are a combination of running, biking and swimming.
“I crashed in my very first bike race and I’ve been hooked ever since,” Heller said, laughing.
Feeling that she was spreading herself too thin as a triathlete, Heller decided to concentrate on cycling.
She tried out for the U.S. Olympic cycling team and finished 18th in time trials, but only the top three made the team.
At the time, Heller had worked eight years for May Department Stores in St. Louis, but decided to go back to law school and graduated from Washington University in 1991. She joined Goldenberg Heller & Antognoli shortly thereafter and has been with the firm ever since.
Heller usually works 60 hours a week and gets up by dawn to train, often as part of a group on Fruit Road.
“It’s always been tough to balance work and cycling, but I think it keeps me focused,” Heller said. “You’ve got to be very disciplined. When you’ve got an hour to train in the morning, you’ve got to make the most of it.
“Unlike a lot of my competitors, I have a real job and real responsibilities. It’s a balancing act, but one I’ve always enjoyed.”
Heller competes in a variety of cycling events and has about 10 different bikes at home, but that doesn’t mean that her training conditions are always ideal.
“The Los Angeles crowd trains indoors in an enclosed, heated, air-conditioned, beautiful velodrome,” Heller said. “I spent the winter training either on an indoor bike in my basement, which I call the dungeon, or out on the gravel of the Katy Trail or Busch Wildlife. I hadn’t even been on a track since October.
“I have a gravel bike now and gravel bike racing is getting big. I’m going to do a 100-mile race in Kansas on June 1 on gravel called the Dirty Kanza. My husband thinks it’s crazy to have so many bikes, but you need different bikes for different kinds of racing.”
Heller frequently practices in St. Louis at the Penrose Park Velodrome, which is located on North Kingshighway.
Penrose Park was built on land donated by the city of St. Louis in 1962 after the Forest Park Velodrome was dismantled to make room for Highway 40/64 on the south end of the park.
The velodrome is one of the oldest tracks in the U.S. and was in poor condition until it was recently refurbished.
“Last year the city of St. Louis came up with some funds and they completely rebuilt the surface with new concrete,” Heller said. “It hasn’t started up yet, but I’m looking forward to that pretty soon.”
Heller’s schedule for the remainder of 2019 includes the USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships on Aug. 27 in Los Angeles and the world championships, which are back in Manchester this year and start on Oct. 12.
“I’ve also got a trip coming up in July with my husband,” Heller said. “We’re going to go all the way from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone National Park. It’s mostly for fun, but I’ll still be doing some training.”
Reach reporter Scott Marion at email@example.com