85-year old cyclist keeps unique story, friendship going at US Track Nationals

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INDIANAPOLIS – His weekend was a combination of competition and organization.

It wasn’t that Dean Peterson was complaining. In fact, he was enjoying the action that was taking place in front of him Saturday afternoon at the Major Taylor Velodrome.

“This is what we had envisioned for this park,” said Marian University’s head cycling coach about the US Master Track Nationals taking place last weekend. “A national-quality track that was built for national quality track that was built for international competition.

“We’re bringing it back and we’re trying to bring it back to the community so they can enjoy it and teach them about the racing and involve lots of partners in the community.”

Lots of cyclists as well as the school, known for its strong bike program, serves as the host for 320 athletes competing for nearly 90 national championships. Peterson even took part in a few event as a competitor along with his duties as one of the coordinators of the five-day event.

“There have been some really cool moments in the racing for sure,” said Peterson-but there was one that stood out the most.

On the backstretch of the velodrome, Carl Grove gets an up and close chance to watch some of the best in American track cycling compete.

With early morning rain gone, the rider watches a familiar pattern take place in front of him. A rider gets on the bike. A clock has a series of beeps as it counts down to five. The sounds increase as it ticks down to zero with the loudest signifying the start of this particular race.

This is the pursuit portion of the US Masters Track Championship, where one cyclist starts in the middle of the frontstretch of the track and the other on the back in hopes of picking up their best time in their age group. Six total laps encompass the race with some of the fans pounding on the boards around the track or ringing bells to send their encouragement to the athlete in front of them.

Soon it would be Grove’s turn to do the same. With a black suit and silver helmet he makes his way onto the track as his bike passes the final weight inspection. The procedure isn’t different that any other rider that had gone in the hour before him, but there was something intriguing about this competitor.

“I’m 85-years old as of July 13th of this year,” said Grove proudly when asked the simplest of questions-his age.

By showing up at the nationals he represents the 85-89 age classification all by himself and is one of the country’s oldest competitive cyclists. Immediately the cheers grow from the crowd as Grove steps up to his bike-simple chants his name or a quick smack of the boards to offer a bit of encouragement just before he climbs up on the bike.

“He is the highlight,” said Peterson of Grove. “Carl last year broke world records and they didn’t really count them as world records because there’s no standard.”

As Grove stairs down the highly banked turns of the velodrome he does so with confidence since this is a venue which he’s done training often despite making his home in Elkhart.

“It’s given me a lot of pleasure,” said Grove of competitive cycling. “It shows again that you have to really work to reach the top.”

He did that five years ago when the itch to start cycling came back after a long break. To get going again, he sought the help of the well-known Peaks Coaching Group of Bedford, Virginia. After training in the Pennsylvania mountains for a week with the group, Grove was hooked and has continued with the sport competitively ever since.

“I may not be a real monster of a person, but I was always plenty strong,” said Grove.

The man standing ten feet down in front of him knows that all to well as the beeps speed up, the clock ticks down to zero, and the first gear of the 85-year old’s bike snaps into place.

You wouldn’t know there was much different about Bruce Gordon from any other rider gathered under tents in the middle of velodrome.

He puts a small rack on the back wheel of his bike to put it in the air so he can begin to warm up for his race at the US Master Track Nationals. Gordon beings his routine while also carrying on a conversation with a friend right next to him, speeding up his workout ever

“In 1974 I started riding,” said Gordon of cycling. “I really enjoyed being outdoors and it was an activity that like to do.”

What’s unusual about starting that year is the same thing that makes him a little unique compared to other competitors this weekend. Gordon races this weekend, as he has every time since 1974, without his left hand which he lost in an industrial accident that same year.

Not that it took away from one of his newest hobbies-and he compared it to the person who was in a chair next to him as he warmed up for his race.

“Like Carl’s age, you just keep moving and you move forward,” said Gordon after losing his left hand.

Coincidentally, it was then that he met Grove who was taking up cycling more as a healthy hobby following a long stint in the famous United States Naval Band.

“We raced for a couple of years and then went away from the cycling scene,” said Gordon of his friendship with Grove. “About five years ago I heard he was riding again.”

The pair then began to race competitively again, appearing in two US Masters Track Cycling Nationals in 2012 and 2013 along with the US Road Nationals in 2010. During the pair encourages each other, as Grove watches Gordon have success despite his accident and Gordon watches Grove get around the track quickly at the age of 85.

“He’s helped me so much,” said Grove of Gordon when it comes to cycling.

As the 85-year old cyclist starts to pick up the speed around the track, his coach is right there with him.

Gordon inches closer to the track as Grove makes the turn down the backstretch to complete the lap, screaming encouragement as he come around at a speed in the neighborhood of 20-25 miles an hour. This happens over the next six laps till the 85-year old completes his pursuit in 2:57:25, the only one that would be posted in his 85-89 age category.

Doing well was important on this day of competition for Grove, but there are other motivating factors.

“I always really enjoyed bike riding,” said Grove. “And once again the people you are around with.”

Like Gordon, who gave congrats to Grove shortly after his pursuit race.

“I help out Carl out with knowledge of the track. Carl’s helped motivate me to get to the track,” said Gordon.

Over one weekend at the Major Taylor Velodrome, the pair did the same for everyone.

“To have him train here and come to our events and get himself ready and his friend Bruce, doing what they do together to make it work for both of them,” said Peterson. “It’s an inspiration to me and many of the other riders.”