By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Local competitive cyclist Randy Kerr recently received a backhanded compliment.
Just after crossing the finish line to win his third straight USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships race on July 20 at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia, the Gadsden resident was surrounded by three race officials who demanded to inspect his bike immediately. It turned out that they were checking Kerr’s bike for a concealed motor because he finished so far ahead of the other competitors on the course.
“At first it insulted me, but after it sunk in I realized that it was compliment. Perhaps they’re supposed to check all of the winners, but I didn’t see them look at any other bikes. It certainly took me by surprise.”
Competing in the age 60-64 division, Kerr finished with a time of 1:29.12, four minutes ahead of the second-place finisher. Kerr pointed out that the victory was especially gratifying because he had experienced mechanical issues during a national race in Arkadelphia, Ark., this past May.
“I had to redeem myself with this one, so it feels good,” said Kerr, who failed to defend his title in the National Marathon Mountain Bike Championship. “It was probably the most difficult and challenging course that I’ve competed on. One of the guys that I beat was a Cyclocross national champion, so that made me feel good.”
Kerr, who has been involved in competitive cycling for the past 42 years, said that the mental preparation for a major race is just as important as the physical workouts.
“I like to push myself and see how far I can go. I’ve found that the workouts have to be intense, because it’s too easy to get in a comfort zone. Douglas MacArthur said that there’s no substitute for victory, and that sticks with me. I like to win, and that rives me.”
Competitive mountain bike racing is not for the faint-hearted, and Kerr’s lists of serious injuries include broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a broken wrist and a broken scapula.
“There’s a lot of hard falls, but that’s just part of it,” he said. “I love the sport and I like being fit. It’s a lifestyle, and I don’t know any other way.”
Kerr currently is racing with Team Go/Trek, a Gadsden-based club that is sponsored by Gadsden Outfitters and Trek Bicycles.
In between running his full-time lawn care business, Kerr’s daily cycling regime is as routine as brushing his teeth every morning.
“To me, it’s as unremarkable a taking a breath of air. I do what needs to be done to prepare myself. I feel blessed that my body has been able to hold up and I’m still able to compete. For me, the more I do it, the more I want to do it, because you can always find an excuse if you don’t feel like getting in a workout.
“There’s an old saying that you should practice the way you play and play the way you practice. When I’m out there competing, I race like there’s no tomorrow.”
Kerr points to NASCAR racing as a good comparison to the competitive cycling circuit.
“There are so many variables like tire pressure and weather, so mechanical problems are the big issue. In this sport, everything has to come together – the equipment, the training and the conditions.”
A Knoxville, Tenn., native, Kerr relocated to Gadsden in 1977 at age 20 after attending the United States Military Academy at West Point for two years, where he played football and ran track. He married his wife Jeanne, whom he had met during a previous visit to the area, shortly after his arrival.
Kerr eventually earned a track and cross country scholarship to the University of Alabama, where Jeanne was attending. They both graduated from the Capstone in 1979.
Upon graduation Kerr worked as an information systems coordinator at Republic Steel/Gulf State Steel for 18 years until the plant closed. In 1993, he established Southern Landscaping, LLC, which he continues to run.
It was around 1981 that the emerging triathlon scene caught Kerr’s attention. The 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and 26.2-mile marathon run event was right up his alley. Kerr’s success in the event eventually led him to the 1985 Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii, where he finished 189th out of a field of 1,050. He continued to compete in triathlons through the 1980’s before deciding that his passion lay in the cycling potion of the event.
In 1987, Kerr was invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where he participated in a two-week training program that determined whether cyclists are ready for the national stage. Although he didn’t make the cut, Kerr for the first time benefited from full-time coaching. He finished 23rd in the 1987 USTS National Triathlon Championships and sixth in the 1988 Coors Light National Biathlon Championships.
From August of 1982 to October of 1992, Kerr won five state titles and finished runner-up twice in either mountain bike or road bike competition. During that 10-year span he earned 38 first place trophies and finished in the top five 46 times out of 129 races.
Kerr began to compete in U.S. Cycling Federation events around the southeast and won his fair share of races. For the next seven years, he threw himself into the demanding training schedule of a competitive bike racing. His success at the state and national levels led to an invitation for to the Olympic Trials in 1992.
“I wasn’t part of a team and I didn’t have a full-time coach, which made it very difficult to compete at that level,” he said.
Toward that end, Kerr’s second stay in Colorado Springs signaled the beginning of the end of his ‘first’ cycling career. In 1993 his bikes remained on their kickstands for the next 16 years. Kerr’s reason for his self-imposed exile was simple.
“I pretty much had to quit cold turkey, because the fee-ling I got from the sport was almost addictive. The more I accomplished, the more I wanted to do. I continued to run and swim and work out with weights, but I had to step away from the competitive aspect of it and focus on other things in my life. We had small children who were at the age where they needed my attention and I was just starting a new business, so it was a good time to step aside.”
Kerr’s re-entry to the cycling world originated from a short ride on his mountain bike on Labor Day of 2008.
“I just felt so alive the next day like I’d been dead for 16 years, so the next weekend I went on a little bit of a longer ride,” Kerr recalled. “I felt just as invigorated, so gradually got back into it. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it at a high level.”
Kerr said that although he enjoys winning as much as the next competitor, his first act upon crossing a finish line is giving glory to God. His favorite Bible verse is Colossians 3:23: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.’
“I compete for the pleasure of God, the honor of Christ and the reputation of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “The results of my efforts must result in His glory.”