Amy Snyder grew up in New York City, earned an engineering degree with high honors from Princeton University, and worked as an engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area for a few years. Then she went to Stanford Graduate School of Business for her MBA. During her time in the Bay Area, this nerdy, unathletic city girl got her first taste of endurance athletics. Living in Marin County just north of San Francisco in the early 1980s—when triathlon and mountain biking were first being incubated—she was inspired by the setting and caught up in the local outdoor sports culture. With much enthusiasm, she began competing in short triathlons, half-marathons, and marathons.
After business school Amy moved to the Boston area to pursue a career in management consulting. She spent almost two decades counseling senior executives at large corporations on issues of corporate and business unit strategy. Unable to balance her professional responsibilities with her athletic pursuits, Amy gave up the latter and rose to become a partner at two international consulting firms.
The grind of constant travel eventually grew burdensome, and Amy faced the fact that her life lacked balance. When the opportunity arose, in her mid-forties she retired and moved to La Jolla, California, fulfilling a life-long dream to live on the coast. To regain her fitness and wellbeing she set her sights on doing an iron-length triathlon, which at the time she considered to represent the ultimate athletic challenge. In her first workout session in the pool, she made it exactly three lengths before she’d had enough.
As a middle-aged, retired executive, back then Amy wasn’t acquainted with anybody who had done an Ironman. She felt intimidated for the first time in years, and knew this journey was the beginning of a new chapter. She dedicated herself to training, and over the next two years built from those tentative laps in the pool to a half ironman. She garnered her first (and only) podium finish at the half ironman distance in 2005 and qualified for nationals. Later that year Amy entered Ironman Wisconsin, intent on placing in the top quintile of her age group.
But Mother Nature and inexperience walloped her on race day. 100-degree temperatures, stultifying humidity, and 20 MPH winds took their toll and as the race progressed, Amy grew woozy and sluggish. She managed to finish, but—dazed and confused—ended up in the medical tent later that night. She had consumed too much water and had severe hyponatremia, or water poisoning—a rookie mistake. Amy had gained nine pounds of water weight during the race. Her brain was swollen and her electrolyte level was so low she risked seizure and even coma. Amy had always been able to accomplish anything she had set her mind to do. Until now. It was through endurance sports that she learned about failure, and how to ask for help. Amy had been broken open by her first Ironman experience, and found it to be profoundly self-revelatory.
Settling into life as a recreational endurance athlete and marathon cyclist, Amy went on to do a few more iron-length triathlons while also pursuing charitable work. Amy befriended many like-minded athletes and soon discovered ultra-distance racing. She came to see iron-length triathlons as a stepping stone to more extreme athletic tests, and recalibrated her own view of the limits of human endurance. But after her encounter with severe hyponatremia, Amy wasn’t sure she had it in her to race these longer distances. Still, she was curious to understand how others could and why they did. After her friend George Vargas cycled across the continent as part of a two-man team in the Race Across America, Amy had a hunch that, in exploring this brutal event, she might find the answers she sought. And since her Ironman experience had been so self-revelatory, Amy had a hunch that the story of this epic race would offer lessons for all of us, whether we ride a bike or not.
Amy followed the Race Across America for two weeks in June 2009, driving across the U.S. on back roads from west to east as she watched the best ultra-distance cyclists in the world compete in the toughest race of all. This first-time author hoped she could turn her experience into a compelling story for mainstream readers interested in epic tales of adventure and survival, but she couldn’t be sure: A book-length project of this magnitude had never before been attempted.
In researching HELL ON TWO WHEELS, Amy spent time with many of the solo racers before, during, and after the 2009 event. With clarity and compassion, she offers a thrilling and remarkably detailed account of their race experiences, ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies. In short, she ended up with a tale that needed to be told. Just like in her first Ironman, the story of this race forever changed her own limiting thoughts and feelings, and it will yours, too.