CEDAR CITY – The Fire Road Cycling race had the most participants in the event’s short four-year history Saturday. The race was a spectacle of great competition and inspirational participants.
With over 300 competitors, the race consisted of three different distances to choose from: 100 km, 60 km or 25 km, with the 100 km being the featured event and a qualifier for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB that will take place on Aug. 9.
Each distance featured a course that followed dirt service roads in Southern Utah. The 60 km and 100 km course put riders at a peak elevation of 9, 514 feet, a challenge for even the best.
“It’s gone really well. Every year you try and make an event better and I feel like we really did this year for a lot of reasons.” Paul Huddle, co-race director, said. “We had more sponsors come on board who have all been great and really supportive, contributing to the athlete experience. We also had a lot of community involvement.”
Many of the volunteer staff returned to help with this year’s event, Huddle said. That’s a good sign when you can get them back year after year.
Impressive and inspirational performances were seen throughout the day, including Leroy Popowski, representing Juwi-Slipstream, the 100 km overall winner with a time of 3 hours, 53 minutes, 5 seconds finishing over 10 minutes ahead of second place.
Great showings were also seen as six riders represented Ride 2 Recovery, a nonprofit organization to benefit mental and physical rehabilitation programs for wounded service men and women that features cycling as the core activity.
Juan Hernandez made the trip from Woodland Hills, California, to represent the organization.
“I like doing events like these, especially this one,” Hernandez said, “It’s well put together and everybody that volunteers does an amazing job and it was an amazing event this year just as it was last year.”
Hernandez first got into cycling in 2010 through the Ride 2 Recovery program as therapy after being injured in October 2009 in Afghanistan while serving in the military. The injury resulted in the loss of his right leg from the knee down.
“It’s hard, but you got to toughen up,” Hernandez said. “Life doesn’t get any easier after you have a traumatic event such as getting hurt, especially in combat.”
After medically retiring from the military, Hernandez now works full time for Ride 2 Recovery, spreading the word and helping those with their disabilities. He finished the 100 km in 4 hours and 53 minutes, earning him a gold Fire Road Cycling belt buckle for finishing under five hours.
Tommy Muir from San Jose, California, also representing Ride 2 Recovery started riding in memory of Clay Hunt.
Muir served in the Marine Corps for six and a-half-years. Although an injury did not bring him to the program, a memory of a friend did.
“My brother was also a Marine and one of his best friends Clay Hunt,” Muir said, “he suffered severely from post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt. He was involved with the organization. Three and a half years ago he killed himself.”
In remembrance of Clay and the program he enjoyed, Muir participated in the Memorial Challenge in 2011. The ride begins in Washington, D.C., and ends in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Muir had all intent to ride the challenge and never doing anything further, he said.
“Within pedaling my first mile out of Arlington National Cemetery, I saw what Clay had always talked about and why he talked about Ride 2 Recovery the way he did,” Muir said, “I knew it was an organization that I needed to be involved with.”
Muir has been cycling ever since. Although from California, he flew in from Alaska for the event after mountain biking for a week there with 24 veterans.
“It’s incredibly inspiring,” Huddle said. “We really like that program and we love the fact that those guys come out here.”
The race was an inspiring moment with well represented competition, athletic ability and hope.
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