Frequent and debilitating leg cramping, concussions from past crashes, a bruised spinal cord leading to numbness and some temporary paralysis of his left arm, overtraining, and numerous cuts, bruises, and road rash resulting from crashes onto gravel could not stop Gerry Eddlemon (’69, ’74) from earning the title of 2010 World Cup of Ultracycling Marathon Champion.
Oh, and he’s 65 years young.
Winning the World Cup of Ultracycling is based on points gained throughout the year in selected races around the world where the number of points is based on race difficulty and average speed.
“Key for me was competing in as many World Cup races as necessary, and finishing each one as fast as possible, and no matter the difficulties and challenges, never, ever giving up unless life or limb is in serious jeopardy,” Eddlemon says.
Eddlemon raced through Maryland (where he set five state crossing records), Delaware (one crossing record), Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York, and New Zealand.
The Lake Taupo 800-mile Challenge in New Zealand stands out in Eddlemon’s mind as one of his most rewarding and trying adventures. Before the race, a Maori priest began with a beautiful, lengthy prayer that Eddlemon says briefly translated to “May God have mercy on you guys.”
The fourth day of the challenge found Eddlemon in steep hills in subtropical heat, in pretty bad physical shape, and dangerously demoralized, fearing he would not finish and thus have no chance of winning the World Cup. His left arm was mostly paralyzed from what was later diagnosed as a bruised spinal cord in his neck from spending so much time in a racing crouch on the often rough surface of the course.
At the 600-mile mark, when the first wave of hundreds of fresh 100-mile race cyclists caught up to him, he felt annoyed because of the extreme crowding as they passed by, but his spirits were lifted after they slapped him on the back with shouts of “Good on ye, mate!”, “You’re an inspiration, Gerald!”, and “You’re a legend, Gerald!”
“Just before I was in danger of thinking a little too highly of myself, I came to realize that they knew my name because name and nationality were emblazoned in big block letters on the bib number on my back,” Eddlemon says.
When Eddlemon attended UT, he ran on Coach Chuck Rohe’s track and cross-country teams from 1965 through 1969, having red-shirted one year for injuries. One season, he competed in the NCAA national cross-country championships and won a letter.
“I have always immensely enjoyed competition that involves athleticism, endurance, skill, and nerve,” Eddlemon says. “Competitive ultra marathon cycling requires all four virtues.”
Eddlemon says that this kind of intense adventure would be impossible without the generous support of family and friends. His wife Mikki is also a champion athlete, having won several gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Huntsman World Senior Games. All three of his children—Gretchen, Kirk, and Frank—and their spouses are graduates of UT Knoxville.
Last year, the UMCA informed Eddlemon that he’s the all-time record setter and breaker.
“I came to realize that, as with the tortoise and the hare, the race is not always to the swiftest, but sometimes to the one with the most cunning, luck, attention to detail, and perseverance over the long, long haul,” Eddlmeon says. “I raced overseas in the most difficult race of my life in New Zealand, and I finished—barely—but I finished, and it was just enough to win the World Cup—at the tender young age of 65.”
—Emma Macmillan (’11)