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Why I started racing

That’s my dad winning some race in Europe

My start in cycling was due to my Irish father. He raced on what would be considered a Continental pro team. My dad, like many other bike racers of the time, used cycling to escape the economic hardships that followed World War II. But for reasons that have never been fully explained to me, he quit cycling after his time in the British army and worked as an apprentice tool and die mechanic. He met my mom, married and they moved to America.

The stories of my father’s racing in England and Europe always seemed so exotic. As a child he raced around in the craters left from the bombing the previous night by the Germans during World War II. He competed against European racers on courses that were basically fire roads. My father knew a smattering of curse words and cycling related phrases in a few different languages, which I happily learned. He raced on a Brooks saddle that apparently the French couldn’t get, so they rode on pieces of meat strapped to the saddle. He would tell me stories (as the Irish are known for) that involved his use of cunning race tactics against insurmountable odds. I don’t know how much of this is true, but it sure was interesting to listen to.

I started racing road bikes when I was 15 and I asked my dad for training tips. He would reply, “Just ride.” If it was cold out and I didn’t want to train, he had some story of how he rode from one side of England to the next in the cold and rain. When I crashed he told of a story of how a teammate of his ran into the back of a parked lorry and was killed. And even though his teammate was killed in a bike accident, he would give me crap about wearing a helmet. He just didn’t believe in them. A fond memory I have is going to the 1984 road race Olympics and watching the race first hand. We were on one of the hills, but someone next to us had a radio or t.v. (I can’t remember which) and when we heard that Alexi Greywall won, the crowd went nuts. I had some success as a junior racer and I thought that perhaps instead of going to college I could move to England, where I have relatives, and race there. My parents would have none of that. They were working class people and expected that their son go to college, which I did. I don’t regret going to college and not moving to England to race. I know now that I just didn’t have the stuff to make it over there and was better off here in sunny California.

After my sister, brother and I moved out of the house, my parents moved back to England, looking for the simple life that living in Orange County doesn’t offer. When I call over there, my parents are either just going to, or coming back from the pub. Life moves a lot slower for them in the small town they live in. Anyways, that’s my story, what’s yours?





Dad at the back of a breakaway

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10 Responses to “Why I started racing”

  1. UtRider November 21, 2006 at 9:20 pm #

    Sounds like you’ll be visiting your folks in England at the beginning of July next year… :) My company has a small office in London and I’m already working hard to schedule some “training” in July. Ever make it up to Utah to ride/race? Tour of Utah ’07 should be lots of fun.

  2. Jon November 22, 2006 at 8:02 am #

    Very cool, Very cool indeed.

  3. Tim Jackson- Masi Guy November 28, 2006 at 5:03 pm #

    Neil,

    That’s a great story. I’d recommend considering this little question and story as a regular feature in the mag.

    Nice job.

  4. James November 29, 2006 at 10:49 am #

    I agree, great story, but the pictures are what I really like> you are lucky to have those.

  5. Old as dirt December 6, 2006 at 10:14 pm #

    What was your dad’s first name? Did he live in Northern Ireland?
    I’m Mick Walsh and live in Seattle since 1991, I raced in Ireland fron 1977 to 1990 and know most of your fathers generation of Irish riders.
    When did he race in Europe, as we call it too; -)
    This sounds like me interviewing you, change of situation for you.

  6. Neil@ROAD December 7, 2006 at 1:43 pm #

    What a small world! My Dad’s first name is Thomas and he lived in County Cork. He raced in Europe during the 50’s. I’ll have to ask him if he remembers any of his buddies names.

  7. Old as dirt December 9, 2006 at 3:37 pm #

    I lived in Dublin, John Lackey was probably an adversary of your dad’s.

  8. Gary O'Brien December 25, 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    Irish dads are the best. Their no-bullshit advice is some of the best you can ever get. There is just no substitute for it. Though mine died when I was young, I still find myself telling my kids things he told me as a little squirt because, it just made sense.

    “Just ride” should be your line of t-shirts. That and, “Shift before the hill”. Good advice on the bike, good advice on life.

    Sláinte to your father.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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