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Archive for Sunday, August 4, 2002

s pet project a hit with children

August 4, 2002

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Joseph Schmalz would like to be Lance Armstrong when he grows up.

Mason Jupe and Cody DeFazio wouldn't mind, either.

Heck, Julianna Kaiser has designs on doing the same thing.

That's the great thing about cycling: When you're a kid, it's not gender-specific.

Maybe that's why the Cycle Works Twilight Bike Race has become so appealing to kids.

"Hopefully, it's the start of something very new and very cool," says Ann Woodward, a Eudora cyclist who is one of the pacers during the kids' race. "To all these kids, this is totally new and open to them. It raises awareness of health and makes the kids feel like they have something neat to do."

With awards to every entrant and a bike-friendly environment, it's no wonder more and more kids are showing up at the Thursday events. Odds are, they'll turn into bike enthusiasts as adults.

Or, with luck and a lot of work, they'll turn into the next Lance Armstrong.

Children first

The Kansas City area has plenty of opportunities for adults to compete in bike races or simply join a bike club.

Kansas University students have KU Cycling, and Lawrence has three other clubs: the Lawrence Bicycle Club, the Lawrence Mountain Bike Club and the Museum Cycling Team, MCT, which promotes the Twilight Bike Race.

The Johnson County Bicycling Club promotes races in Eastern Kansas, including the Baldwin City Blast Ride this morning in Baldwin. For those who missed that, the Lawrence Bicycle Club offers the Tour de Chicken Creek Gavel Road Ride this Saturday and Sunday at Lone Star Lake.

If that's not enough, alta-sport.com lists four upcoming races in the next two months.

Despite all of that, there's precious little for kids.

That's where Jim Whittaker comes in.

Whittaker, a Lawrence cyclist, coach and promoter, started racing competitively about 14 years ago, but his first race was a 1975 Goodwill race.

He didn't win. He didn't get a participant ribbon or get his name announced as a rider.

Nothing.

That stuck with him.

So he drew up some fliers, did some word-of-mouth advertising and drummed up a sponsorship with Gary Long, owner of Cycle Works.

Next thing you know, 20 to 30 children showed up on a Thursday evening at Haskell Indian Nations University, ready to ride their bikes.

"It's my way of giving back," Whittaker says. "It's the first time there's been a concerted push into kids' cycling. All these kids, they come back every time. They love it."

Every youngster gets something.

Besides having a safe place to ride their bikes and meet other kids, everyone gets a free dinner from Chili's and the winners of the races get gift certificates.

Whittaker also gives out participant plaques, with a plug for Whittaker's alta-sport.com on the back.

Throughout the night, Whittaker or another volunteer snaps photos with a digital camera, and the pictures are posted on the site.

Adults ride, too

About 30 adult riders converge on Haskell, too.

They kick off the evening with a spirited six-lap race before the two kids' races begin at 7:45.

Once the youngsters finish, the adults ride a few more races well into the night, pedaling under street lights until nearly 9:30.

Thursday was the fifth of sixth Twilight rides. Whittaker blocks off a half-mile loop around Perimeter Road East and Kiowa Street on the southeast corner of the Haskell campus, just south of the football field.

It's an ideal setup.

Riders start 100 meters south of the corner of Perimeter and Kiowa and turn west onto Kiowa. That starts a 250-meter haul up the inclined road.

The course turns left off Kiowa onto Perimeter, which curves around for nearly 500 meters. Twin speakers blast music at the finish line; the music can be heard anywhere on the course. The half-mile course works well for children, who can race just a couple or laps or sometimes six or eight.

But by the end of the night, the youngsters have had their fun, while the parents know they'll sleep soundly that night.

Three generations

Three generations of riders cruise around the track, warming up for the night's races.

Joseph pulls up on a Giant road bike, while his dad, Jerry, and grandfather, Gary McGregor, stand over their bikes, wondering how long they'll last in the adult races.

Joseph just laughs.

He won the 8-and-over race two weeks ago and looks primed to win again this night.

His bike, which came at a discount from his grandfather's bike shop in Atchison, is a notch above any of the other bikes tooling around.

He's in shape, too, having ridden a 16-mile trek with his dad two days earlier. One wonders why he just doesn't ride with the adults.

"He won't let me," Joseph says, looking at his dad.

Jerry responds: "Well, he'll beat me!"

Jerry and Gary ride off for the first adult race, but come back 15 minutes later, exhausted. There's a headwind coming around the curve, which means there's no rest heading into the hill. Still, most riders, ignoring the 20 mph speed limit signs, zoom around averaging about 25 mph.

The children can hardly wait to begin.

Parents hold them at bay until Whittaker, out of breath from the race, grabs the microphone and beckons the 8-and-over crowd to come on down.

Twenty kids in helmets scurry toward Whittaker, who lines them up and details the rules. Six laps  three miles  with prizes going to the boys' and girls' winners.

"The girls will chase the boys. So it's extra motivation for the boys to stay in front," Whittaker says. "Girls, go get the boys!"

He goes over a few more rules, emphasizes safety and the importance of staying hydrated.

Parents gather along the curbs, most toting camera and video recorders, ready for their own Kodak moments. Some have brought lawn chairs and coolers, making a night out of it. With music blasting from speakers, the atmosphere is like a party.

"Go!" Whittaker yells.

8-unders get chance

As the children race, Whittaker does some commentary, encouraging riders as they pedal past, calling out their names.

Schmalz wins the boys' race, while Julianna Kaiser takes the girls' title.

Then the little ones get ready. The 8-and-under crowd  all one-speed bikes, skinned knees and oversized helmets  gets in place. These are the ones who could hardly wait.

One rider, his bike equipped with training wheels, gets a head start the wrong way. As a volunteer runs him down, Whittaker explains the rules.

"Rule No. 1," he starts, "always wear your helmet."

Lots of shuffling; some grab their hats, adjust them, while others keep staring ahead intently.

"Rule No. 2, always have fun. And Rule No. 3, always go fast!"

Cheers come up at this point. Whittaker clears the road, and 20 seconds later, they're off.

Two kids have three-wheelers, while three more have training wheels. For two laps, they'll pedal their little legs as fast as they can go, with parents cheering the whole time.

The scene is unquestionably cute.

The final Twilight race of the summer, on Aug. 15, probably will have more of those cute scenes.

Or, there'll be scenes like Woodward saw during the July 18 Twilight race.

She was leading the pack of 8-and-unders when they lapped a little guy riding his three-wheeler up the hill  struggling all the way.

"He's going up the hill, just grinding," Woodward said. "And this little kid's just like, 'I'm not gonna give up.' Isn't that the coolest thing?"

Sounds like a young Lance Armstrong.

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