Mountain biker rolling strong
February 19, 2009
By Krista Brown
For Spc. Michael A. Kurpil, the words "Army Strong" have special meaning. Kurpil is the first mountain bike racer to be sponsored by the U.S. Army.
A New York resident, Kurpil moved to Denver to advance his civilian career as an architect, but quickly discovered that bicycling in Colorado is much more than an outdoor activity; it's a lifestyle.
"A co-worker and ex-mountain bike racer asked me if I'd be interested in competing in a race with him one weekend. I used to race BMX in New York when I was younger, and thought that mountain bike racing could be somewhat similar, so I agreed to race. We trained for about two months, and in the first race I did pretty well, so I decided to continue racing for the season."
To train up for races, Kurpil rides almost every day and has also road-bicycled such events as the Triple Bypass (120 miles over three mountain passes, 10,500-feet elevation gain to a height of 12,000 feet above sea level), the Good Samaritan Bike Jam (60 miles), and has previously ridden the New York Century (100 miles through all five boroughs of New York City) and the New York MS Ride event (60 miles, partially on the New York State Thruway), as well as various hill climbs in the Rocky Mountains.
For the 2007 race season, Kurpil came in third overall in one race series, sixth overall in another race series, and has also competed in several independent races. The top three overall in each class are automatically advanced to the next skill level for the following season, which means longer distances, more technical courses, and tougher competition. Kurpil advanced to the higher class for 2008. "A race 'series' consists of consecutive races throughout the season run by a single organization. Some races are in the same town with different courses, and others are all around western Colorado and as far as Angel Fire, N.M."
For the 2008 race season, Kurpil has trained under Nat Ross, four-time, pro- world champion endurance racer and the top 24-hour endurance racer in the world. Nat even lent Kurpil his personal bike for one of his races. For 2008, Kurpil came in 17th out of 94 overall in one series as well as competing in several independent races.
"A typical mountain bike race here in Colorado consists of up to 650 racers, with course distances ranging from 5.3 miles (a hill climb with a 2,062 feet gain up to an elevation of 11,142 feet), to 100 miles in length." Kurpil also attended the Twelve Hours of Snowmass, a 12-hour endurance race with big names like Dave Weins, Max Taam, and seven time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong.
"During the course of this past season, I've been offered sponsorships by various race teams, but it's the greatest honor to represent the U.S. Army and wear the Army colors to races. Everywhere I go at races, people shake my hand and thank me for my service to the country. I think it's of utmost importance to get the Army presence out to every aspect of peoples' daily lives, so they can realize support and acceptance, and see that Soldiers are people, just like them."
Kurpil served for three years on active duty as a combat engineer, with duty stations at Fort Lewis, Wash., Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Fort Polk, La., Fort Riley, Kan., and Camp Castle, Korea; as well as being in the Army Reserves for two years. He is currently a combat engineer in the U.S. Army Reserve with Headquarters and Services Company, 244th Engineer Battalion, in Denver.
Sergeant 1st Class Gavino Barron, station commander of the Lakewood, Colo. U.S. Army Recruiting Station, is the point of contact for the support of Kurpil. "Spc. Kurpil is an amazing man and I hope that more people in this country would follow his lead and be as dedicated as he is. Spc. Kurpil is highly respected in the mountain biking community, and in fact, is the first mountain bike racer sponsored by the Army. He's also very modest about inquiring the Army for funding of his sport. It's mostly his income and effort that pay for his mountain bikes, entrance fees, training and races."
In October 2008, Kurpil flew to New York to do a publicity race for a non-profit organization known as "Libertybiketrail.org." LBT's purpose is to raise public awareness of the health benefits of bicycling as well as getting elementary- and high school-aged kids to participate in charitable community events. "I'm glad to be able to bring the Army to the children and to make them see that bicycling can be fun and healthy, as well as beneficial to the community," said Kurpil.
Staff Sgt. Gerald McDonough of the Monticello, N.Y., recruiting station and some new recruits also supported Kurpil at the race with a table and unlimited information to prospective recruits about the Army. "Spc. Kurpil was a great inspiration to the public and a great guy with a big heart. He shows a true passion for the United States Army. His love of the sport is very apparent, and he is not a man who is a quitter," said McDonough.
For the 2009 race season, Kurpil plans on training by racing cyclocross (a new sport with road bicycles fitted with knobby tires ridden over rough terrain, including snow and ice), as well as getting a new full-suspension race bike. He's also staying in the same race class for '09 with plans to kick the rankings up a few notches over last season. "One of the biggest honors I can experience is representing the U.S. Army at races, and I'm truly thankful that I have the privilege of being a Soldier."
Krista Brown is a freelance writer from Colorado. This story was printed with her permission.