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Bicyclist Earns His Own Award

Thursday, October 08, 2015
Norwich — Race director Mike Silverman originally intended to honor Todd Alexander for having accumulating 1,000 miles mountain biking the Vermont 50 last year, but a series of participant injures and logistical issues forced him to postpone the planned post-race ceremony. No problem for Alexander, whose approach to the race has always reflected his generally laid-back attitude.

Alexander, 52, has never finished among the top competitors while mountain biking each of the last 21 editions of the Vermont 50 — his fastest time came some time in the 1990s in just under seven hours — yet the Hartland resident has finished the challenging course every ride he’s ridden while serving as an event volunteer before and after each race. After finishing this year’s race in 8 hours, 14 minutes, 41 seconds — 13th of 21 in his novice/master I male 45-54 category — Alexander was presented with the inaugural Todd Alexander 1,000-Mile Mountain Bike Award, a glass pitcher designed and donated by Simon Pearce.

A variation of the award will now be issued to all mountain bikers who amass 1,000 miles or more in the Vermont 50, which for 23 years has been one of the largest annual fund raisers for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports. Founded by West Windsor resident Laura Farrell, VASS aims to empower individuals with disabilities through year-round, statewide sports and recreation programs.

Naturally, the cause — and the camaraderie — have been big reasons why Alexander has kept the Vermont 50 among his favorite annual traditions.

“I mean, its such a great race, and a great organization that it benefits,” Alexander said while taking a break from fixing up his family’s new home in Norwich. “I knew I was originally supposed to get (the award) last year, but (the postponement) didn’t bother me. It was actually perfect the way it worked out this year — the race, the weather, everything was great. It was pretty awesome to get the award in front of everyone and know that it’s going to be named for me in the future.”

Enjoying the Vermont 50 while riding in consecutive years during its nascent stages in the mid-90s, the then-30-something Alexander developed a goal to ride “the 50 til I’m 50.” When he reached age 50 two years ago and completed the 2013 race, Alexander realized he was just 50 miles away from accumulating 1,000 over his years on the course.

“I was at 950; I had to go for 1,000,” Alexander said. “Now that I’ve gotten there, I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. I have too much fun with it.”

Like anyone who repeatedly attempts to ride this route — 50 miles of hilly terrain through wooded single-track trails and secluded dirt roads — Alexander has encountered his share of obstacles and mishaps. There was the time he struck a water bar on a newly purchased carbon fiber model and it shattered into three pieces, forcing him to carry it for miles in order to finish the race. His rear derailleur ripped off during one fall; another stripped a pedal. Then there was the time his eyeglasses fell off, leaving him searching in vain and finishing the race with a blurry view. And Alexander won’t soon forget four years ago, when conditions were so wet he had to walk his bike for miles through the deepening sludge.

“It was bad, like trying to ride through clay,” Alexander said. “You really just couldn’t ride down the hill. I finished in like 10 ½ hours in the dark. It was much more of a trudge than a bike ride.”

Even when conditions are trying, Alexander has made the most of the event socially. He’s adopted a 10-mile section he’s in charge of marking with directional signage each year, bringing his wife, Amy, and son, Judd, along to help recently. When race day comes and he’s in motion on the course, Alexander stops at each aid station to thank and converse with volunteers. If he spots another rider encountering a flat or other hiccup, he doesn’t hesitate halting his own progress to help.

Co-course designer and event planning committee member Lou Schmertz is a longtime friend of Alexander’s who admires his approach and dedication.

“Not everyone who rides is going for speed, and that’s not what Todd does; he’s much too laid back,” Schmertz said. “He’s really in it for the camaraderie and the opportunity to give back. That said, I think he really enjoys the personal challenge aspect of it and the goal of finishing the race, which not everyone does. He’s very dedicated to that, which is why I was so pleased to hear that they were making this award for him.”

Alexander also has a fan in event founder Farrell, who years ago relinquished her role as director but continues to support it. She can’t recall meeting Alexander during the time when they both participated in the Vermont 50, but was excited to learn that someone had reached 1,000 total miles on it.

“It’s people like Todd who help keep the Vermont 50 vibrant,” Farrell said. “I appreciate what he does and I know Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports appreciates it, too.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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