Spoke, Scalpel, Repeat
Beep, beep, beep.
A swift hand silences the alarm as to not wake a sleeping wife. At 4:30 a.m., Dr. Erik Dorf prepares for another busy day. He still has six hours until he needs to be at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics for work. He isn’t thinking about that, though – this part of the day is for him alone. The dust glows bright behind his spinning tires as the first rays of light hit the trail. In the back of his mind he knows that every hour of training will help him in his upcoming 100-mile competition.
Battle Mountain High School was the start of it all for Dorf. For the past 20 years mountain biking has been an integral part of his life. “I got into cycling doing local mountain bike races growing up. When I was in my undergraduate for medical school I rode for CU. I remember one year when I was on the team, CU went to the national championships and I had to take the MCAT’s,” Dorf said.
Fortunately, Dorf didn’t have a “sick day” and his MCAT’s helped him to go on to medical school. He is now an exceptional surgeon at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics. He has hardly forgotten about his days of cycling and it appears that he may even be in his prime. It wasn’t until this past summer, at the Leadville 100, where huge goals were accomplished for the endurance athlete. “I first remember hearing about the race when I was in high school. At the time I said, “There is no way, that’s impossible. No one does a 100-mile mountain bike ride.” Ever since then I knew I wanted to do it,” Dorf said. This past August he competed in the Leadville 100 for the first time, and he stood out in a big way.
Now in its 20th year, the burly 100-mile high altitude trail ride requires incredible endurance. This year 1,900 competitors battled it out, with 1,200 finishing. Although this summer was Dorf’s first time ever competing at the event, his 31st place finish would lead you to believe he had been competing since his early high school days.
The many miles put on at these events don’t come easily, as seen from the roughly 700 people that didn’t complete the race this year. “The biggest challenge in any kind of bike race is avoiding the bad stuff. There is a certain amount of luck involved in that. When you are riding a mountain bike you can have flat tires, there’s the bad weather to avoid and you could have an unfortunate crash,” said Dorf. “So certainly one of the biggest things is to avoid those big obstacles if possible. Like I said, I was lucky for the Leadville 100. The weather was wet going into the race but we had a relatively perfect day. All the moisture made the trail textured and fast.”
Lucky or not, Dorf balances a grueling lifestyle that would leave many with little energy to go out and ride 100 miles. While balancing a family life with his career as a hand, elbow and shoulder specialist at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics, Dorf still squeezes in time to cycle. Oh yeah, he is also a physician for the Women’s U.S. Alpine Ski Team. And although he says he is not a professional cyclist, his 1st place finish in the Grand Fondo Division of the Mt. Evans Hill Climb in addition to his impressive finish at the Leadville 100 speaks differently. “My wife always likes to remind me, ‘Eric you are a professional but not a professional cyclist,’” said Dorf. “It takes a lot of commitment, especially if you are going to do the longer races. As soon as you start competing in races more than three or four hours you really have to train with that mindset. It‘s hard to get that much time on a bike while also balancing a career and a family life.”
Sue, wife to Erik, is an avid cyclist herself. Her experience as Lindsay Vonn’s agent, among other impressive accolades, certainly clarifies the understanding that passion driven training gets results.
In order to balance his passion for cycling and a full time career, Dorf rides as early in the morning as possible. “I do a lot of ‘home by 8 o’clock’ morning rides. During the spring I ride from 5 in the morning until 8. If you want to get it done that’s the time for it. Your day is all set once you’ve gotten that morning ride in,” said Dorf. “On the weekends I will do one long ride on Saturday or Sunday. That has been my secret to get a lot of volume in while also maintaining a reasonable family life and career.”
Cycling isn’t Dorf’s only area of expertise. He works side by side with Dr. Sterett as a physician for the women’s U.S. Ski Team. “I travel with the U.S. women’s alpine team. Most of the time I’m there to fix minor things. Usually it’s preventative stuff and hopefully there is nothing major while you are with them,” Dorf said. This upcoming year he will serve as a key physician during training and competition for Beaver Creek’s World Cup and the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in 2015.
The 2015 World Championships aren’t that far away, and the snowflakes are already beginning to fall. There are still ways to prepare your body for the approaching season. “I think that a lot of people in the mountains do a fantastic job at preparing for skiing. A combination of training methods to achieve a good balance is important. Don’t just ride your bike. Don’t just ski. I think the natural transition that we have up here between our winter and summer sports makes a very good spring board for utilizing that training method,” Dorf said.
“Growing up in Vail and having hockey, cycling and skiing as three of my athletic priorities really helps me relate to my patients. I love taking care of athletes, kids who are up and coming stars, the weekend warriors...I love all of it. It’s really an honor and a pleasure to be able to help people through some of their more difficult times. I feel really lucky to be able to live in an environment like this where everybody really does value their health and their bodies. Being part of this community is fun and exciting.”