As a toddler, NASA aerospace engineer Kevin Walsh rode his tricycle around his family's Queens, N.Y., home. As a boy, Walsh delivered morning newspapers on his bike, pushing himself to see how quickly he could complete the route.
It is this passion for cycling that has led Walsh to face his toughest athletic challenge yet - the Race Across America (RAAM). On June 19, the 47-year old aeronautical propulsion engineer at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., will be one of 26 solo riders who face the daunting task of covering the almost 3,000-mile course in 12 days or less. Walsh hopes to make it in only 10 days.
"I am competing in the Race Across America because it is the ultimate endurance bicycle race," said Walsh. "RAAM has been one of my life goals since the first one was held in 1982 when it was called the Great American Bike Race. I want to compete before I get too much older. I believe I'm ready."
In 1980, the avid ultra-distance rider began an almost daily 70-mile round trip commute from his Lancaster, Calif., home with other college students to Edwards Air Force Base. Walsh has continued to ride to work at NASA Dryden for 25 years, through winter cold and summer heat of more than 100 degrees.
But five years ago, Walsh was not sure he would ever cycle again. In August 2000, 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 used a walker for a month and lost 12 weeks of work before a combination of acupuncture and physical therapy eventually returned his leg to near normal.
The Race Across America begins in San Diego. The competitors will cross 13 states, climbing and descending 109,880 feet before reaching Atlantic City, N.J. That means riding up to 22 hours per day, with no designated rest stops and no drafting behind other cyclists or vehicles. The route is shared with normal traffic on secondary roads with an occasional venture onto a freeway. Walsh faces the heat of the desert on the first days, followed by humidity in the Midwest. The rolling hills of West Virginia will be tackled about 2,500 miles into the journey.
"I have been averaging over 450 miles of riding per week since February to prepare for the race," Walsh related. "I have competed in a number of cycling competitions, including multiple double centuries (200 miles). I won an event during which I rode 410 miles in 24 hours, and cycled 360 miles during a recent weekend in the heat near Las Vegas."
Training for this race has Walsh in the best physical condition of his life. He is six foot, two inches tall and weighs 170 pounds. He hopes to gain four or five pounds before the RAAM, when he expects to lose a pound each day. Walsh hopes to maintain his energy during the race with a special diet of liquid foods, supplements, fruit and light solid food. His long hours on the bike have also helped him adapt to the sleep deprivation that will occur during the race.
Walsh always wanted to be a pilot, but poor vision disqualified him. His interest in aircraft led him to study aeronautical engineering. Walsh joined NASA Dryden in 1976 as a cooperative education student in the Center's Research Engineering Directorate. After graduating from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 1981, Walsh began full-time work at Dryden. He now devotes his professional skills to aircraft performance and propulsion and high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft.
Walsh was Dryden's chief engineer for the solar-powered Helios Prototype when it attempted to become the first airplane powered by a hydrogen-air fuel cell system in 2003. He is currently chief engineer for flight tests conducted on the Pathfinder Plus solar-powered airplane, and is also chief engineer for the next generation of high-altitude, long-endurance remotely operated prototype aircraft that are to be developed by NASA for a variety of Earth science missions.
"I believe my chance of completing the race is very good," said Walsh, who will wear rider number 189. "Training has been excellent and I have an exceptional crew of six who are very motivated to get me to Atlantic City."
For more information about the Race Across America and the cyclists' progress, visit: http://www.raceacrossamerica.org.
TELEVISION EDITORS: Interview segments and B-roll footage to support this release will be aired during the Video File feeds on NASA TV beginning on June 7. NASA TV is available on the Web and via satellite in the continental U.S. on AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 9, 3880 MHz, vertical polarization, audio at 6.8 MHz. In Alaska and Hawaii, NASA TV is available on AMC-7, at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18, at 4060 MHz, vertical polarization, audio at 6.8 MHz.
PHOTO EDITORS: Publication-quality photos with captions to support this release are available for downloading from the Internet at: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/news/newsphotos/.
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