This Cyclist Rides to Break Down Stereotypes and Raise Money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

·9 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy Khem Suthiwan
Photo credit: Courtesy Khem Suthiwan


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Name: Khem Suthiwan
Age: 44
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Occupation: Regulatory manager, energy industry
Time Cycling: Since 2009 as an adult
Reason for Cycling: Cycling started out as just one piece of the triathlon puzzle when I started the sport in 2009 with Team In Training. This eventually evolved into a social activity amongst various groups of friends who I race with, others who I do charity and recreational fun rides, and some who are my dirt besties. I wouldn't trade anything in the world for these awesome people!

I rode bikes just like any kid growing up: single speed with the back-pedal brake, and I’d ride up and down the block leaving skid marks (on purpose) on the sidewalk. My parents always made me ride on the sidewalks, as our neighborhood was not very cycling-friendly.

It wasn’t until I became adult, when I got bored with running marathons and decided to give triathlons a go, that I truly got into cycling.

My start with cycling began with my involvement in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program, and since 2006, I have helped to raise more than $100,000 in the fight against blood cancers over the years. I still raise money and ride for LLS, and have added the MS Society, with my participation in their two-day Bike MS events in honor of my friend, Nicole, to my list.

In 2009, I had been running and coaching marathoners with the LLS Team In Training program. One of the coaches from their triathlon program told me I should “come over to the dark side,” a.k.a. cycling.

I learned so much about cycling that year, and the more and more I rode, the more I wanted to keep going and get better. There was something so special about having the wind in your face, the whir of your wheels moving through the air. I can understand why dogs love putting their heads out the car windows.

In the beginning, I was riding about three to four times a week. Mostly on an indoor trainer during the week and outside on the weekends. As I progressed from short to long distance triathlons, I enjoyed putting routes together where I could plan water and bathroom stops.

In 2011, when I was about two years out from racing my first Ironman-distance race, I hired a coach (the same one who told me to come over to the “dark side.”) We used TrainingPeaks to monitor my training data and schedule.

Living in Colorado, there are so many races and events I could plug into my training schedule, so it made it easy to stay motivated, even during the most grueling part of the season. It also helped to have a group of friends who also trained and raced the same events. In August 2012, along with a group of triathlete friends, I finished Ironman Canada in Penticton, British Columbia.

Cycling has been the gift that keeps on giving. It has given me a way to connect with others in my community, people who don’t necessarily look like me, but just accept me for who I am. I grew up in a Midwestern town where people weren’t as accepting of others who were different. If you played sports, there weren’t a lot of options—football, basketball, soccer, and a few others. There weren’t a lot of kids that looked like me who participated in sports. Nonetheless, I tried to break that mold and participated when and where I could, and at times was met with racist behavior, even as a varsity cheerleader.

When I was introduced to endurance sports as an adult, I noticed there weren’t a lot of Asians participating, which made me want to do it even more. I wanted to be fit, I wanted to be strong, and I wanted to stand on my own two feet confident with who I am. Cycling has given that to me and so much more!

Photo credit: Courtesy Khem Suthiwan
Photo credit: Courtesy Khem Suthiwan

I’ll never forget a time before I became a cyclist, driving up in the mountains near Breckenridge, Colorado and seeing cyclists riding up Hoosier Pass. I used to think those people were crazy, and how fast these crazy people were descending down all those hairpin turns. Well, turns out I’m one of them now.

While my four Ironman triathlon finishes are pretty awesome, I’d have to say riding up some the world’s iconic climbs is something I’m pretty proud of doing. Those climbs include Mount Evans and Pikes Peak in Colorado, Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez in France, and my all time favorite, Stelvio Pass in Italy.

I am also an avid skier and scuba diver, plus I travel for work extensively, so I fit in riding wherever I can. Weather will often dictate how often I can ride outside, especially in the winter months, but if the roads are dry, you can find me outside. I will usually kick off my bike racing season with the Karen Horbostel Memorial Time Trial series in Colorado, and then spend most of the spring and summer participating in road races and events, with a few gravel races sprinkled in between.

