Gretchen Reeves, CPA
I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1994 with a BA in accounting, and immediately moved to Colorado to become a professional mountain biker. I knew if I was going to do it I couldn’t wait until I was 60. I worked in the accounting department of Vail Associates until I got my first professional sponsorship, which allowed me to race full-time. In 2000 I won a couple of championships in Europe, including the Transalp Challenge, an eight-day race from Germany to Italy. I studied for the CPA exam while I was on the road; it was actually a great way to pass the time between races. I carried those big review books and practiced my way across Italy, Germany, France and Austria.
I grew up in Augusta, Georgia; my whole family lives in the South. I did the piano lessons, was president of my high-school class, graduated with honors. We were not kids who sat in front of the TV. Even with two brothers, I was always the most athletic person in the family. I did gymnastics, track, cheerleading. I took up mountain biking at the University of Georgia, where the mountain-bike club was in its first year. There were just two girls and 10 cute guys, so I thought it would be fun. But really I just fell in love with the sport from the beginning. I was very fortunate that at the time there weren’t many women doing mountain biking, especially in the South. Plus I was young and had some talent, and I worked in a bicycle store, so I had no trouble finding a sponsor in my first year. I got a really cool bike and went traveling all over the United States. There were so many fun and exciting places to go and people to meet.
I’m the 2004–2005 U.S. National Mountain Bike Marathon champion. That’s a 100K race that usually takes four to six hours; I finished in 4:56. I also won the Transalp Challenge twice. That’s an event for teams of two, so you cannot win if you don’t work well with your partner. It was good practice for having my own firm because you have to really plan ahead, know what you need to accomplish and then know when it’s time to really buckle down and go for it.
Last year I began transitioning more to my accounting career, and in January, with the help of a small-business loan, I opened my own CPA firm. I had quite a few clients lined up, so I knew I could do it without stressing out too much. Now that tax season is over I’ll be working with mountain bike camps and guiding, maybe leading some tours in Colorado and in Europe. Even during tax season I try to get out with friends or go skiing with clients. This is Colorado; that’s what you do. I do quite a bit of work with professional athletes and promoters. Boulder is like Hollywood for athletes—skiers, runners, mountain guides. I do get quite a lot of business from them. I sometimes may feel like a big nerd on the inside, but on the outside I can be pretty cool.
Exercising is a key part of my professional as well as my personal life. If I start to feel overwhelmed—if I’m stressed out or mad at the computer or swamped with work at tax time—I just go outside and ride. I make time for it, even if it means working later in the evening. I think there are a lot of similarities between racing and heading up your own accounting business. You have to be really disciplined and willing to operate within the rules, within the system. You’re not guaranteed any return for your hard work; you just have to have the discipline and the confidence to stick to it.
—As told to Cheryl Rosen