By Chris McCarthy/Editor
While many 57 year-olds use the golf course as an outlet for their competitive nature, Randy Kerr prefers something a little more physically challenging.
In between running a full-time lawn care business, the Gadsden resident competes in not one but three cycling disciplines – Cyclocross, road and mountain bike racing. For Kerr, his daily cycling routine is as natural as brushing one’s teeth every morning.
“My training is a way of life; I look forward to it. To me, it’s as unremarkable a taking a breath of air. I do what needs to be done to prepare myself. I’ve been doing this for a little over 40 years, and 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’s passion for cycling is a by-product of his competitive nature and athletic bent.
“I’ve always been very active and always have had a tremendous amount of energy. I’ve always had to channel it somehow, and that’s what eventually drew to me to biking.”
Kerr’s discipline, focus and dedication translated into a very successful 2014 season with 17 first place and five second-place finishes in races in Gadsden, Rainbow City, Anniston, Birmingham, Pelham, Alabaster, Brookside, Syla-cauga and Lookout Mountain, Ga.
“The more I move, the better I feel,” he said. “When I worked in a desk job at the steel plant, I felt like a caged animal. I just couldn’t wait to get out and train. In training, what you do off the bike is just as important as what you do on the bike.
“There’s an old saying that variety and balance is the key to overall fitness, and I believe in that. I run, I swim, I lift weights and I do cardio workouts. Competitive racing takes a lot of preparation, both physically and mentally. Plus, when prize money is involved, the intensity is really ratcheted up.”
Kerr currently rides for the Birmingham-based Team Mugshots Cyclocross, which provides support and maintenance. In 36 races during 2014, the 16-member team earned over 60 Top 3 podium finishes.
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. Without Team Mugshots, it would be hard for me to be successful. In this sport, everything has to come together – the equipment, the training and the conditions.”
Cyclocross is an intense form of European mountain bike racing that consists of many laps around a 1.5 to 2-mile course. The layout features pavement, dirt, mud, gravel, wooded trails, tall grass and steep hills. The course includes obstacles that require a rider to dismount and run a short distance while carrying his/her bike.
Many Cyclocross courses in the southeast are laid out in local softball complexes, such as the field at Gadsden Sports Complex. Cyclocross races also have been held in Moragne Park. The Cyclocross season begins in September and runs through January.
In order to train properly and hone his skills, Kerr constructed a Cyclocross-type course on his farm. Called the Ticker Trail, the route features barriers, sand pits, crossings and steep inclines that he would encounter on race day.
Since coordination is crucial in Cyclocross, Kerr mixes in a healthy dose of balance drills.
“Being able to maneuver the bike and get over some the obstacles is important, getting prepared for that is more important as you get older,” he said. “At this time of the year, I work more on mileage workouts, while in preparation for Cyclocross, I work on high intensity and interval-type workouts.”
Kerr’s workouts aren’t limited to the back roads of Northeast Alabama, as he is a regular visitor to the Coosa Valley YMCA in Gadsden.
“I feel blessed to have a facility to use like the YMCA,” he said. “ Without that, I couldn’t swim or do certain cardio work. [YMCA Executive Director] Leroy [Falcon] even has allowed me to put my stationary bike in the pool area in the offseason, which allows me to swim first and immediately get on the bike.”
On April 4, Kerr will compete in the Foothills Easter Classic, an endurance race that includes routes of 14, 24, 40 or 67 miles. The event benefits the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Mission trips and YMCA of the Coosa Valley Day Camp Scholarships. He then plans on competing in the Iron Mountain Challenge in Anniston on March 28. In May, Kerr is headed to Columbia County, Ga., for the USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championship. His 2015 schedule also includes races as far away as Oregon and Pennsylvania while competing in the Ultra Endurance Series.
Kerr points out that the emotional and spiritual rewards from biking are just as beneficial as the physical and mental gains.
“I know that it all comes from God, and that He gives me the strength to do what I can do. I’m prayerfully thankful that I’m able to train and compete on a high level, and I give Him all the glory. My strength comes from my daily walk with Him. About 98 percent of my training is alone, so it’s just me and God.
“One of my favorite verses from the Bible is Colossians 1:11, which says, ‘Being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.’ That really pumps me up when I’m out there. I’m also appreciative of the support from my wife Jeanne and [children] Kelly, Kaci and Brad.”
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.
Kerr 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 par-ticipated 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.”
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 reasoning was simple for his self-imposed exile.
“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 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.”