Super Human Potential:
domain of the illuminati or of the common folk?

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in California Bicyclist, January 1992

A car rolls off its jack, pinning the owner to the ground in a death grip. The man's frantic son, without thinking, lifts the car off the ground single-handedly and saves his father. Greg LeMond shaves an astronomical 58 second deficit in a mere 15 miles to win the '89 Tour de France. Michael Secrest cycles the breadth of the United States in a mind-boggling seven days, twenty-three hours, and forty-six minutes. Indian guru Sri Chinmoy hoists 7,000 pounds over his head with one arm. Are these the exploits of superhumans, extraterrestrials, or the users of Eastern block performance enhancers? I think not. Are these achievements that suggest an individual and collective human potential that far exceeds even our wildest imagination? Yes, and they are not the domain of selected individuals, but rather the domain of everyday people like you and me.

What is "human potential"? For some, it's the ability to tolerate a 9 to 5 work day, living like a worker bee, with an existence not much more glamorous than the proverbial "cog in a machine." For others, discovering and defining their human potential may involve academia, the arts, athletics, and the forty hour work week. However we are not discussing the lives of "over-achievers" here. (The very existence of that term in the English language points at the problem inherent in our society. Work forty hours, clock in, clock out, be a responsible member of society and the work force and you are accepted. Go beyond that, try to make something interesting and unique about your life, be successful in more than one field (god forbid), and you are an "over-achiever," a freak, a wierdo, someone to give others around you an inferiority complex.) Rather than putting these supposed over-achievers on a pedestal here, I present them to you as common everday folk who, for whatever reason, were inspired to attempt "the impossible." In transcending humanity's preconceived notions of the possible, their efforts hint at something potentially unexplainable and ineffable, something our limited vocabulary would term "human potential."

Don't believe that world class achievements and exceptional athletic moments can't go hand in hand with "a real life?" Consider some evidence:

Glen Winkel, riding for Schwinn Neolife, recently won the World Master's Cycling Championships in Austria. The 36-year-old Ph.d. in anatomy squeezes his training in around his research position at the U.C. San Francisco Cardiovascular Research Institute that includes up to 70 hour work weeks. Glen first started cycling ten years ago while working on his Ph.D. at U.C. Davis. During his first season as a Cat four, he placed 8th at the Crockett-Martinez Road Race. One year later he slaughtered the Cat one field at the same race. That same year he entered his first stage race, the Coors Classic, and more than held his own. In '84, with academic pressures cutting even more into his training and travel time, he "became a trackie overnight" and immediately won a ten week velodrome racing series. "I really had to hit the books and track racing was the only thing that fit my schedule," Winkel explains. Now seven years later, while holding down a high pressure, mega hour job and contending with all the hassles of "a real life", Glen just finished a racing season that not only included the Worlds title, but also the gold medal at the time trial and criterium events at the U.S. National Championships, and a 22 race winning streak. Glen's advice on training and the real world: "When it becomes important enough to you, you'll find the time to train. Being one-sided is not normal. The individual can't get lost in a job. It's not human. Besides, I've made several bolt of lightning, eureka-type scientific discoveries while riding, which helps me at my job! You have to have a balance."

Or consider single mother Seana Hogan, a 32-year-old computer programmer for IBM. An avid recreational cyclist who rode for six months of her pregnancy, Seana brought her son Alex into the world in September of '90. By the following January she was back up to 80 mile rides and 150 miles a week. In April she rode the 132 mile Mt. Hamilton Challenge, surpassing her previous best distance of 100 miles since she had begun riding a year earlier. In May she rode the Davis Double, then followed that up with the LA Wheelmen Grand Tour Highland Quadruple Century, an event usually the sole domain of RAAM racers in training. Reflecting back on her 23:40 in the saddle, Seana noted that "I didn't realize what I had done."

With that type of mindset, it's no wonder that she next set her sights on the Furnace Creek 508, the Race Across America qualifier made infamous by its 35,000 feet of total elevation gain. Then a little snafu got in the way: on July 28 she crashed while riding Mt. Hamilton at night, breaking eight ribs, a collarbone, and a hip in two places. Confined to a wheelchair for four weeks and then to a cane for two more weeks, Seana "watched my muscles go away each day." Not to be held down for long, she was back on her bike on September 11, riding an excruciating 27 miles. Less than three weeks later she pounded out a double century and her Furnace Creek training was back on track. In the final weekend of October she realized her dream, winning the 508 mile road race and beating previous champions Laura Stern and Beth Dawson in the process. Truly a phenomenal ride.

How did she do it? For starters, she took advantage of a special IBM program for new mothers wherein she works 30 hours a week at home and modems in her work to the office. Rising at four each day, she gets her work done during Alex's naps by noon. With her mother, grandmother, and sister helping with the baby sitting, she gets her training in during the afternoons and weekends. Emphasizing quality training, she seeks out "hills, heat, and headwinds." Short, intense rides are not only better for training, but they minimize her time away from home. Notes Seana: "It's important for each member of a family to be happy in order for the whole family to be happy. Cycling makes me a happy mom, which makes Alex happy." With the '92 Race Across America in the works, Alex should be one happy kid!

If Glen and Seana are not enough for you, consider the following: Between spending up to 80 hours a week running his moving firm ReloAlaska, plus putting on the annual Iditasport race, and being dad to several cute kids, Anchorage mountain biker Dan Bull has little or no time to train. Yet he found the energy to hop on his steel steed and bike all the way up the Iditarod Trail to Nome, 1,100 snowy miles in 22 days. Arizonian Clare St. Arnaud, a 53-year-old farrier, has run 72 marathons, nine Ironman triathlons, and three Ultraman stage race tri's. Not bad, considering the nature of his physically demanding profession which includes up to 200 miles a day of driving to his clients, wrestling studly horses, and being scorched while blacksmithing. His motivation: to inspire his fellow Native Americans to achieve their fullest potential. Or how about Sister Madonna Buder the 64-year-old nun who regularly competes in Ironman Hawaii, Canda, and New Zealand. Talk about divinely inspired!

So are Glen, Seana, and the others superhuman? E.T.'s? Dope fiends? Nope, nope, nope, just everday people like LeMond and Secrest. People who wouldn't settle for the meager portions of life fulfillment which others consider more than enough. Cyclists who, like the Nike ads proselytize, "just did it." They made a commitment to excellence and rode off into the sunset bent over their aero handlebars, leaving in their wake the type of stories which have inspired many a couch potato to explore their true human potential.

How does one categorize or pigeon-hole these type of people? While on the surface they appear pretty run of the mill, their "achievements" leave even the enlightened impressed. What do we make of them? Well, what do we make of the likes of Galileo, da Vinci, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Mozart, Imhotep, or Einstein? Just more average people, I'd suggest, living life to their fullest potential.