How do you raise a world champion? We asked Quinn Simmons’s parents
Champions are born, right? Maybe not. We spoke to Holly and Scott Simmons, parents of junior world champion Quinn Simmons, to see how their love of the outdoors steered their sons on a pathway to pro cycling.
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After completing a punishing six-week training bloc this past December, Quinn Simmons took a day off the bicycle to spend with his father, Scott.
Rest, however, was not on the Simmons’s schedule.
Quinn and Scott woke up early and drove to a rock climbing route called Void of Form, located a few miles outside Tucson, Arizona. The duo spent the next seven hours strapped into their harnesses, ascending a 1,000-foot granite buttress with several sheer pitches.
“You pull out over the top and look out and it’s 1,000 feet straight down and it’s like, ‘wow, that is so cool,'” Quinn Simmons told VeloNews. “It was a good rest day activity with dad.”
The ascent was just another chapter in the ever-expanding volume of Simmons family outings to ski, hike, ride bikes, and pursue other outdoor activities. Long before Quinn Simmons became the junior world road race champion and the next great hope for American road cycling, he was just a Colorado kid in a family that is passionate about outdoor fun.
Scott Simmons and his wife, Holly, pushed their sons Quinn (now 18) and Colby (age 16) to get outdoors from a young age. The Simmons’s found ways to help their boys overcome the hurdles that youngsters face in their first experiences with strenuous outdoor activities like hiking and long bike rides. In fact, the Simmons’s approach helped both boys thrive outdoors in a way that, years later, set them both on a pathway to pro cycling. Colby Simmons is the reigning junior national criterium champion and a current member of the Lux elite development squad.
Both Scott and Holly Simmons told VeloNews that they had no intention of steering their boys toward pro sports. Getting outdoors was simply their shared passion.
“We weren’t forcing them to do this stuff because we wanted them to be great athletes someday,” Holly Simmons says. “Honestly, it was a lot more selfish. It’s like, ‘I need my exercise and you’re coming along with me.'”
‘There was a lot of bribery’
There’s no parental playbook for raising a champion cyclist, of course, and each top American rider has sprung from individual roots. A quick examination of a rider’s upbringing can reveal some similarities. Last year we wrote about Megan Jastrab’s upbringing in Apple Valley, California, and spoke to her mother, Lynn, about the family dynamics that steered Megan toward cycling.
“We don’t really do TV,” Lynn Jastrab’s said. “We wanted the kids to be outside. It was always, ‘Go outside and play; go outside and ride your bike.’”
Indeed, Holly and Scott Simmons followed a similar philosophy in their parenting—they placed a high value on outdoor activities over television and video games. Holly and Scott are both lifelong athletes; they met while skiing, and pursued lives of outdoor adventure before having kids. They opened a home building business in Durango, Colorado, where the local culture values all varieties of outdoor fun.
Yet it was a matter of convenience and necessity that initially placed Quinn outdoors. Holly Simmons was a passionate runner and would complete her daily eight-mile loop around Durango while Quinn was in daycare. One day, when Quinn was two and a half years old, his daycare days abruptly ended.
“He got kicked out of daycare because he was pitching fits,” Holly Simmons says. “I didn’t know what else to do with him.”
Rather than give up her running routine, Holly placed Quinn on his bicycle and had him pedal alongside her as she completed her loop. To her surprise, he kept up for the entire journey. The successful outing ushered in a new dynamic: Holly would run, rain or shine, and Quinn would come along on his bicycle.
“I needed that hour to just get outside and he was coming with me,” Holly Simmons says. “You feel better if you get that exercise in, so the rest of the day is better.”
At the same time, Scott Simmons would take Quinn with him to the local ski hill, Purgatory Resort, on the weekends. Scott was an elite mountain bike racer and a competitive ski mountaineering athlete, and his preference was backcountry adventures over inbound skiing. Rather than ride the ski lifts up, Scott would hike to the top of the hill with Quinn in a child backpack carrier. As Quinn got older, Scott did the hikes with Quinn on his own skis. By age eight, he had a full backcountry setup and would charge up the mountain alongside his dad.
