NASA aerospace engineer Kevin Walsh is facing his toughest athletic challenge this week. He is one of 26 solo riders competing in the Race Across America (RAAM) cross-country bicycle race that began in San Diego, Calif., on Sunday and ends in Atlantic City, N.J., July 1.
Image Right: Aerospace engineer in front of Dryden's X-1E.
Walsh's love of cycling began with a tricycle that he rode around the family apartment. He progressed to riding a two-wheeler while delivering newspapers, continually attempting to complete the route more quickly than the day before.
Cycling became his primary mode of transportation to work about 25 years ago when he began commuting to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., from his home in Lancaster. He continues the 70-mile round trip almost daily.
This solitary commute offered Walsh time for contemplation and planning. Participating in - and completing - the 3,051-mile RAAM became one of his life overarching goals.
To prepare for it this year, Walsh completed numerous milestone races including several centuries (100 miles) and double centuries (200 miles). He qualified to compete in the RAAM by riding in the two-day, 508-mile Furnace Creek race in California's Death Valley and Mojave Desert last October, finishing in 36 hours and 20 minutes.
The Dryden Flight Research Center is one of NASA's smaller field centers, employing about 1,000 civil servants and contractor personnel. Word spread that one of its own was attempting a feat some felt was awesome, others crazy.
Dryden's flight surgeon Dr. Gregg Bendrick addressed the basic physiology of nutrition, exercise and weight loss at a brown-bag luncheon seminar for employees. Walsh continued the theme, discussing the importance of hydration and nutrition requirements for endurance athletes.
Walsh had need for a recreation vehicle to provide sleeping accommodations for himself and his six-member support crew during the race. He was concerned about the cost of the cross-country rental, in addition to fuel. Sim Taylor, of Dryden's research instrumentation branch, offered her vehicle free of charge.
Walsh needed funding for such basics as food and lodging for his volunteers. Employees bought and sold tickets for a 50-50 raffle, with half of the money earned from ticket sales to go to the winner, and half to Walsh. Others made donations to Walsh's race fund, ensuring that the crew would not go hungry.
Tracey Crowley, wife of Dryden facility manager Dan Crowley, is a licensed massage therapist who is serving on Walsh's crew. Along with numerous other tasks, Tracey is helping to ease Walsh's aching muscles during the few hours he is off the bike and resting, while Dan is taking annual leave to care for the couple's three young children.
Ronnie Boghosian, a former restaurant owner and current Dryden outreach specialist, and her husband organized and cooked a tri-tip barbeque lunch fundraiser at the Edwards Air Force Base Exchange store. Four other Dryden employees volunteered their lunch hours to handle the serving of food and collection of money.
NASA meteorologist Ed Teets calls the crew daily with updates to anticipated weather along the route ahead of Walsh.
Of course, those who provide the greatest support are Walsh's wife Kristy and college-age sons Matthew and Jeffrey. The commute to work via bicycle means more hours away from home than the traditional zip up the freeway would take. Many weekends the family watched and waited while Walsh cycled along some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States.
Walsh himself has overcome some obstacles to continue his passion for cycling. A passing motorcyclist once threw a beer bottle at him. It left him with minor cuts after breaking on the handlebars. On another occasion, he collided with a vehicle when it ran a stop sign, leaving him shaken.
Five years ago, Walsh was not sure he would ever cycle again. Walsh suffered a protruded disk in his back while on a family camping trip. Emergency surgery corrected the problem, but the epidural required as anesthesia left his right leg nearly paralyzed. He lost 12 weeks of work before acupuncture and physical therapy returned his leg to near normal.
Those experiences only deepened his resolve to reach his goal. On June 19, 2005, all the years of preparation, training, and miles on the bike came together in San Diego as Walsh joined the other solo riders at the start of the Race Across America.
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For more on Kevin's progress and the Race Across America, log on to http://www.raceacrossamerica.org.