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      USMES: Overcoming Hardship & Finding Community Together

      USMES: Overcoming Hardship & Finding Community Together

      USMES, U.S. Military Endurance Sports, supports endurance sports and activities for current, retired, and veteran members of the United States Armed Forces. It began in 2009 as an elite cycling team and has grown into a thriving multi-sport program. Now, USMES supports numerous sports for amateur and elite athletes of all abilities, with roughly 75percent of their members having some type of disability (including disabilities like PTSD, TBI, and hearing loss). These athletes have dedicated themselves to achieving success and overcoming numerous obstacles. While achieving lofty athletic goals, these athletes support others in their local community. USMES members are passionate about promoting their sport, serving their country, and supporting each other.

      USMES supports an Elite Athlete Program for athletes competing at the national and international level and Team Chronos, which provides opportunities for regionally influential masters athletes. Athletes from these teams compete at the Olympics and on international circuits, break barriers, and inspire countless others with their determination and positivity. It is this sense of community and camaraderie that these service members rely on to help propel them forward. This Veterans Day, we’d like to highlight a few of the outstanding USMES members.

      Photos courtesy of Pactimo / Adam Pawlikiewicz Mesa

      Tristan Manderfeld had an outstanding 2019 season with appearances at huge international races. He earned points for Olympic qualification at Fire on Wheels UCI C1 Scratch Race and Points and he finished the season representing the U.S. Armed Forces at the 2019 CISM Military World Games.

      As a high school wrestler, he was recruited to West Point. Unfortunately, a back injury prevented him from continuing in the sport. He was immediately drawn to cycling and its unique mental and physical demands. He quickly progressed from Cat 5 to UCI Pro in cyclocross in just over two years. Tristan has lots of big goals for 2021, but is specifically hoping to make the US Olympic team. He is no stranger to taking risks, as his favorite saying goes, “take the risk or lose the chance.” Tristan continues to take those chances and the results speak for themselves. Tristan’s favorite current workout is a “simulated points race on the road with added volume. It consists of one hour at Zone 2 followed by 40 minutes split into eight blocks of three minutes in high Zone 2 then 1:45 at breakaway pace and 15 seconds at an all-out sprint. Repeat.”

      In 2007, Adam Popp was injured by an IED in Afghanistan, resulting in the amputation of his right leg above the knee. At the time, he was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Leader and a twelve-year combat veteran of the Air Force with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight years after losing his leg, Adam began running again. In December 2015, Adam became the first above-knee amputee to complete a 100-mile ultramarathon within the 30-hour cutoff. He was the first amputee to finish, and placed second at the 2017 Boston Marathon in the Mobility Impaired Division. He went on to become the first amputee to complete the JFK 50. On November 14th Adam “will be running Tunnel Hill 100-miler in Illinois, with a third attempt at the 100-mile finish, then seven days later I’ll go for my fourth consecutive run at JFK 50-miler.”

      Jataya Taylor dreamed of a military career. While serving in the Marine Corp, she was seriously injured in two training accidents. After numerous unsuccessful surgeries, she was diagnosed with a rare connective tissue disorder that prevented her from healing. Jataya was medically retired, which was emotionally devastating. She didn’t give up though. In 2017, she made the decision to have her left leg amputated and began her career as an adaptive athlete. Jataya is now a Paralympic hopeful for Nordic skiing, and also competes at a national level in para cycling and wheelchair basketball. She won the 2018 DAV Freedom Award, for outstanding courage and achievement.

      Kelly Elmlinger is a retired Army Captain and the current USA Paratriathlon National Champ. As a combat medic, she was deployed three times, to Iraq and Afghanistan. Tragically, she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma cancer that ultimately led to the amputation of her leg in 2016. Just three weeks after receiving her run/walk prosthetic, she entered her first triathlon. She was named the Paratriathlon Development Athlete of the year for 2020 by USAT. And Kelly is ready for 2021. Her eyes are set on ITU World Champs and a possible Olympic Team selection. The pandemic has left her with some time to focus on some medical needs and also be present for her kids. Her approach and advice for dealing with COVID-19 is to “hold yourself accountable and to have an outlet to release frustrations and stress.”

      Many USMES members are first responders or frontline workers. With COVID-19, that has meant this year has been devoted not to training, but to their first duty—caring for and protecting us all. The stress of a pandemic and isolation has been challenging to say the least, but especially for veterans. To foster community, accountability, and support this year, members have used Zwift and other avenues of virtual meetups and competitions to bring the team together. Others are providing mentorship and increased avenues of support to fight against addictions.