My all-time favorite summer weekday criterium race is Tuesday Night Thunder in Colorado, which takes place every Tuesday at 6 p.m. for a handful of weeks between June and July. Locally, we also have an early morning group ride that launches at 6 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday morning called Park Hill Peloton (a.k.a. PHP.) I always make it a point to show up for this one. It’s a fun and hard workout to get in before heading into the office. By the time fall rolls around, I am usually in decent enough shape to pop into cyclocross season. I always look forward to it, both the racing and all-around fun vibe that cyclocross races bring to the mix.

Cycling has given me my youth back. I feel like a kid again when planning rides with friends, except now we can actually afford to get nicer bikes, travel to cool places to ride bikes, and buy more junk food at the gas station stops! With the various group rides and races, I have become friends with a lot of cyclists who are well into their 60s and 70s who are ridiculously strong. They are my inspiration to keep pedaling and pedaling harder no matter at what age.

However I end up making my biggest impact on the cycling community—whether it’s through charity events or community outreach—I hope it’s in a way that other cyclists can continue that work for many generations to come.

These tips have made my cycling journey a success:

1. Be consistent

A triathlete, who I once looked up to, gave me this one piece of advice when I first started riding: be consistent with your “ass-in-the-saddle” time. There are no shortcuts to building your fitness, gaining confidence, and improving your bike handling skills. Ride as much as you can and ride with people much faster than you.

2. Get the bike for the kind of cyclist you want to be

I follow this rule when it comes to most equipment I buy, regardless of the activity/sport. There is nothing more expensive than having to upgrade/replace the bike you got a great deal on because you’ve outgrown it, or worse yet, you don’t want to ride because it’s too clunky, heavy, etc. Which leads to another rule I follow and heard from a friend: “Buy nice or buy twice.”

3. Ride for you

Whatever you do, don’t listen to the naysayers and haters. They will always be there and be the first people to criticize you. I have plenty of them and always will. Don’t listen to them. Ride for you and not for anyone else, and know you have nothing to prove to anyone, even yourself. It’s all about the journey, so enjoy each and every ride!

4. Just start

I often hear a lot of excuses from friends about why they aren’t riding. The most popular one is “I’m not in shape. I’ll start riding when I’m back in shape.” Well, if you wait until you’re in shape to start riding again, you will probably never start riding again. I spend most of my year racing myself back into shape, usually coming in as the lanterne rouge, which I’m totally okay with. While I may not be competitive enough to get on the podium, I’m pretty competitive within myself and always, always try to have fun out there.

Khem’s Must-Have Gear

Van Holten’s Pickles: First of all, who doesn’t like pickles? Bonus is pickle juice is a great electrolyte replacement, and I love the salty taste! I usually put one with a ziplock bag inside my jersey pocket during long rides, and will often leave one in the car in a cooler bag for afterwards. They’re the best!

Pinarello Dogma F8: Bike fit is everything, and as a petite gal, it’s pretty hard to find bikes that fit my stature (my bike is a 46.5 centimeters). My go-to shop, TriBella in Denver, is a Pinarello dealer, and I got to demo one for the weekend. I immediately fell in love! It was like riding a dream no matter the conditions of the road.

Roka SL-1x Sunglasses: Being Asian, it’s always a challenge to find sunglasses that fit our unique faces. Most are made for prominent nose bridges, and more often than not, they hit my cheeks and slide down my face. In addition, I had retinal detachment surgery in 2020, so having a pair of sunglasses with lenses that help with the contrasts of riding surfaces is super helpful. I love how my Roka SL-1x sits on my face and doesn’t budge, gives me a clear field of vision from my periphery to straight ahead, and provides the protection I need from the sun and flying critters.

Oura Ring: I’m not a big fan of wearing my bulky fitness watch to bed every day to track my sleep metrics, so when I heard about the Oura Ring, I felt it was a great fit. The ring is super lightweight, blends in with my wardrobe, and the sleep metrics it measures are more in depth than any biometric I’ve ever owned. Not to mention, their customer service is amazing, especially with warranty-related issues.

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