By Devin Golden
Douglas Kerns used to be a runner. The Chatsworth resident would train and participate in 5K races, half marathons and other competitive running events. However, around three years ago, he suffered a foot injury that significantly reduced the amount of time he could spend on his former passion.
But that’s OK. Cycling became Kerns’ primary love, and he wouldn’t go back.
Kerns, who works as a Dalton firefighter, is competing this weekend in the Georgia Cup’s Dalton Grand Prix. There was a time trial event Saturday morning in Rocky Face, a circuit race around Dalton High in the afternoon and a road race will close the weekend of racing at 8 this morning, starting and finishing at Westside Elementary in Rocky Face.
The events are split into several different categories, both by gender, age and competitive level, including women, Category 5, Category 4, Category 3 and pro.
Kerns races in the Category 4 field. He finished the circuit race in 19th place with a time of 36 minutes, 28.58 seconds, but that does not matter to him. Cycling is a team sport, Kerns said, and the achievement is helping a teammate win a race. Kerns’ team is Scenic City Vilo out of Chattanooga, and teammate Duane Brooks took home first place.
“We are all competitive cyclists that joined this club, and we all race,” Kerns said.
“When racing, I was working for the guy who won, so if he won, then it doesn’t matter to me what place I finish.”
Kerns began cycling in 2001, but his heart was still with running at that time. But in 2009, he learned he had plantar fasciitis and it would limit the amount of running he could do.
“It’s the tendon from your heel to your forefoot,” Kerns said while describing the injury. “(The tendon) is inflamed by the heel and it keeps you from being very active. It goes from one foot to the other, and I cannot get rid of it. I do miss running, but I guess it’s just one of those things.”
Before the injury, Kerns was cycling much less than he is now. But as he shifted his focus to the bike, he learned it actually was his favorite of the two. He now organizes firefighter races and even rode in the Freedom Ride 2011, a 10th anniversary tribute for first responders who served during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Kerns said it was “a memory I’ll never forget.
“The outcry of support was incredible,” Kerns said. “We had a lady meet us on the way. She saw us on the news, and she came out and gave us a big thing of water. We also had people in restaurants and such supporting us.”
It is the team atmosphere that attracts Kearns to cycling more than running. In running, it is a “one-man sport,” Kearns said, and cycling is much different due to drafting.
“I was into running and I said I’d never get into cycling, but I got into it and I have loved it ever since,” he said. “In running, it’s pretty much a one-man sport. In cycling, it is a team atmosphere. One guy can win on his own, but he has to be very strong. If you have a team, it makes everyone a lot stronger.”
The way the cyclists work together is similar to what happens in NASCAR. Cyclists get into one another’s “draft” to gain speed and pull away from other racers.
“So as we work off one another’s draft, we get separation from the rest of the pack,” said Brooks, who also won the Category 3 time trial in 26:21.
Kearns plans to compete in Union City at next weekend’s Georgia Cup event. He tries to go to five or six of the organization’s many events each year. This is the third consecutive year the Georgia Cup has held the Dalton Grand Prix, and it is the first year when pleasant weather has graced the event.
“It’s beautiful,” James Lowe, Georgia Cup director, said. “Last year, it rained on both days.”
The clear, sunny skies brought out a number of residents to watch the criterium race, which was a 1.2-mile loop on Manly Street and Waugh Street. Each category went around the loop a different number of times.
Lowe said before the event that he expected 500 riders to compete during the weekend. While the exact number of participants is unknown, Lowe said the number of online entries “doubled” from last year’s event.
Lawrence Russell (25:28) finished first in the category 3 time trials, ahead of Brandon Pruett (26:01) and Jeffrey Licciardello (26:08). Behind Brooks, Justin Schmidt (26:40) was second in the category 2 trials and Louis Leclerc (27:01) was third. Paul Linck (26:46) won the category 5 trials, ahead of Yoshihiro Ueda (28:04) and Kurt Schindler (28:37). Phillip Gaimon (22:57) won the pro trials, ahead of James Gotsick (23:58) and John Hart (24:37).
In women’s competition, Jenny Delong (30:39) won the time trial, Tina Locklear (31:03) finished second and Lenae Ahearn (31:56) was third.
Stephen Harrell (27:44.501) won the Category 5 circuit race, ahead of Wesley Burruss (27:45.39) and Nathaniel Rowe (27:45.51). Mark Schulz (36:20.907) was second in the Category 4 circuit and Wesley Gass (36:21.116) was third. Brandon Pruett (46:14.002) took home the Category 3 circuit, ahead of Matt Brown (46:17.438) and Michael Russell (46:18.294).
In the women’s circuit, Amy Phillips (6:57.893) finished first, Diana Ramos (7:45.350) finished second and Amy Christian (7:46.116) came in third.
This is the second of three consecutive weekends the area will host competitive cyclists. The Snake Creek Gap Mountain Time Trial Series finished last weekend, and Dalton State College’s cycling club will host three collegiate races next weekend.