Photo: A bloodied and brusied Randy Kerr celebrates after finishing in third place in the Men’s Master Division’s 65-69 age group at the recent USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships in Auburn. (Submitted photo)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
It apparently takes a bit more than a mild concussion, several bruised ribs, a sore elbow and shoulder, two jammed thumbs, a bruised palm and multiple cuts and contusions to keep Randy Kerr off the medal podium.
The Gadsden resident and local cyclist shook off the above mental and physical wounds to finish third in the Men’s Master Division’s 65-69 age group at the USA Cy-cling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships on Sept. 23 in Auburn.
Kerr’s time of 0:51:59 was four minutes slower than runner-up Mark Kuithe of Bartonville, Texas, and just shy of seven behind winner Dennis Barber of North Vernon, Indiana.
It was unfamiliar territory for Kerr, who won his fifth straight Marathon Mountain Bike national championship last year in Frederick, Maryland.
In addition to his less-than-ideal mental and physical state during the Auburn competition, Kerr experienced plain old bad luck when he was jostled by a rider from another division of the race who was directed onto Kerr’s course by mistake.
“On the single track, I never saw anyone from my group,” said Kerr. “I had been soloing for about 45 minutes when two separate groups of riders passed me. I’m just not used to anyone coming from behind, so I didn’t understand what was going on. During one of the turns, one of those riders muscled by me and cut my line. I slid sideways on loose gravel and fell.”
Kerr admitted to feeling dizzy following the mishap.
“At the finish line, Dr. (Tony) Esposito told me that I seemed a little goofy when I paused at the halfway point feed zone to pick up clean glasses,” said Kerr. “He said that he should have pulled me.”
To top it off, Kerr was also feeling the effects of a rib fracture he suffered while training this past summer.
Kerr, who was inducted into the Etowah County Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year, noted that he tailored his training schedule this year for the event after it was an announced that the 2023 national championships would be held in Auburn. He and Esposito spent two days in early September reconnoitering the course.
Kerr pre-rode the course twice with 18-year-old Arizona native Ellie Kraft, who was riding for Pivot and Team USA. Kraft wound up having the fastest women’s amateur time in her division.
“Our fitness level and handling skills are closely matched, so it made for a good fit this year,” said Kerr. “I also realized that my bike, the Trek Super Caliber, was the bomb for this course.” At Auburn, Kerr gapped his competition at the top of the course’s initial climb shortly after the start.
“I took a quick glanced over my shoulder when hitting the single-track hole shot, and there was no one in sight,” he said. “So I decided to go full gas and hammer on, and no one came with me.
The course was twisting and turning, like it was repeating itself. That made it easier to see other riders who were behind me.”
Kerr shrugged off the multitude injuries as part of competitive cycling.
“Hopefully those will get back to normal with time,” he said. “I’m not sure about my pride, though. But finishing a race where you’re totally exhausted both phy-sically and mentally is very gratifying. There’s an old cyclist saying of it’s not a matter of if you’re going to fall, but when and where you’re going to fall.”
Kerr is fortunate to be competing at all following a serious crash in August of 2021. While training near the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, N.C., Kerr suffered a hard fall that resulted in the displacement of ribs 3,4,5,6, 7 and 8; fractures of the third, fourth, and fifth metatarsals in his foot and a displaced fractured rib near the spine.
During his lengthy rehabilitation, however, the poss-ibility of stepping away permanently from competitive cycling never crossed his mind. Kerr credits his wife Jeanne, daughters Kelly and Kaci, son Brad and five grandchildren for their support.
“Without Jeanne, winning would not have been possible, she’s sacrifices so much for me and our children,” he said. “She’s been instrumental in my success. We’re truly a team.”
A Knoxville, Tenn., native, Kerr relocated to Eto-wah County in 1977 at the age of 20 after attending the United States Military Academy at West Point for two years, where he played football and ran track. Kerr eventually earned a track and cross country scholarship to the University of Alabama, where he graduated from in 1979.
From August of 1982 to October 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.
With the exception of the few weeks before, during and after the Christmas holidays, Kerr said that his training is pretty much year-round.
“Although the type of trai-ning does vary with the different phases like endurance build, strength building, aerobic and anaerobic fitness, I’ll supplement that training with running, weight lifting, indoor cycling workouts and the Gauntlet Stairmaster – with no hands on the rails, of course!”
Kerr is setting his sights on a major undertaking for the 2024 season – competing in the off-road Tour Divide Race from late July through mid-August. The 2,745-mile route traverses the length of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to the Mexican border, with riders gaining over a 200,000 foot elevation along the way.
“The TDR is to bike packing as the Appalachian Trail is to back packing,” said Kerr. “It’s the most sought out bike packing route in the world.”
It will not be Kerr’s first excursion on western trail circuit. In 2016, he covered 2,067 miles in 16 days, starting from Telluride, Colorado and ending at Glacier National Park in Montana, mostly along the tour divide route.
Kerr credits his success to a higher power.
“Winning has come with more than just training and sacrifice,” he said. “I thank God for blessing me to be one of the best cyclists in the nation. The verse from 2 Timothy, ‘For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline,” embodies my philosophy around the sport of cycling.”