January 2017 - ATHLETE PROFILE
JENNIFER HARVEY AND DON MASSONNE
By Dave Kraus
Age: Don, 60 and Jen, 56
Relationship: Together for ten years, married for six.
Career: Don – Engineer at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, and Jen – Project Manager at NYSERDA (retiring this month)
Sports: Jen – Primary: Mountain biking, cyclocross, cross country skiing, standup paddling and surf skiing. Secondary: Road biking, running, snowshoeing. Don – Primary: Mountain biking, gravel road cycling, cross country skiing and paddling. Secondary: Road biking, snowshoeing, hiking, and “Anything else Jen’s doing except swimming – I’m a sinker!”
According to one Capital Region couple, the secret to a successful fitness marriage is simple. “Try stuff,” says Jennifer Harvey of Niskayuna, about herself and husband Don Massonne. So that’s what they do, and it has resulted in a year-round menu of outdoor fitness that ranges from mountain biking and paddling in the summer to snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and fat biking in the winter months.
The Capital Region couple have been together now for ten years, and have supported each other’s fitness efforts ever since they met on a sunny October day in 2006 across the street from the Saratoga Mountain Bike Association trails, north of Saratoga Springs.
Don had just finished a solo ride and was waiting for a friend when he noticed Jen in her convertible, with her Jamis Dakar mountain bike on the trunk rack, complete with tires he was considering buying. Don had always wanted a Dakar, but could never afford it, so he wandered over to look things over and they started talking. “Not only could Jen speak tires,” he remembers, but “the conversation went to suspension design and she understood the difference between single pivot and four bar – then it went to mountain bike movies – it was amazing!”
Somehow, he managed to get her to accept an invitation for a ride at Spier Falls in Moreau, and when his buddy showed up Don told him, “John, I just met my dream girl!”
“He seemed like a nice guy and I was interested in riding Spier Falls,” says Jen, looking across the table at her husband with a wry smile. Two months later they were dating, and within a year had bought a house together.
As their relationship developed, so did their fitness pursuits. He got her interested in downhill mountain biking, and she got him onto the groomed (classic) cross country ski trails, and away from his off-piste skiing. Then they were passed on the trail by some skate skiers, so they took lessons to learn that technique.
Both agree that one of the secrets to their success is in the way they encourage and inspire each other. “We tend to feed off each other. When we both zero in on a sport, we say ‘let’s see where we can take this,’” says Jen.
Each originally started out in mountain biking, and getting off-road is still one of their favorite pursuits together.
Don caught the bug 15 years ago while sitting in a job-related training class at a local hotel. “The guy next to me saw how bored I was and handed me his Mountain Bike Action magazine,” Don remembers, and within a month he had a Specialized bike, and he and the new friend from class were out in the hotel parking lot during lunch, practicing jumps with a makeshift ramp. Soon he tried his first group ride in the Albany Pine Bush – and got in over his head. “I thought I was gonna DIE!” he says, but soon he was on his second group ride on the SMBA trails. “I came out beat and bloody, but I did the entire ride, dammit!”
Jen got interested in mountain biking on her own, two years before meeting Don. She heard people rode their bikes in the woods, and “it sounded really cool, so I tried it.” She rode solo until she learned about a group from the Out of Control Ski Club that also rode in the Pine Bush. “I realized people rode stuff that I had no idea people rode, and that opened my eyes to all the possibilities.”
Over the years they have included, road, trail, downhill, cyclocross, and fat biking in their fitness schedule.
Standup paddleboarding was next on the “try stuff” agenda, and the pair now have added that activity to their warm weather routine. That was followed by the fat bikes, and their latest addition is “surfski” paddling after Jen saw a competitor using one of the long, slim racing kayaks at a local triathlon. Don soon had to up his own game with one of the boats as well, after realizing “I had no choice. A standup paddleboard is so much slower.”
In 2012 they added cyclocross bikes to their stable when Don got a chance to test ride a cross bike at Plaine’s Bike Shop in Schenectady. She offered to buy him a bike even though “I thought it was stupid.”
Don headed out on his test ride, warned to bring the new bike back in the same condition he got it. When Jen watched him immediately start jumping it over obstacles, she sighed and said to herself, “Well, I guess I’m buying this.”
When she saw how much fun he was having, she bought one too, and today they race every fall. They went to Cyclocross nationals last year in Ashville, N.C., where Jen finished sixth nationally in her age group. The pair are closely matched, and finished within two seconds of each other in their respective Nationals races, with Don eking out the win. “But only because I tripped over a barrier!” Jen adds.
Now they have an established routine no matter what the season. Summer means five to six days a week of riding a combination of road and mountain bikes, with lots of volume at low intensity and longer weekend rides. Jen will ride on her lunch hour or commute to work. When Don gets home, he will see what she did that day and decide whether to ride outdoors, do a basement trainer session, or maybe just – gasp! – take the day off.
In the fall they switch to cyclocross, doing eight to ten races, and when winter comes, skiing becomes the number one priority depending on snow conditions. The cross country skis come out two to three times a week, or they may ride their fat bikes. Jen has also been doing gym work to increase her core strength for paddling and cross country skiing, and has been training with local coach Andy Ruiz to increase her cycling speed.
The pair agree that trying new things together is the key, while encouraging and inspiring each other despite their differences. “We’ve both tried things that we didn’t necessarily think we’d like,” says Jen. “I thought I wouldn’t like cyclocross racing or downhill mountain biking, but I loved them.”
Don says that he never would have tried standup paddling or surfski if they weren’t doing it together, and their styles complement each other. “I’m the non-planner. I feel my way through whatever it is, no matter if the bike is broken or there’s no trail map. Everything is part of the puzzle that you piece together. Jen, on the other hand, likes a plan, and a backup plan – and a map!”
The key, he adds, is to always try to help each other improve. “The better you are at it, the more fun it is.”
Dave Kraus of Schenectady is a longtime Capital Region writer, photographer and cyclist. Contact him at email@example.com.