“We’d hike up and ski down 20 times until the boys were cold and tired,” Scott Simmons says. “I treated having kids more like being their brother than parent. I think I was having as much fun as they were.”
Scott says Quinn was a fast learner. There were, of course, moments when he protested. So Scott and Holly devised ways to reward both Quinn and Colby for accomplishing tough outdoor outings—make it to the top of the trail or ski slope, and receive a sugary treat.
“There was a lot of bribery, it was like you can have a bag of candy and a Red Bull at the top,” Quinn Simmons says. “They tell me funny stories of me stopping and crying and wanting to be done. They had me doing it when I was three. Now that I’m 18 I can handle uncomfortable situations.”
A competitive streak
Scott Simmons often towed Quinn and Colby behind him in a bike trailer as he explored roads and trails around Durango. The family also used the bike trailer on camping trips to Moab, Utah, where they frequently took vacations. On one of these Moab trips, Quinn abandoned the trailer and set off on his own personal challenge. He was just six years old and he wanted to complete the entire 100-mile White Rim Trail.
It took them three days to complete the 100-mile journey, and Quinn pedaled every mile.
“He insisted on not getting in the car,” Scott Simmons says. “It was a sign of things to come that he could pedal 100 miles in three days and he refused any help.”
Quinn’s competitive streak became engrained in his personality as he grew into a teenager. He hated to lose at board games and always tried to race his brother and father on rides. Quinn played hockey for the local team in Durango and raced for the local Durango Devo squad. Holly said she received calls from coaches who said that Quinn’s competitive streak rubbed other kids the wrong way.
“I’d get calls saying ‘Quinn is so competitive that it’s hard for him to remember the little guy on the team,'” Holly Simmons says. “We really need Quinn to be nicer. It was like, he’s focused on being the best.”
Rather than dull Quinn’s competitive streak, Scott says he stoked it. He challenged Quinn and Colby to keep up with him on the bicycle and on skis. Rather than back off the pace to let his boys win, Scott says he took no prisoners, and raced them to whatever finish line they found.
“In all aspects of life I wanted to raise pretty tough kids,” Scott Simmons says. “I would never just let them win. I didn’t even think about letting them win.”
The competitive streak drove Quinn as he competed in competitive ski mountaineering, where he won a bronze medal in the junior world championships in 2017. It also drove him in cycling, where he quickly rose through the ranks in the local mountain bike scene. Quinn says the competitive drive continues to this day. Whenever he rides with his father and brother, the pace is always full-gas.
“When you get me, my brother, and my dad together on a group ride, I’m sure everyone else on the ride hates us because it’s full-gas competition, and that’s the way it’s always been,” Quinn Simmons says. “There are no friendly rides. It’s always on.”
Pushing their boys to enjoy racing and the outdoors produced a few learning moments for both Scott and Holly Simmons. Scott says he once pushed Quinn to compete in a 10-kilometer Nordic skiing race, despite Quinn’s lack of experience on the skis. While Quinn won the race, he swore off Nordic skiing after the experience.
“I think I learned to let it be organic—if you push too hard it can backfire,” Scott Simmons says. “There’s a fine line where it’s not fun anymore. You have to keep it fun.”
Holly Simmons says one of her daily jogs turned messy when Quinn, who was 5 years old, became obstinate and refused to continue on his bicycle. When she left him behind on the trail—assuming he would eventually follow—a passerby called the police to come pick up the crying child.
“I remember him telling me ‘Mom, some day I’m going to tell this story to the whole world,'” Holly Simmons says.
As the years progressed, outdoor time became bonding time between the Simmons family. Even today, they still participate in activities together. When VeloNews visited USA Cycling’s development program in The Netherlands in March 2019, all four Simmons’s rolled by on a family bike ride.
The newest family activity is rock climbing, which Scott and Quinn only recently picked up. While the bike rides and ski sessions often became competitive slogs, rock climbing has added a new dimension to the Simmons and their outdoor adventures. There’s nobody to beat or competitors to drop—it’s just about experiencing the outdoors together.
“We’re so used to just getting out of the car and hammering as hard as we can at something, so it’s nice to slow things down,” Scott Simmons says. “We can see each other, we’re communicating and pulling the ropes together. You’re just as exhausted at the end.”