The Unstoppable Zwifting Granny

The Unstoppable Zwifting Granny

ON March 29, 2024 by Zwift

Whether she’s climbing Zwift’s highest mountains or recovering from cancer, the “Zwifting Granny” doesn’t quit.

“You can conquer anything if you put your mind to it,” she says in a video as she tops Zwift’s Ventoux climb. “I can conquer anything if I put my mind to it.”

Through her YouTube channel, Linda Messinger aims to inspire fellow seniors to get and stay active.

“Don’t be afraid; get on the bike and try it,” she says.

Messinger, 68, started out by recording her rides on Zwift and explaining how it worked. Her early videos featured the dry wit of “coach Morgan” – her dog, speaking through subtitles. She called her YouTube channel “Zwifting with Granny.”

Funny enough, Messinger isn’t even a grandmother. The channel is named after a friend’s granny.

“These poor people, they have no idea what they’re in for,” she says, grinning slyly. “’Let’s watch this sweet old lady!’ Oh, that’s not me, honey.”

In her videos, Messinger is unflinchingly honest when things get tough. She talks about feeling tired, uncomfortable, and discouraged. She tells her viewers when she wants to give up – but she won’t. She perseveres through struggles to finish a ride, and she shares how good it feels afterward. Then the “Zwifting Granny” encourages others to do the same.

“I’m slower than a comatose snail,” she quips. “It doesn’t matter; just finish it. Once you start finishing, then everything changes. There’s a whole feeling of, ‘Wow, I can do this.’”

Her sense of humor and persistence have earned her quite a following.

“I started getting comments from people saying, ‘You inspired me to do this and this,’” she says. “Wow. Hearing about people actually bettering their lives by trying something and succeeding – that’s like gold to me.”

Messinger has arthritis, and she found the only thing that helped was riding her bike. She couldn’t ride in winter in New Jersey, though. The biting cold hurt her knees and made it worse.

When she first heard about Zwift, she didn’t have enough space in her house to set up a bike for indoor training. Once she moved into a bigger home, though, she eagerly bought a trainer and a subscription.

“I loved the fact that you could ride at any time,” Messinger says. “And you would get such supportive people.”

Linda riding in Zwift

Wanting to learn everything she could about Zwift, she looked up videos on YouTube and started following some other Zwifters. One of them, Phil Lovett (of the channel Bike Racing Without Mercy), encouraged her to start her own channel after she noticed there weren’t any Zwifting YouTubers her age.

Messinger started the “Zwifting With Granny” channel in May 2020. A few months later, she created the Zwift Seniors group on Facebook as a resource for other Zwifters over 55.

“I just wanted to get on there and show seniors, ‘Here’s an option for you,’” she says. “When you get older, maybe you lose your balance and can’t ride outside, but here’s an option for you inside.”

A New Challenge

Late in 2022, the “Zwifting with Granny” videos suddenly stopped.

Messinger was grieving the loss of her dog, Morgan, a regular fixture in her videos. She knew something else was very wrong, too.

She was getting tired frequently. Riding her bike became harder and harder, and it soon became a struggle to finish short rides. Other symptoms soon made the problem impossible to ignore.

Messinger visited a doctor in March of 2023 and got a diagnosis a few months later: Uterine cancer.

Her doctors couldn’t tell her how bad the cancer was or how much it had spread. Those answers would come only after surgery to remove her uterus. She went through that surgery in July, and in August she got her answer: Stage One! The cancer was small and it hadn’t spread.

After the surgery, Messinger was eager to get back on her bike, but she was told to wait at least two weeks. It would probably be one week before she could even walk around the house on her own.

Three days after getting home, Linda was getting up and walking around without a problem.

“I didn’t have that kind of strength before,” she says. “It has to be from the bike. It has to be from Zwift.”

When she finally got the “all clear” to ride, Messinger started back slowly. Just a few miles per session. She would get on the bike right after her radiation treatments, before the side effects hit.

Ride by ride, she built up the miles. Before long, it was time for a new challenge.

Messinger wanted to lose weight to improve her health, so she started riding twice a day. One day in late 2023, she was surprised to find she had ridden over 200 miles in one week.

The Rapha Festive 500 was coming up – a global challenge to ride 500 kilometers (about 310 miles) in 8 days. Messinger had wanted to do it for a few years, but she couldn’t quite keep up with that amount of riding before.

She can now.

“I finished it a day early!” Messinger says. “I was shocked. I just did that!”

In the fall of 2023, “Zwifting With Granny” returned. The first two videos after the break explained what had been going on. Then Messinger got back to her regularly scheduled programming of inspiration and humor.

“It was the roughest year of my life, but here I am on the other side of it,” she says. “I was going through it, but I knew at some point it was going to be over, and I got to the other side.”

Making videos has helped connect her with a community of people on Zwift who lift each other up and support each other.

“It’s a bunch of good-hearted people who love cycling,” she says. “If you’re a cyclist and you have a thing for the bike, nobody is going to understand that except for another cyclist.”

Never Quit

Park Cycle, a bike shop in New Jersey owned by Vic and Mike Fraysse, introduced Messinger to cycling as a sport in her early 20s.  For a few years, she raced on a team associated with the shop.

“I would always start and then quit a race,” she recalls. “Vic, Mike’s father, told me, ‘When you start, you finish a race. You’ve got to finish.’”

Messinger took those words to heart, and she still tries to live by them.

She has only quit one event she started on Zwift – a Thanksgiving ride in 2019 – and she hated how she felt when she did.

“They went right from the starting pens up Titan’s Grove, and I was way out of my element,” she says. “I quit. Then I said to myself, ‘That’s never happening again,’ and it never did.”

Unlike some of the races she entered outdoors, Zwift doesn’t close its courses, and you can take as long as you need to finish a route. It took Messinger 5 hours to complete her first Zwift Fondo on the shortest course.

Messinger doesn’t plan on quitting cycling as she gets older, either. She lives in a 55+ residential development. As she looks around, she’s sad not to see many other physically active seniors, knowing how much it has helped her.

“I just want old people to get moving,” she says. “There was a guy in front of me on Zwift climbing Titan’s Grove, and in his name, he said he was 70-something. God bless him, he’s out there climbing a tough course and he’s doing it. That’s who I aim to be. I hope to be on Zwift for the rest of my life.”

Has it been a while since you’ve been on a bike? Whether you are a senior Zwifter, coming back from injury or illness, or just want to ease into training, try the Back to Fitness training plan.