      USMES is providing a network of support and community to veteran athletes from amateurs to elites, from active duty to retired, and for all abilities. It is an avenue that no matter the circumstance, they can find a community of support. Rudy Project has been a proud supporter of USMES for many years. Rudy Project has provided gear and created custom-made helmets to support USMES members and its teams as they train and compete. To support the great work of USMES or get involved, visit usmes.org.


      Amanda Stevens — Family, Health, then Sport

      Amanda Stevens — Family, Health, then Sport

      Amanda Stevens-Sadler’s professional legacy is remarkable. She was a two-time Olympic Trials qualifier in 2004 and 2008, a leading competitor on the ITU circuit, and in 2013 she won her first Ironman event in Brazil. She was first out of the water at nearly every race she entered. Amanda turned pro in 2003, completed medical school in 2006, broke the nine-hour mark in 2015, and now spends her time as a devoted mom, physician, and coach all during a global pandemic. As COVID-19 spread to affect daily life, Amanda also faced a new paradigm of coaching without races, advocating for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) during the supply shortage, and continuing to treat her patients through it all. Thanks to her long-standing relationship with Rudy Project, she was able to alleviate this one concern and work with increased confidence through it all.

      Amanda’s career as a triathlete is exceptional, but so is her professional career. She is a medical doctor who continues to grow and enhance her skills as a clinician. She planned to take this year to complete a sports medicine fellowship. As an endurance athlete and doctor, Amanda is quite familiar with treating chronic and overuse injuries, but this was an opportunity she had planned to get more comfortable with – treating acute injuries. However, 2020 has been far from what any of us expected.

      Her sports medicine fellowship typically would have had her on the sidelines and in locker rooms at a variety of sporting events right now, but there is just not a lot of sport going on. Schools like the University of Oklahoma, which is closest to home for Amanda, are playing. However, COVID-19 regulations are strict, so she hasn’t been able to join their games. For the smaller colleges and high schools that are still having regular seasons, Amanda would have been in locker rooms treating injuries and developing return-to-play plans, but instead she is completing COVID-return-to play plans with the athletes.

      Doctor Amanda Stevens poses with her triathlon bike

      Why Sports Medicine Now?

      Her training as a doctor has been shaped in part due to her own athletic career and her own missed diagnoses. Amanda dealt with gastrointestinal issues throughout much of her early career. She knows that her career as a triathlete could have been different had those issues been solved earlier and treated correctly.

      Amanda’s focus has been on primary care and functional medicine. Functional medicine looks at the root cause of a disease from the cellular level to understand its influence on the whole system. She’s hoping to use this knowledge — with the skills of preventive care and wellness refined during this fellowship — to become a more well-rounded clinician. After this fellowship, Amanda hopes to continue her work by helping other athletes become more efficient by evaluating things like their metabolism and known muscular weak spots.

      As if being busy as a doctor wasn’t enough, Amanda coaches several athletes and is a mom of two. She has a three-year old and almost nine-month old. Not one to slow down, she swam up until they were born and resumed quickly thereafter. For much of the past decade Amanda has balanced her career as a medical doctor with her career as a professional triathlete and coach. If you talk with Amanda Stevens, you’ll hear this phrase about her philosophy as a working mom, athlete, and coach. “Family first, health second, sport third.” And now more than ever, this philosophy highlights the reality that most athletes have these priorities out of order. For many, sport is first and foremost.

      Now that sport (specifically competing) have been canceled, many athletes are using this time to re-evaluate and get their priorities back in order. Her message this year, despite the letdowns of canceled races, is that 2020 training can be a “blessing in disguise” for years to come. She’s emphasized to her athletes that this is the year to build an incredibly healthy, strong base. Having a solid training foundation builds endurance and provides the ability to ramp up as needed when races are back on the schedule with minimal injury risk.


