AT alum Gottwald bikes across America
Chris Gottwald achieves his goal of completing the Race Across America.
With 31 years of cycling experience and 22 of flying experience, Chris Gottwald identifies himself as a two-career individual.
His day-to-day job as an air space system inspection pilot for the Federal Aviation Administration keeps him flying regularly. And his schedule is flexible enough that he can maintain a training and racing regimen as an elite amateur cyclist.
“Surviving the nation’s best aviation school, you really have to stay focused, stay on your goal. I had the foundation there at Purdue, and that’s really carried me through,” Gottwald said.
This past summer, Gottwald trained his focus on another dream – competing in the Race Across America, a 3,000-mile race across the country. As he completed the race in 10 days, 11 hours, he raised money for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
A 1994 graduate of the aviation management program, Gottwald recently moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, with his wife, Jessica, and their two daughters.
The story of his involvement with the race was told by FAA Focus magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.
FAA Focus story:
It's difficult to fathom. Up to 19 hours a day on a bicycle pedaling from the coast of California, through the Rocky Mountains and baking plains of the bread basket, arriving 10 days later at the shores of Maryland.
That’s what Chris Gottwald endured during this summer’s Race Across America. He was one of only two dozen individuals who attempted the grueling race solo. It must be completed in fewer than 12 days to count. He was the top American finisher, fourth overall and earned “rookie of the year” honors for his trek.
“The most difficult part for me was dealing with being on a bike for hours on end. It was basically 10 days of solitary confinement,” Gottwald said. “I had very little human interaction. Being out on the road riding your bike is enjoyable. But after a few days straight it gets pretty monotonous.”
Gottwald, an air space system inspection pilot, plunked down the thousands of dollars it cost for meals, an RV to trail him, and to hire a crew — including his wife — to cook food for him and steer him in the right direction. Any money that was donated for his charity, Big Brothers Big Sisters, went straight to the cause.
Even with the crew near him at all times, he didn’t interact that much. Most of his time was spent on the seat. When he did stop for a meal or a massage, he would quickly hit the sheets to get as much sleep as he could before it was time to get back on the road.
“Hopefully it will be an inspiration to get other people to go out and ride, and help Big Brother and Big Sisters get kids out to ride,” he said.
Gottwald had no problems with the physical toll of the race. He rides his bike 20 miles each way to work at the William J. Hughes Technical Center (the national scientific test base for the FAA), has raced competitively for all but seven of his 38 years of life, and considers himself an elite amateur, if not semi-professional, bicyclist.
He has good reason to. According to the Race Across America website, “The Race Across America is almost 50 percent longer than the Tour de France. Solo racers will finish in about 10 days, which is half the time of the Tour de France, and will have no rest days. RAAM racers are not allowed to draft or ride in packs. Every solo racer will make their way across the country on their own power with no help [from] teammates.”
About two-thirds of the way into the race, he said, he realized that his dreams of finishing the back-breaker of a race would come true, and that he might actually do very well. After bringing up the rear in last place for two-thirds of the distance, Gottwald found a renewed source of energy and pumped ahead of a handful of riders.
“At that point it got pretty emotional for me,” he said. “When I got [to the end] I was happy to be done, but I was so exhausted and caught in the publicity it really didn’t soak in for a day or two,” He said. “I kind of put my stamp on the world of professional bicycle racing.”
When he pedaled into Annapolis, Maryland, at 3 a.m. in a drizzling rain to finish the race, Gottwald didn’t splurge on beers or cheeseburgers (though it wouldn’t have killed him; he estimated he burned close to 100,000 calories during the 10-day race.) Not much a fan of junk food, he said his biggest indulgence was just sleeping a night in a comfortable bed and not be woken up at 4 a.m. to start riding in the rain.
What may be even more incredible is, 10 days after the race, he finished in ninth place in another race. This one was a little easier: only 40 miles.
“The human body can really do amazing things if you persevere,” he said. “It’s more than just the physical ability to pedal a bike across the country . . . It’s about not giving up.”