Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate
Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
May 15, 2002:
Illustration by Henry Martin 48
From NYC clubs
to comedians on wheels
By Kate Swearengen '04
A mere four days after quitting crew, I joined the cycling team.
My friend Artemis, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, doesnt
understand it at all. She says it makes no sense to quit one sport
and then take up another. Giving up rowing should have meant that
I would have more free time. Specifically, more free weekends, which
would translate into more trips to New York, more rock concerts,
and, by extension, more vice. Admittedly, she has a point. But in
my defense, I quoted the cycling teams website, in assuring
her that I would be participating in a "fun, fast, competitive
sport, without the hassles of varsity athletics." When this
reasoning failed to convince Artemis, I told her that the teams
motto was "study to pass, ride to win." Artemis approved
Cyclings a lot different than crew. For one thing, its
a club sport, and so it doesnt get the kind of funding that
varsity sports enjoy. When we raced in Storrs two weeks ago, we
spent the weekend on the University of Connecticut campus, at the
Nathan Hale Inn. The Nathan Hale was a step up from the flophouses
where the cycling team normally stays. A big step up. As Elliot,
a sophomore on the team, put it, "You can tell this is the
classiest place weve stayed in all year. Its the only
one that hasnt had a condom machine in the lobby."
Thats another thing about cycling everyones a
comedian. This wasnt the case with crew, where the race officials
treated everything with an excessive amount of dignity. At the Eastern
Sprints regatta last year, the starting marshal actually wore a
navy blue blazer and a STRAW HAT WITH A MATCHING BAND. I mean, the
race was in Camden, New Jersey, and this guy was acting as if he
were at the Henley. Its a good thing that race officials in
cycling suffer no such illusions.
"We learned yesterday that if you hit a car, the car doesnt
move," the starting marshal at the Storrs race told us. "Lets
try to apply that today, alright?" A simple, unassuming blast
of the whistle, and everyone took off. And, sure enough, one of
the cyclists immediately plowed into the gray Datsun on the corner.
Although it is a noncontact sport, cycling is fraught with minor
terrors. Crashes, scrapes, bruises, and broken equipment come with
the territory. Occasionally, there are serious injuries as well.
During my race last weekend at West Point, two of the Army girls
collided on the first turn, and one broke her arm. The race was
delayed while the officials dragged her off the course. Ten minutes
later, one of the Harvard girls went out wide on a turn, cut in
too sharply, and skidded off the course, bouncing her head off a
set of railroad tracks. Some of the riders stopped to see if she
was alright. I am merciless, and so I kept going.
I told my parents about the accidents, but they didnt seem
to be too worried. My mother isnt so concerned about me getting
hurt as she is about the indelible grease marks that the bicycle
chain leaves on my legs, hands, and face. She was so upset, in fact,
at the prospect of me going to class with grease under my fingernails
that she bought me a tube of Simple Green. Simple Green is the heavy-duty,
pumice-based gel that mechanics use to clean their hands. It managed
to lift off about 20 layers of my epithelial cells, but didnt
do anything for the grease. Ive been told by several people
that grease marks are an indication of improper technique. Jeremy,
a sophomore on the team, put it more succinctly.
"Ha ha," he said. "You have dork marks on your legs."
As I said in this sport, everyones a comedian. And
at no place are the jokes more prevalent than at the starting line.
"I hear UConns got a new German rider," one of the
cyclists said during last Sundays race. "Too bad they
have to import their talent."
"I hope hes here legally."
"Uh oh. I think I hear the INS chopper right now."
The German rider fought back.
"You have so much energy now," he taunted his antagonists.
"But you looked so tired during yesterdays race."
Thats the rough thing about cycling its a full
weekend of racing, and by the end of it, everyone looks tired. On
Saturday, riders compete in the road race, a distance trial that
can range between 25 and 75 miles, depending upon the gender and
skill level of the competitors. On Sunday is the criterium, a shorter
race that lasts between 30 minutes and an hour.
Princeton generally does pretty well at these races. We have a large
roster but a small team, and at any given race there are about 12
active riders, not counting the ubiquitous three hotshots. Tyler
is Old Nassaus answer to Lance Armstrong. In fact, Tyler even
looks like Lance Armstrong, a resemblance that he may or may not
cultivate. Scotts a wily graduate student, and races accordingly.
His strategy is to lurk toward the front of the pack, dashing forward
to win valuable points in the sprints. Carolyn, a junior art history
major, is a superb climber, and is tough as nails.
The Princeton team is a diverse group. Some of the riders came to
college planning to ride, while others picked the sport up relatively
recently. Amanda, a former coxswain, made the transition from crew
to cycling last year. She attributes her love for the sport in part
to the colorful jerseys and loud rock music at last years
Army Cycling Classic. And then theres Benson, a graduate student
in the mechanical and aerospace engineering program. Benson is a
former motorcross competitor who took up cycling as a safer alternative.
While Benson may prefer safety on the racecourse, he disdains it
on the Interstate. His motorcycle loyalties are still very much
extant, as evidenced by his propensity for tailgating Mack trucks
at 90 miles an hour.
But if Benson sounds scary, consider this admonitory e-mail, sent
to the Princeton team a week before the race at West Point:
"USE THE RESTROOMS. The fate of this race literally depends
on it. Any rider caught urinating in the bushes will be disqualified
from the race immediately, and MAY BE SUBJECT TO FEDERAL PROSECUTION.
This is an Army facility, remember. That means NO peeing in the
bushes. Tell your teammates or suffer the consequences."
You can reach Kate at email@example.com