      Removing Barriers — The Legend and Legacy of Major Taylor

      Removing Barriers — The Legend and Legacy of Major Taylor

      Marshall “Major” Taylor raced track and road cycling events professionally from 1896 until 1910. He was arguably one of the best cyclists in the world during his career. He was the first African American world champion cyclist and the second African American athlete to win a world championship in any sport (Canadian boxer George Dixon, 1892). Just 30 years after the Civil War, Major Taylor found success internationally, and fought not only on the racecourse, but through blatant racism whenever he competed in the U.S. During the 1896 season, Major Taylor unofficially broke a sprint world record on the track, but he was promptly banned from the stadium because of the color of his skin. He received death threats, and regularly faced dirty tricks from individuals or groups of riders leading up to and during races because of the ever-present presence of prejudice. However, his talent and character led him to great success and his efforts have inspired many to pursue their own cycling dreams.

      The moment he earned his place on the international level was later in 1896 during the six-day race in Madison Square Garden. Cycling endurance events were extremely popular at the time. The race format was simple - be the one to cover the most laps over the course of six days. Thousands of spectators joined as the event waged on. The latter stages for those few remaining riders often resulted in exhausted riders falling asleep on their bikes and crashing onto the banked wooden track. To be entered in the race, Taylor had to compete in a half mile sprint. He won, beating the star of the time in cycling, Eddie Bald. Taylor ended up finishing eighth, covering 1,732 miles. By the second day, Taylor had covered almost 400 miles, putting him among the top contenders, in his first professional event. He continued to cover anywhere from 200-300 miles a day for the remaining four days of the race. Bikes, nutrition, and hydration were all drastically different realities than anything we can compare to today. Even after a pretty gnarly wreck late in the race, Taylor got back up and finished with all he had. Taylor was just 18, about ten years younger than the other riders.

      At the same time in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in the famous case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The decision declared that separate but equal was ok, institutionalizing Jim Crow laws. Taylor knew the significance of the moment, “In a word I was a pioneer, and therefore, had to blaze my own trail.” Taylor was the only Black rider in a peloton of white. But, he knew that proving his talent during those six days would be the defining moment of his potential career in cycling. And because of his efforts, he became an international phenom.

      Over the course of the next decade, Taylor would go on to set more than seven world records. In 1902, he beat the champions of Germany, France, and England, winning 40 out of 57 races. Apart from his racing, he was also a deeply religious man with incredibly principled beliefs. Taylor never raced on Sunday and strongly felt that clean living (avoiding alcohol, drugs, and even candy) were the keys to success as a professional athlete. His popularity was so vast that many international races moved their events from Sunday just so Taylor would compete.

      Taylor left cycling for a few years mostly because of the dehumanization and threatening treatment he received while racing and training as a Black cyclist in the U.S. He would show up to train and be turned away because of the color of his skin. He would travel for a race only to receive death threats if he didn’t leave town. He would win a race, but often was placed second by officials. Taylor called this the “dreadful monster prejudice to do extra battle against,” yet still carried little bitterness. Taylor was mentored and promoted by Birdie Munger and befriended several of his competitors over the years through their shared interest in the sport. He prayed that others would “with patience, courage, fortitude and perseverance achieve success for themselves.”

      Since its inception over a decade ago, the Major Taylor club and the Major Taylor Iron Riders have honored his legacy and continue to promote the trail he blazed over a century ago.

      The Major Taylor Iron Riders (MTIR) were founded in 2006 in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The name was chosen to honor both Major Taylor and the Fort Missoula Buffalo Soldier 25th  Infantry Bicycle Corps who were referred to as the Iron Riders after they rode 1,900 miles in just 21 days. They were one of four regiments of Black soldiers enacted by Congress in 1866.

      Darrell Tucker, Team Leader for the Major Taylor Development team, shared the story of the historical evolution of the team. “In the past 14 years, Major Taylor Iron Riders (MTIR) have grown to secure their position in the NYC cycling community and emerge as one of the most prominent and respected Major Taylor clubs in the United States. With more than 200 members and supporters, the club continues to thrive and expand the demographics of its membership. Today the MTIR peloton is made up of both men and women, teenagers and senior citizens, and individuals from numerous ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.” It is arguably the most diverse group of riders in the U.S. As Tucker relayed, through Taylor’s story and the mission, “cycling offers us a bridge.” The common interest, the journey towards a goal, and the community created, each contribute to the bridge that can be built between the chasm of race, gender, or opportunity that still exists. JoAnn Caban, a team member since 2017, recently shared her thoughts in a team letter about the significance of this team in our current social context:

      MTIR is an evolution of diversity through a shared expression and passion for the sport. It fosters an acceptance of diversity whether it is color, age, style, or socioeconomics. Moreover, it exemplifies minority representation in this sport to the youth of our community and also to the older people of color (who are among the greatest population of unhealthy individuals in the developed world). MTIR introduces them to options for fitness which they would not have otherwise known were possible.

