Cochise Go Getters!
Friday, September 5th, 2014
Women’s first-place finisher Jessica Walker is always on the go as cycling drives her; men’s place finisher Horn returns to ride after car accident and illness
essica Walker had borrowed a bike and was just several weekends into her new cycling hobby when her riding partner offered a suggestion.
“I think we should try this thing called El Tour,” he said.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll try it,'” Walker remembered. “I didn’t know anything about riding.”
That’s typical of the go-for-it passion that rules her professional and athletic life. Walker attacked the local cycling scene, including making annual trips to the Cochise County Cycling Classic, where she is the defending champion in the women’s 165-mile ride.
Cochise has a special place on her cycling calendar because it was her first event. As she and her riding partner learned about the sport in 2006, they discovered they could participate in the Cochise event before taking on El Tour de Tucson.
They thought about doing the 92-mile event at Cochise. Yeah, they could work, but, hey, what about the 157-mile ride? No, wait. Let’s do the 252-mile route!
“We had known each other maybe six weeks at the time,” Walker said. “I looked at him and said, ‘We’re going to try it and see what happens. The worst that can happen is we can’t finish.’ So, six to eight weeks later, we went and did the 252 and we came in last place. But we finished.
“We really kind of had a patchwork of a support crew. We didn’t really know what a support crew was supposed to do. I didn’t even have any cycling clothes. I was riding in sweatshirts and tank tops. I didn’t know what to eat. I got a terrible stomach ache from eating the wrong food while riding.
“It was quite an experience. But I went back the next year and did it again and rode it about five hours faster.”
Walker went from a time of 22 hours, 59 minutes, 55 seconds in 2006, to 18:25:32 a year later. Two years after that, she won in a time of 17:06:00.
“It’s a huge passion,” she said of cycling. “If I could ever just ride my bike all day long instead of working and living in the real world, I would love to do that.”
At no time does her cycling passion and the real world intersect as during the Cochise County Cycling Classic. Walker, 36, owns a dance company (Belly Dance Tucson) performs in two big downtown events — Tucson Meet Yourself and 2nd Saturdays — that coincide with Cochise.
So, in recent years, she has had to ride 165 miles as fast as she can, shower, and then race back to Tucson (presumably within the allowable speed limits) while putting on stage makeup in the car. Then she dances with her company in back-to-back performances.
“They’re events the dance company really likes to do, and Cochise isn’t an event I’m willing to give up, so I cram it all in,” she said.
“It’s usually an interesting transition, depending on how the wind is for the race,” she said. “On a not so windy year, I have a bit more breathing room. Last year, we had a lot of wind and I finished about an hour later than I hoped. We were racing to get back and make our first set on time. We made it, barely.”
Walker, a graduate of the University of South Dakota, moved to Boulder, Colo., for a while and arrived in Tucson about 14 years ago. She teaches five spin classes a week while doing it all at the dance studio, and then usually rides as much as she can on the weekends.
“I don’t just do the dance company,” she said. “I do the advertising and the marketing and the web updating and the illustrator design work and the janitorial work and I teach classes. You know, it’s a grassroots small dance studio that started out as a hobby and became a business when the hobby became too big.
“I’m in that growth space where I’m not big enough to have employees, but I’m bigger than what one person would usually run by themselves.”
Being fit has always been a part of her plan — she says she’s had a gym membership since she was 14 — and she’s thrilled she stumbled onto cycling several years ago, for mental and physical fitness.
And, Cochise is a big part of that.
“It’s a really low-traffic event and it’s beautiful out there,” she said. “I just like doing the longer events because it gives me time to clear my head. There comes a point after 70 or 80 miles that my head goes clear and it’s just pedaling. I like that. This is the best hobby I ever picked up for myself.”
Richard Horn has been building back up, from a winter of illness and a spring accident, to what he hopes will improve his performance at this year’s Cochise County Cycling Classic.
He was plenty good in the event last year, winning the 165-mile ride in eight hours, 13 minutes and 34 seconds. But the small field at that distance was non-competitive, and he was forced to go at it alone much of the way, pushing solo through typical headwinds in the back stretch of the course.
“To get a better time, I usually like to work with several cyclists,” he said.
“But right from the get-go, I was not going as fast as I would normally go in order to keep people together. Even 12 miles into the race, it was down to me and two other people, and I was still trying to go slow — four to five miles an hour slower than I would normally ride.”
Horn, 45, has circled this year’s event on his cycling calendar for more than the usual reasons. He said he lost fitness during the winter as his daughter started preschool and — as parents understand — she brought home colds, which then passed to her parents in a cycle of illness.
After losing weeks of training “I’m one of those few cyclists who year-round pretty much sticks to a similar training schedule,” he said — he was on his way back in late April, when he was hit by a car on his way to a training ride.
It happened at sunrise as he was cycling west while the driver, with the sun in his eyes going east, turned left in front of him.
“It was comparable to a 35-mile-per-hour head-on impact,” Horn said.
Horn suffered a knee injury, some cracked ribs, a dislocated finger and a lot of soft-tissue bruising.
“It was about 2 1/2 weeks before I could even bend my knee slightly,” he said.
The injuries cost him six weeks of training — and it added more than a few pounds.
“I have one of those problems with food,” he said. “I’m on the see-food diet. When I see food, I eat it. If I don’t ride 200 to 400 miles a week, I would gain weight at an astronomical rate. When I got hit by the car in April, I probably gained 15 pounds in the first three weeks.”
The Cochise County Cycling Classic will serve as a benchmark for his full recovery. He said he expects to ride the event with a teammate from Tucson-based Aggress Racing and hopes to have a competitive pack riding with him — to break up the monotony and as protection from the wind.
“I plan on riding a lot to get back in peak fitness for Cochise this fall,” he said. “We are going to strive to do it in less than 7 ½ hours this year.”