Photo: Gadsden resident and competitive cyclist Randy Kerr recently won a fourth straight national championship at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Randy Kerr’s latest national title did not come without a few tense moments.
The Gadsden resident and longtime off-road cyclist overcame an early fall to capture his fourth straight USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championship on July 19 at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia.
Kerr competed in the Master Division for ages 60-64 this year. His previous champions came in the 55-59 and 60-64 age groups.
Kerr acknowledged that even though it was his first race of the year, he worer a bullseye on his back due to his recent success.
“There’s an old saying that it’s harder to stay there than to get there, and I was already a marked target,” he said. “I would have to say this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Kerr went hard out of the gate, allowing him to pull ahead from the other riders on the first incline. But Kerr soon lost control of the bike while negotiating a web-like single track section that had tree roots. Due to the mishap, four riders passed Kerr. He lost sight of that group for several minutes before overtaking them on a sustained climb. The five riders exchanged the top position several times before Kerr pulled away for a two-minute lead on the final lap and claimed the victory. His winning time of 1:23:41 was five minutes faster than his 2017 result.
“It was the same course and conditions, only an additional year of erosion,” said Kerr. “This race reminded me of an intense Cyclocross race, but almost twice as long.”
Kerr admitted that he was in pain almost from start to finish.
“I was ready for it to be over; I wanted the pain to stop. To re-focus, I kept repeating this [bible] verse in my head – “God…after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.’ God is good!”
Kerr, who has been involved in competitive cycling for the past 43 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 drives me.”
Competitive mountain bike racing is not for the faint-hearted, as Kerr’s list 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’s daily cycling regime is as routine as brushing his teeth every morning.
“To me, it’s as unremarkable as 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.”
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 portion 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 feeling 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, so the next weekend I went on a little bit of a longer ride,” Kerr recalled. “I felt just as invigorated, so I 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.”