      Personally, MTIR represents a population who shares similar personal struggles of diversity that I have faced in my life as a Hispanic woman. MTIR represents strength of character, perseverance of excellence in life, and mental fortitude. It is where I find like minded individuals who know how to ride bikes – at any age!

      The MTIR team and the Major Taylor Development Team, have built a community that creates a space for riders to become great riders, the same kind of mentorship that opened the door to Major Taylor’s own career. That’s what the Major Taylor team is all about. That and remaining competitive and elevating each other’s performance, all while creating a path for anyone to get involved in the sport.

      A key factor in their ongoing success has been the long-standing relationships the team has forged. Rudy Project has been a proud supporter of the Major Taylor pro team and grassroots associations for more than a decade. Rudy Project has sponsored community efforts through MTIR to remove the common obstacles to entry. Cycling has a very high barrier to entry: bikes are expensive, kits are expensive, helmets are expensive. The high financial barrier to entry has excluded most for a very long time. Rudy Project has sought to help overcome that by providing helmets, and eyewear to some of the Major Taylor teams, which significantly helps reduce the financial burden that exists in order to participate and compete in the sport. Rudy Project has long-held that their sponsored athletes and teams mirror the demographics of our country. Cycling has been an almost exclusively white sport. Major Taylor was the first to change that. And the efforts this team is leading today are not new to them, but an opportunity for us all to have a moment of clarity and see the greater opportunity: to know, support, and elevate all of our neighbors in every pursuit.

      To learn more about Major Taylor and the Major Taylor Iron Riders cycling group, go to https://mtir.clubexpress.com/. They welcome anyone regardless of race, creed or gender.

      major taylor iron riders club gear

      New World, New Goals: The CAF 2020 Community Challenge

      New World, New Goals: The CAF 2020 Community Challenge

      There’s no question about it: the pandemic has not only upturned our race seasons, it’s also taken away the very purpose for many of us to train. Goal Setting is a human condition, and for many, that drive to work hard has been replaced with trying to find that self-motivation to put in work.

      But does our drive to train hard need to be “self” motivating? What if it were “selfless-motivating”? What if the thing that motivates us were greater than ourselves? The Challenged Athletes Foundation has provided us just the carrot we need, the thing to give us drive: the 2020 Community Challenge presented by Vega.

      The Challenged Athletes Foundation has become a well-known bastion of goodwill for differently-abled athletes looking to compete—full stop. With the cost of adaptive sports equipment (think prosthetic running legs, race wheelchairs, handcycles, etc.) running high in cost, it’s been the CAF’s mission to help raise funds to get those athletes the tools they need to perform, as well as provide training opportunities to allow these athletes to reach their potential. And once they can perform, look out; the CAF has helped everyday disabled athletes realize their potential in sport—right up to the Paralympics podium. It’s simply a transformative organization, helping the disabled become fully abled in sport.

      One of the CAF’s biggest annual fundraisers has been the San Diego Triathlon Challenge. It’s a relay event with big-name celebrity attendance from both Hollywood (comedian Will Ferrell made a memorable appearance one year) and the world of pro sports, a massive fundraising dinner, and of course a relay half-Ironman distance triathlon. It’s an event that’s less of a race, and more of a rolling party.

      Of course, like all other events in the era of social distancing, the CAF had to put the SDTC event on the shelf for 2020. Still, the party will continue with the Community Challenge. Now, instead of a regional event, the Community Challenge is able to expand into a global virtual summit.

      Having kicked off August 8th and running through October 18th, the Community Challenge is an event like no other, in a time like no other. Registrants are now encouraged to run, bike, roll, swim or walk, logging the mileage along the way while fundraising. As the miles pile up, registrants can earn special incentive prizes. And it’s all for the greater good.

      “We’re really excited about the potential of this event,” says Jason Karavidas, senior business development manager at the CAF. “While the SDTC was amazing, this has the potential for even greater reach, at a time when we are all looking for a motivation, a direction for our energy. The Community Challenge is definitely the place for athletes to goal set, and have it rewarded in an amazing way.

