Santa Fe Campus Fitness Instructor Goes for Gold

August 18, 2018 | By Anne Kniggendorf

Kim Bear
Kim Bear competes in a cyclo-cross event. Photo: Gillen Photography

At 61 years old, Kim Bear is finally ready to compete in the 2019 National Senior Games. It’s not that she wasn’t prepared in previous years, says the fitness instructor and former St. John’s campus nurse practitioner—it’s that she just wasn’t ready.

“You can go once you’re 50, but when I turned 50 I was like, ‘No, I’m too young,’” she says.

Bear has been involved with St. John’s on and off for about 20 years. She first learned about the college from another former college nurse practitioner, Carrie Roberts-Kruempel, whom she met in the University of New Mexico’s nurse practitioner program in the early 1990s. Bear worked in the student health center for a couple of years during that decade, then left to raise her children.

Three years ago, she was drawn back to the college and its relatively new gym. This time, she came back as not only a nurse, but a fitness instructor, teaching classes before work. 

She’s more than qualified. Bear has competed in national cycling events for two decades and is a member of the New Mexico Spokette Racing Team out of the Albuquerque/Santa Fe region. Most recently, she completed her sixteenth Leadville Trail 100 MTB—that’s 100 miles through the Colorado Rockies on a mountain bike—and came in second place for her age group.

Though, she admits, her age group included only one other woman.

“That’s the thing about being old,” she laughs. “You just have to show up, and you have to finish, and then you do pretty well."

She’s being modest. Bear has also won at the Fat Bike National Championship four years in a row and placed second and third at the Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals.

Cycling, then, was a natural choice for the Senior Games. When she went to the regional preliminaries, however, she chose to try out for swimming as well—and the triathlon, too, just for fun. Each event is divided by gender and age group, with 5-year age increments from 50 through 100-plus.

Bear had been a college swimmer, but hadn’t done much swimming in decades. Impressively, she still qualified with a 500-yard freestyle time of 7:50, which made her eligible for the 100- and 200-yard races as well.

Now, Bear’s conundrum is selecting only two sports, per the Senior Games’ rule book. The good news? Within each sport, she can enter as many events as she’d like.

Her rationale for competing is simple: She knows she works harder if she’s in a race than if she’s only riding or swimming casually.

“There’s been research that studied women in Sweden and shows that if they do exercise that’s high intensity—so like race pace, not just endurance—that those women are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Bear says. “So now I’m really glad I’m doing this because it makes me work so much harder than I would just going to an exercise class.”

Kim Bear at SJC
Bear teaches fitness classes on St. John’s Santa Fe campus.

She hopes to continue to bring the benefits of fitness to St. John’s students, too.

“I love the students, I like the atmosphere, I like teaching in the gym,” she says. “Hopefully I’ll be able to make a difference.”

When her husband retired, she decided she’d retire from working in the student health center as well, but she wasn’t ready to leave the students altogether. Because Johnnies spend so much time with the Program books, Bear says, she believes it’s important to encourage them to exercise not only their minds, but their bodies.

“I think fitness and working out is a way of really helping with depression and anxiety and so many different things; it just helps so much,” she says.

Bear is sure that the academic year leading up to her participation in the Senior Games will be a good one. This year’s senior class in Santa Fe is made up of those she treated in the health center as freshmen, so they know each other well. There are many active runners in the class, and one student plans with Bear’s help to start a mountain bike and run club.

“When I first started working there, I’d have one student come to a class,” she says. “Then it was just one pebble at a time. It’s just being supportive of them.”