I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the zany story and experience of the 58 year old kid at the NORBA National Mountain Bike Race in Snowshoe, West Virginia. NORBA stands for National Off Road Bicycling Association which, at the time, ran the national series of age group and professional mountain bike racing in the U.S. I had raced bicycles for 25 years and had my experiences sailing over hay bales in tight corners in road criterium races, doing spectacular endos over the bars and into a face full of mud in mountain bike races, throwing up after contesting a time trial in hot humid conditions. I have been dropped off the back of my group in long road races like the Tour of Cayuga Lake and had some moderate success in regional events racing with my friends. I was not in the league of guys like Scotty Root or Mac Martin who rose to national class heights from our area, but I was able to hold my own training and racing with my friends as a weekend warrior.
So my pal Ralph Phillips calls me on my 51st birthday and says,” Paddy- why don’t we race in the NORBA Nationals in Snowshoe next summer?” Now I had slowed down considerably after my 49th birthday as my obligations with my son began to increase with ball games, practices, and the like. However, I had always been just off the podium in previous NORBA Races and I always was miffed that I never medaled in one of those races. So Ralph says we should enter the Sport Division and that I had a good chance of medaling in my age group. The Sport Division is an interesting age group division in that it catches guys who don’t want to get their butts handed to them in the Pro Expert Division by National class age group racers. These sandbaggers move down a class to Sport and contest for the prizes. On the other end of the spectrum are the guys who have some success regionally in the beginner class and decide to move up only to be surprised when the gun goes off. It really is a catch all division and if you don’t want to face Scott Root, Gary Fisher, Steve Tilford,and other killers,you can enter this class and have a chance to stand on the podium for your age group. Ralph was confident that with a little training, I might have a shot at that elusive medal for over 50.
Fast forward to race day and it poured biblical rains the night before and the course was a mess. The announcer warned us at the start line about the deplorable conditions and to be careful. We lined up by age group with women, juniors and age group men. As the gun went off, I found my place with the other gray hairs and a mixed bag of other age group men, women and juniors. As we approached the first downhill, it looked like they had plastered the downhill through the trees with axle grease and people were crashing right and left. A lot of racers got off their bikes and tried to walk down the hill but that was no better because it was like walking on butter. I decided to stay put way back in my saddle and slide my way on the bike down through the trees and to my surprise, I made it all the way down to the accolades of the few brave souls who were spectating and encouraging the group in this treacherous descent. After I collected myself I moved forward on the course only to find that the conditions had turned to peanut butter and the further I rode, the more mud collected on my bike until I had what felt like a 70 pound bike. I dismounted and ran with the bike stopping along the way to remove clumps of mud with my hands to assist the turning of the gears and the wheels. Besides this maddening condition, it was extremely humid and hot and I was sweating like I had just gotten out of the shower. Racers were moaning and complaining all along the course and as we began the long brutal climb to the start/ finish line at the top of the mountain, we all tried to make the bike as light as possible.
As I made my way up the climb I noticed that there were a lot of people who had given up after one lap. Ours was a two lap race and there were a lot of juniors, women and gray hairs that had enough and as I came through, the thought crossed my mind. But I had never, ever quit anything in my life and I was not about to start now seeing that this was most likely the last race I would ever do and that I was getting a little long in the tooth for this sort of thing. Also, the time needed to train and travel to these events was not feasable and I decided to slog along and finish the damn thing. One more descent of death on the axle grease through the trees safely and one more slog through the peanut butter. As I approached the final climb to the finish, I was totally dehydrated and out of water. I stopped quickly at a hunting club and drank from a hose for a short time. I didnt really care what the source of that water was but it was cold and I filled my bottle.
I got within 800 feet of the finish line and I saw Ralph who had already completed the race. As soon as I saw him, my hands started to cramp out of control and I couldn’t hold on to the bars. I also felt my thighs and calves cramping and soon I was on the ground writhing in pain. Spectators and fellow racers were encouraging me to continue because I had only a short time left to the finish. I rubbed my legs and thighs, stretched my hands and with one last “old dude” effort, I mounted the bike and pedaled accross the finish line and collapsed. The announcer loudly exclaimed,” and yes ladies and gentlemen, here is Pat McCloskey from Sewickley, Pa crossing the line as the lone survivor in the over 50 class of the Sport Division of the NORBA Nationals at Snowshoe,West Virginia.” A rather inauspicious ending to my 25 years of racing bikes ……but I got my NORBA medal and a Class Division Champion Red Sweatshirt which was pretty cool SWAG.
The picture above is of the presentation and you will notice indeed that there are no others on the podium. This picture is one of the funniest pictures that I own and I wanted to share it with you. Nobody else in my division was stupid enough to do another lap in the heat and muddy conditions of that day. But, the 51 year old kid at the time, persevered with his rock head and Ralph was proud of me for finishing. That was it for the racing. As I said, it was a rather dubious ending with a funny result but I will always remember the NORBAS and friends like Ralph who take you out of the comfort zone and put you in a position to push yourself beyond what you think is plausible. Thank you Ralph and thanks to you all for reading.