Monday, July 30, 2012

The Heart of a Champion

Carl Grove after Masters Nationals

In the face of all the negative things about middle age cycling, the doper next store and EPO at the NY GF, I wanted to share a better story about cycling and aging….with grace! 

Let me tell you a little story about Carl Grove. I met Carl about 4 years ago when he attended a Peaks Coaching Group Training Camp in Pennsylvania.

I can still remember checking the sign-up forms as we prepared for camp and doing a little bit of a double take when I read Carl’s age; he was 81 years old. I have to admit there was a little concern about how we could work with Carl at the camp, but after day one, that concern had evaporated; turned out, Carl was pretty fast! I got the chance to do a lot of one-on-one work with Carl that week as he and I spent some extra hours going over all the details. During this time I got to know Carl and talked to him about his ability and suggested he get back into racing and go for a National & possibly a World Championship. I had seen him ride and figured with some quality training, he had the goods! A few weeks after camp, Carl gave me a call and decided that at 82 years old that he wanted to keep pursuing his dreams and we were off and running. 

Carl trained hard and in 2010 pulled off the national double, winning Gold at Masters Nationals in both the road race and time trial by astonishing margins; winning the TT by almost 8 minutes on a 20K course and winning the road race by over 17 minutes. With a whole bunch of new hardware, Carl decided to immediately head over to Austria and go for a World Title. He did well, placing top 5 in both road and TT but learned that at this level, there were some pretty tough riders.

Carl could have settled in after an amazing year, but a month or two later, my phone rang and he and I were talking about 2011. I asked him about Nationals and he immediately let me know, nope, he needed a bigger gold and really wanted to go back to worlds and win. It was in this conversation that I really got some deep insight into Carl. He explained to me that part of his secret of staying young was always having a goal of improving and be working towards it. It would have been easy for him to rest on his laurels. He could have gone back and repeated at Nationals but instead he chose to work harder and go for Gold at the World Championships. Well in 2011, we really dug in. Training for a WC is no joke. You have to be one your game and firing on all cylinders. Carl and I worked through all kinds of power workouts, spent time working on bike and bike fitting, drop height, gearing and chain ring size. He went after his goal with Armstrong like focus. In 2011 Carl Grove won the World Championship TT by over 3 minutes, an astonishing performance at that level. When we talked later that night, he told me that when he was on the podium and the flag started going up and the anthem started to play that it was the proudest moment of his life; he was honored to represent his country and to represent the effort we had put in…and I was honored to be his coach. That is Carl, humble in everything he does. If you know how hard Carl worked to achieve this goal, you would be a little misty right now. Carl never complained, he just did the work. If it rained, he rode in the rain, if it was cold, so be it, and he got cold, stress? He had plenty and still never missed a workout!! We celebrated in October that year and Carl settled in, happy with his WC medal and let me know that he was hanging up if racing shoes and was just going to do some riding from here on in.

Podium at World Championships

Well, this year it took him to January to call me. Carl and I have stayed in touch but when we started this conversation I knew it was different and knew it was the beginning of something and it was. Carl let me know that he needed “something”, that next goal to keep him going and he had an idea. He figured if he started training now, he could go to Masters Track Nationals and win a gold medal! Well, I asked him if he ever raced on the track before; he said no. I asked him if he ever been on a track bike; no, not really. Asked him if he owned a track bike; nope. Actually, he wasn’t really sure that was a track within 100 miles of where he lived; he just thought it would make a good goal. That Monday, at 84 years old, Carl Grove started training for a Master Track National Title.

This was going to be tough. Carl was going to need to focus on the 500m and 2k while learning to ride scratch and points races. Carl physiological profile is more suited to longer time trial and steady state efforts so we have an uphill “anaerobic training” battle ahead of us. He needed to learn how to pedal a fixed gear and how to build a standing start. The training season focused a strength, speed and high intensity interval that would be grueling for a 45 year old, but Carl ticked off workout after workout. We measured his power step by step, and slowly but surely his anaerobic capacity and the watts were climbing. He got a track bike and stared to learn how to use it with under the guidance of good friend and training partner Bruce Gordon. Carl completed one qualifying race and was off to nationals with only having one race on a track under his belt. On Tuesday, Carl Grove took home gold in the 500m’s. His time was actually a new world record but he didn’t know it and rode away from the track without checking in his bike and was informed that it wouldn’t stand. When Carl and I reviewed the day, he wasn’t bitter. He told me he loved it, had lots of fun and enjoyed the day. He was happy to have raced and be recognized by other racers and that was good enough for him. That’s Carl, just enjoying life and staying humble, racing and riding because it fun, because he likes it and because, it keep him young. The week rolled by and Carl picked up a Gold in the points race, a Gold in the scratch race and finally he was down to on big day, Saturday’s2k Pursuit. We talked Friday night and Carl let me know that he still had a goal of doing something very special and he was going to attempt to break both the 500m & 2k world record on Saturday! You see, as you might guess by know, Carl stays focused on the goal, he has a quiet passion for achieving what he sets out to do. A passion that is very humble on the outside but a fire on the inside. He doesn’t care if some folks say he is too old, or might get hurt…he cares about staying true to himself and achieving what he sets out to do. Not because of any recognition, not because of any medal or record but because it make him a better person, it helps him stay young and he hopes it will act as a model for others to keep pushing.

Carl leading them out in the points race
On Saturday Carl won yet another gold. He also set the American and World Record not only in the 80+ category, but also broke them in the 75+ category. This time he made sure he made checked in his bike and completed drug controls. On Sunday, the USAC recognized the unofficial world record and it should become official later this week. Congratulation Carl!!

PS: I am already getting mentally prepared for an October phone call from Carl letting me know he wants to go for a BMX title in 2013!

Special thanks to Carl's training partner, Bruce Gordon!  Bruce was a guiding force for Carl track education and partnered with him at Nationals to guide him through "the learning curve"....Thanks, Bruce!!!!

Author Tim Cusick

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