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Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2019
The wonderful diversity of Sudbury Cyling Club membership
by Randy Pascal

For many years, the Sudbury Cycling Club was synonymous with cycling racing excellence, as coach Battista Muredda and the local crew produced a steady stream of athletes capable of taking on the very best of national and international fields.

Times have changed. While the SCC still produces some racers, the standard fare that gather every Tuesday and Thursday at the Delki Dozzi Track is a far more diverse one than existed a quarter century ago.

But still they cycle, bringing aboard a wide spectrum of athletic backgrounds. Hussein Wehbe is among the more familiar faces on the scene, featuring a cycling resume that is as unique as anyone in the SCC mix these days.

“I was cycling in Lebanon in the early 1980’s,” noted Wehbe, reminiscing of his introduction to the sport that dates back to his native land. “Because of the Mediterranean weather, you can cycle 365 days a year, and because of the flat terrain between Beirut and the south, and Beirut and the north, all along the coastline, it’s actually quite beautiful to cycle. I took it up just for the scenery.”

Now 53 years old, Wehbe has not strayed substantially from his initial approach, venturing out with a handful of “tour” events across the province, including his favourite, the “Tour de Meldrum Bay” on Manitoulin Island.

“I love cycling the island, it offers you scenery that is nowhere else,” he said. “There is always water either to the left or right of you.” Sheila Geraghty Grech might well match the athletic involvement of Wehbe, in her youth, even if it involved very little peddling.

A long-time local karate competitor, Geragthy Grech sustained a knee injury a couple of years ago, that would lead to a fortuitous welcoming to the sport of cycling. “My knee wasn’t coming back, it was nine months, and I was getting frustrated,” she recalled.

Rob Rice suggested I start spinning on a bike to rehab it. It was like moving meditation, I was hooked, and there has been no knee pain whatsoever.” Despite her impressive history within the martial arts circuit, the 48 year old native of Copper Cliff soon confronted a stark difference from her long-time passion to her newest hobby.

“When I started here, I thought I was physically fit with karate, but nothing compared to the cardio level you need here,” she explained. “But each week, I would push myself and push myself, until I could eventually hang on with the back group, and then could hang on with the “B” group.”

It was an intimidating foray into cycling, but one for which Geraghty Grech is thankful she persevered. “There are all different levels of cyclists here,” she noted. “We have group rides on weekends, where we do nice longer rides, and it’s social, and we stop and have a snack.”

“It’s really enjoyable, and it’s a really great bunch of people here,” Geraghty Grech continued. “I’m really happy to have met a whole new network of friends.” By contrast, a “social ride” is likely the last thing in the world that would keep Rob Rice coming out to the track.

The 43 year local might be the most consistently recognizable name in the midst of SCC members who have jumped into the provincial race circuit over the course of the past 10-15 years.

“For a few years, I did a little bit less,” said Rice. “I was doing a little bit of racing, and still coming out here two to three times a week. This year, I decided to get more competitive again, so I actually joined a team out of Hamilton, PK Express Cycling Team".

If the name sounds familiar, it’s also the same group that welcomed Cambrian College Female Athlete of the Year Emily Marcolini to the fold back in the spring. Blessed with a rock-solid foundation in the sport, Rice still finds himself racing in the “Elite” category, for some events, battling it out with riders almost half his age, while opting to enter in his “age group bracket” for others.

One senses the pride of accomplishment as Rice recalls two of the more daunting races he tackled this summer, including Bristol Mountain in New York back in May. “Sixty guys started, and only a handful finished, just because the race was so difficult,” said Rice.

“There is so much climbing, the weather was terrible, sleet and rain and hail. That was definitely a challenging day.” Just the type of day Rice loves, it would seem. “The hardest race in Ontario is the Niagara Classic,” he said.

“It’s up the escarpment, it’s long and it’s steep. There were a lot of Canadian pros in the race, and I finished in the pack. For my age, I was very happy with that. I was in the mix, basically the entire race.”

Back to the other side of the coin, as we chat with 58 year old Kourosh Alasvand, who calls Sudbury home only from Monday to Friday, an engineer up on work placement for the past year or so. On weekends, it’s back to Toronto for the native Iranian, the product of a very busy childhood, who discovered a new love once in Canada.

“I was always an active person, playing soccer, basketball, ping pong, everything,” said Alasvand. “I fell in love with cycling in Toronto. There, you have a lot of cycling venues to go to.”

Yet his primary motivator could not have been more different than club-mate Rob Rice. ‘The main purpose that I do cycling is for my health, just being in good shape, to live longer,” he said. “I do a lot of charity cycling events. I cannot compete with some of these guys – they go 50/60 MPH, I go 25.”

That did not dissuade him, however, from entering uncharted waters in Northern Ontario. “I was in Sudbury, and saw the guys here going around the track,” Alasvand stated. “So I asked someone about a membership. I was wondering to see who was cycling in Sudbury. This is the first cycling club I have ever joined.”

Conversely, it’s entirely possible that Morgan Bialkowski cycled from birth. One of three children who was raised in what was arguably Parry Sound’s most athletically committed family, the recent graduate of Laurentian University boasts a launch into cycling at the tender age of three, with several others sports quickly following suit.

“We did a lot of triathlons growing up, but we did everything as kids,” said Bialkowski, whose brother (Marek) was a member of the Cambrian cross-country team in recent years. “We did sailing, soccer, karate – training was always just cross-training.”

And though triathlons occupied much of her focus in her late teens and throughout university, Bialkowski has noted the shift in narrowing down her competitive path this summer. “Cycling racing is much different tactics than triathlons, where you are just out there, by yourself,” she said.

“Here, you have to be really good at switching gears, sprinting for the end, slowing down, reading the playing field.” The fit, it would appear, is a natural one. “In triathlon, cycling has always been my strongest event. My swimming is not bad either, and running is the hardest part – I really have to work at it.”

“I have a more powerful build, and also do a lot of weightlifting in the winter. It really helps being able to be powerful with squats and dead lifts.” In September, Bialkowski leaves for Toronto, pursuing studies in Respiratory Therapy at the Michener Institute in Toronto.

She is looking at the possibility of joining up with Marcolini and Rice, donning the PK Express singlet. In the meantime, a new rider, at some point, will join the Sudbury Cycling Club to replace her.

And chances are pretty good that they will bring with them a background, a vision, an approach, that is completely different than the remainder of their new cycling friends. It’s the nature of the SCC in 2016.

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