      Challenged Athletes Foundation Rudy Project Volantis Helmet 3/4 Front View

      To further sweeten the pot for participants, the CAF has pulled in several key partners to contribute special deals for athletes. Rudy Project is proud to have been given the nod to participate in the Community Challenge, and with the CAF, we’ve come up with a special design on our Volantis aero road helmet, with a custom design that matches the CAF’s team kit. “It ties in perfectly with the existing CAF team kit our athletes wear, so it ties the entire outfit together very nicely,” Karavidas said.

      A few select CAF athletes will be hand-picked to receive a helmet to showcase for their own use during the event. But participants like you can be a part of this special release as well; with each special edition helmet purchased, Rudy Project will donate 35 percent of the sale to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.

      “We’re so proud to have Rudy Project along with us for the Community Challenge,” Karavidas said. “Their presence will add immensely to a unique event that we think is going to be just amazing.”

      35% of each sale donated to challenged athletes foundation

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      Lauren Stephens — For the Love of the Ride

      Lauren Stephens — For the Love of the Ride

      Lauren Stephens has always been competitive and driven, something that was evident from her debut in the sport when she balanced teaching full-time, training, and racing. So, it should come as no surprise that when she transitioned to training and competing full-time, she found success. Lauren’s cycling career began with commuting to college and work. From there, she started joining group rides. That’s when she found community and love. But she also started racing — and winning.

      In 2013 she was asked to join Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank, the longest running professional women’s cycling team in North America. And she never looked back. “I love to ride bikes. I love to race. I want to exercise. I love to compete.” Stephens not only races professionally, she still joins the same grassroots, community races that kicked off her career. She does it because she loves bikes and racing, pure and simple. That uncomplicated, unbridled passion is not only contagious, it’s also a major component of her success.

      When the pandemic hit, Lauren's race season in Europe was just beginning and soon thwarted. She returned home to Texas just a day before travel from Europe was restricted, but not one to be defeated easily, she drove to Oklahoma and competed in what would be perhaps one of only a few race opportunities for the year: Mid South Gravel.

      Mid South Gravel was not ordinary this year. “It was a mud pit...the longest day of my life.” Despite the hours and hours of mud and the stress of travel, Lauren was still "so happy" to race, just to do what she loves. A day of grinding on mud-crusted wheels was what she needed to satisfy the competitive passion that drives her.

      Since the pandemic hit and in person events have gone virtual, Lauren has been focusing on the Virtual Tour de France with her teammates. With new team members and the lost opportunities to bond during training camps or races, this unique time has given the Team TIBCO-SVB a way to bond.

      Virtual race platforms like Zwift have been a game changer for the way people spectate the sport. Traditionally, stage races are several hours long, which, as a spectator, is hard to participate in day after day to watch a team’s strategy unfold. As Lauren shared, “Now people get to see the race from start to finish. Races on Zwift have created a platform for a greater audience to see the team dynamics and strategy unfold.”

      Riding on a trainer is a little different than riding outside. For example, you don’t use your core to stabilize like you would outside. Lauren and her husband have spent almost all of their training time the past few months indoors. Not only is that a responsible decision, but it’s also smart: they don’t have to worry about the potential for crashing, injury, etc. Instead, they can get a lot of quality hours in the saddle training. “You do the work whether on the roads or in your house and those hours translate to fitness.” Long hours on the bike trainer is certainly a testament to mental fortitude, which Lauren has tackled with ease, but it’s also an indication of her deep love for the sport. When she’s not training, Lauren spends her time in the kitchen, baking, feeding her sourdough starter and taking advantage of the extra time she can spend with her family.

      Leaning on her teammates for support, Lauren won the yellow jersey in the inaugural Virtual Tour de France, earning two stage victories along the way. The team also secured the green jersey and the team classification as well. Year after year, TIBCO has proven the value of a strong, cohesive team.

      The team thrives because of the willingness of each member to sacrifice, so that as a team, they can consistently have a spot on the podium. Sacrifice in cycling means setting a grueling pace, gutting out a breakaway, leading the charge up a mountain pass—all bold feats— to propel the best rider on that day to success and usually with a spot on the podium. The team excels because it is composed of exceptional women on and off the race course, and Lauren has been a part of that team for the better part of the past seven years now. The strength, passion, and consistency she brings to the team is invaluable.

      Riding bikes has brought Lauren community and purpose; it's her life. If she’s not racing in a stage race she is probably jumping into a local crit, or grinding on the trails with her husband. She loves to ride and that is all she needs to keep putting in the work, even in uncertain times like 2020. It is what drives her, and her success.

      Team Tibco-silicon valley bank gear