NASA People

Center Snapshot: Steve Nevins
Steve Nevins. Image above: Steve Nevins, the founder and director of the Tidewater Mountain Bike Challenge, wheelies his way past the Gantry where he works as an engineering technician. Photo credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

By: Jim Hodges

When Hurricane Earl skirted the East Coast two weeks ago, there was only one place for Steve Nevins to be: in the water, sitting on a classic 6-feet, 2-inch surfboard, watching the sun rise, waiting for the next storm-powered wave.

And there, in the white wash of shore break was 4-year-old Caleb Nevins, the next generation boogie-boarding until the day when he can be out in the water with his old man.

"Now I've got a son, I've got to be in shape," said Steve Nevins, an engineering technician at the Gantry. "I can skateboard again. I can boogie board again. I can surf again, and ride bikes."

At 47, he doesn't have to grow up.

"I firmly believe that anyone who rides a bike regularly has a lot of kid in them," said Nevins, who not only rides regularly, he also runs the Tidewater Mountain Bike Challenge, the oldest continually competed such event on the East Coast and one of the oldest in the country.

The Tidewater Mountain Bike Challenge will have its 23rd annual run on October 30-31 at a Williamsburg course.

"I'm the founder and director," Nevins said. "I have lots of great help, but I still do the flyer design, contact sponsors, T-shirt vendors, food vendors, water bottles and pint glass vendors, and arrange work parties at the trail. The historic race course is only used once a year for the event and has to be practically rebuilt each year."

He even casts trophies, using skills he learned while working in NASA Langley's model shop and foundry.

It's where he started 22 years ago, after earning a degree in business management from Christopher Newport University, then realizing that he didn't want to manage a business. "I think everybody thinks about following in their father's footsteps sometime," said Nevins, whose father, Russ Nevins, worked at Langley for 31 years before retiring in 1980.

Son Steve decided to enter Langley's co-op program and earned an associates degree from Thomas Nelson while working at the center, first in the model shop, then in Stereolithography 3-D modeling before moving to the Gantry.

There he prepares test articles for drop or crash testing, following engineering directions for mounting hardware, sensors and impact reducing objects to the model in the facility to achieve the desired data when the model crashes.

"Working with the other technicians at the facility, we are responsible for setting up the drop," Nevins said. "It involves everything from positioning the bridge up top to getting lifting hardware to the vehicle ready, getting the vehicle itself ready, putting airbags or crushable structures on it if needed. Just kind of setting the systems up for whatever the test is supposed to accomplish." Away from the center, he pursued the kind of adrenaline rush that can only come from speed and competition, with a few added bumps along the way.

"I trained up to five hours a day at times," Nevins said. "I craved the training. If somebody called at 6:30 and said, 'let's go to a movie at 7,' I would bolt out the door and run for a half hour so I could sit still in the theater."

His weight hasn't varied 10 pounds since he finished at Ferguson High School in the 1980s.

Even while still competing, he started the Tidewater Mountain Bike Challenge, which is also known to riders as "Steve's Race." It was difficult to ride while also managing the race.

"I would get stressed," Nevins said. "I'd look at the clock and it was 2 o'clock and my race was at 2:30. I'd get to the starting line five minutes before the race. At that point, my adrenaline took over and the stress of managing the race would wash away, but it did hurt my performance at times."

One time he cut the race too close.

"I missed the start of the race," he said. "They got tired of waiting for me to get ready, and the starter started the race. They were already in the woods, and I had to give chase.

"I caught up to the leader but could not make the pass and eventually finished third."

Along the way he managed a couple of Tidewater Challenge Championships, many regional wins and a couple of Virginia State Games gold medals. He has also raced against a Tour de France winner and National and World Champions.

Young Caleb will ride in this year's 6-and-under division as a 4-year-old. He shed the training wheels on his bike in a week.

Caleb also is being encouraged to try other sports. "I loved pee wee football when I played," his dad said. "I loved all the ball and stick sports."

Wife Anne also rides and occasionally races. –They met when Nevins spotted the bicycle rack on her car, –though her competition will be limited for a while. She is due to deliver their second child in February.

He still races, but no longer in the top competitive echelon. Energy once devoted to the rigors of serious training are channeled toward work, family, and "Steve's Race."

"It's a number," he said. In this case, the number is 23. "I started it, second annual, third annual. I want to outlast everybody."

And to be able to watch Caleb and whoever joins the Nevins family in February, to see what they become. As they grow up, he'll grow up.