10, 2000, Gazette)
McNeil juggles school, athletics
You may have
seen the image on television: muddy, super-determined cyclists,
running for all theyre worth up a steep embankment with
a bike tossed over their shoulders. You may have thought, why
would anyone do that? Doesnt the bike mean you dont
have to run?
the world of cyclo-cross a combination of off-road racing
and marathon running thats usually held in winter conditions
over wood trails, soggy meadows, and short, steep hills. Its
also the world of Chris McNeil, a 22-year-old St. Johns
native and engineering student who is the only Newfoundlander
ever to place on the podium at the Canadian National Championships
As one Web
site puts it, cyclo-cross is about getting off, running around,
and getting back on. Its a test of stamina, agility, and
intelligence, a three-kilometre odyssey of gruelling effort that
tests your fitness and your ability to strategize to adapt
instantly and well to the changing terrain. But to Mr. McNeil,
its just fun.
cycling. Actually, I love every event I do road racing,
mountain biking, cyclo-cross. I love them all.
evolved from a kid seemingly glued to his bike into a member
of the Prince of Wales Collegiate cycling club, where riding
through snowstorms was the norm. Initially reluctant to race,
his first medal in Pippy Park got him hooked, and now his interest
in cycling plays a part in his career decisions even his
choice to pursue engineering.
Id always been into the technology side of cycling,
because especially in competition, if you dont have the
right equipment, you cant compete. And I love to design
things, so mechanical design completely suited me.
uses his engineering work-terms to fund his cycling habit, which,
between equipment, travelling to competitions, and race entry
fees can get pretty steep. His sponsorship from Trek Bicycles
as well as Canary Cycles in St. Johns is crucial because
equipment gets put through the wringer at every event. And those
bikes arent cheap coming in at around $6,000 each.
been a big influence on me, Mr. McNeil said of shop owner
Joe Planchat, who hes the first to call after a race. And
hes helped me get to where I am today. He just does it
because he loves racing.
being a part-time cycling champ and a full-time engineering student
is no easy ride either. But despite the workload, he finds an
hour a day to train and eight hours for sleep.
all about priorities and scheduling. It was rough at first, but
now I dont even think about it.
In the off-season,
Mr. McNeil stays off his bike as much as possible and tries new
things like cross-country skiing and running, weight training,
He kept his
conditioning up during a move to Ottawa for work-term last November,
racing twice a week, and then some.
get on my bike Saturday, ride for an hour to get to a race, do
the race for an hour, and ride home. And the next day, Sunday,
Id do it all again. So Id be burnt out Monday and
Tuesday at work, and my boss would be, Why are you so tired?
But it paid off. Within a 10-day span, Mr. McNeil did the best
racing of his life.
In a local
competition, he placed second in his age group, then went on
to win a silver medal at the nationals in St. Sauveur, Quebec,
pushing through freezing wind and snow to beat 99 others and
claim Newfoundland and Labradors first ever elite Canadian
from Quebec, Mr. McNeil had to leave Ottawa again almost immediately
for a business trip to Toronto, all the while trying to figure
out how hed get to Chicago the next weekend for the American
National Race Series Super Cup, one of the largest and most competitive
race series in North America.
I had to find a way to get down there. I wanted to know just
how well Id fare against the next level of competition.
Because if I didnt go, itd always be in my mind,
How would I have compared?
In Chicago, Mr. McNeil raced against riders from all parts of
America, Canada, and Europe, with 5,000 spectators watching,
and on a flat course (hes used to hillier terrain). He
prevailed again, placing 10th in his age category, before hopping
the plane back to race the next day at the Ontario Provincial
Championship in Oshawa and he won.
Currently ranked at 103rd in the world (the third highest-placed
Canadian), Mr. McNeil is grateful for his success.
back, its kinda hard to even think about where you are
now. Its like Holy cow, Ive actually done some
of this stuff that I didnt even imagine I could do.
Ive surpassed my goals.
it comes down to it, Mr. McNeil sees his twin interests of cycling
and engineering as intertwined, the one helping the other.
Theres one level where cycling is almost exactly
like engineering. You have to train so hard to do well in the
races, and you have to study so hard to do well in your exams.
And everything that goes along with training the same
things apply to studying: you have to eat right, you have to
get your sleep, you have to study hard all the time.
for his fifth term in engineering, Mr. McNeil hopes to be able
to return to Ottawa for his next work-term this summer to push
both his design skills and his racing to newer heights. Although
racing as a career choice remains an option down the road, the
engineers heart remains with design.
creativity of it and the satisfaction when you design something
and have it fabricated ... thats incredibly rewarding.