Our Towns

Bike Culture Motivates Riders to Overcome Obstacles

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For years, Dave Drabison was a key member of the region’s triathlon community. He was a member of the Steel Valley Triathlon Club and an Ironman athlete. “Everyone had a ‘Dave story,’ ” says Lisa Inhouse, the club’s social director.

He always had a smile, a kind word to say and would encourage anyone who at least “tried,” says Inhouse. After a workout or a race, he would say, “Time for fat pants and Cheetos.”

Drabison made sure everyone received a medal and a bag of Cheetos at the finish line.

After he died, his wife, Jan, and children, Dave Jr. and Jen, asked the club to put on a memorial event.

“Dave was the guy in the club who would help everyone, especially new people, and he always did it with a smile,” says Inhouse, who became the coordinator of Dave’s Race, a series of events including three triathlons and an “aquabike” race, where racers swim 750 yards and bike 13 miles.

Inhouse says Drabison helped her learn to swim when she first joined the club.

“I remember feeling like I was completely out of my league,” Inhouse says. “Dave, who was always the first one in the pool on Saturday mornings, gave up his workout that morning and many mornings after to work with me. He taught me to relax in the water, he would say ‘Re-lax. … Re-lax.’

“It worked,” she says.

“Inspiration is a pushing force, one that guides you to conquer something new and provides the extra support to complete something challenging,” says Drabison Jr. “It’s a hand on your back. My dad is my inspiration.”

Motivation to overcome is practically the centerpiece of not just competitive cycling, but bicycling in all its varied forms. Climb the hill, peak the hill, and then grab gears as you pass over the top, not merely to overcome, but to run harder on the other side of the obstacle.

Youngstown native Roy Thomas manages My Gym in Columbiana, owned by professional boxer Kelly Pavlik. After having his body crushed while serving in the U.S. Army, Thomas overcame his injuries on the bike.

“Biking is a nonweight-bearing exercise,” he says. “Due to my injuries I could not run, so cycling has been the greatest alternative.”

Thomas, a graduate of Youngstown State University with a degree in exercise sciences, has been a certified master trainer for 28 years and has taught spinning classes – indoor rides on stationary bikes that mimic hills and roads – since 1996.

“With our inclement weather you cannot bike all the time, so spinning is the best option and is a great workout,” he says. “When Kelly [Pavlik] bought this gym, one of the first classes we started was spinning.”

The power of the bicycle to motivate guys like Thomas over the hills and mountains of his injuries inspires some to spread the blessings of this “man and machine” combination.

“It was my current business partner, Tim Knight, who sold me my first bicycle,” says Curt Masters, co-owner of Trailside Bicycle Co. in Boardman. “When other shops didn’t take me seriously, Tim did and fitted me for my first bike. It was a year or so when I talked with Tim a second time, after losing over 130 pounds. That’s when we started our current journey together.”

Masters once weighed more than 300 pounds, and transformed his weight loss into training and competing in Ironman races. Since 2015 he has competed in 15 events, including the Steelhead competition in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 2015, 2016 and 2017, as well as events in Maryland, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio and Florida.

“Over the past few years I found myself getting stronger and stronger. I now find myself competing where I once wished to compete,” Masters says. “Last year I was lucky enough to receive a slot at the Ironman world championship in South Africa.”

Masters inspires others through his coaching programs and charity work. Last year’s Pedal Out Hunger event supported the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley with discounts on purchases at Trailside Bicycle Co. for those who donated to the food bank. Knight and Masters are considering more charity events.

“We want to shine a light on fitness through sport with an event to help others understand that anything is possible,” says Masters.

A charity event Masters would like to host is a Quad Ultra Triathlon. The race would include a 10-mile swim in the Ohio River, a 450-mile bike ride and “finally I would run 110 miles,” Masters says. “We want to run it point-to-point ending in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I hope to do it in less than 65 hours.”

While some cyclists take to the lifestyle later in life, others grow up around the culture because it was part of their family structure.

“My grandfather, Clemens, was a big supporter of the local riding community and a member of the Out-Spokin’ Wheelmen for many years,” says Robert Vogt, a rider and racer from Salem. “He helped clear most of the bike trail from Leetonia to Lisbon and played a big role in the rails to trail campaign.”

Vogt’s father started riding in the 1980s after playing semi-pro football.

“Riding has always been a family thing. I started riding a mountain bike at 5 and raced BMX growing up,” he says. “My dad began racing on the road in the late 80s early 90s and also did some mountain bike racing as well.”

Vogt completed his first race in Athens, Ohio, in the Lance Armstrong Junior Olympic Race Series and competed in the Junior Nationals in New Haven, Connecticut, when he was 15.

“I have great memories of racing with my dad when I was 17,” says Vogt. “I did a category 4-5 race and won in a field sprint. Then immediately following I signed up for the category 3-4 race in which my dad was racing. I was able to get in an early break away with two other guys and with my dad still in the field. He did a lot of work chasing and blocking so we could get away. We eventually lapped the field and I finished third.”

The influence and embrace of bike culture doesn’t just travel in competitive circles. Plenty of riders do so for the love of it.

Seasonally, there are rides like Garrett Wonders Birthday Bike Ride on the Western Reserve Greenway in October and the North East Cookie Century ride with the Out-Spokin’ Wheelmen in September.

More frequently, a group of “roadies” meets every Wednesday at the Burger King in Columbiana.

“The Burger King Crew” is Jim Yankush, Sal Ponzio, Chris McElhinny, Stephen Flora, Breen Bannon, Cole Richardson, Tom Clayton, Kevin Thomas and “some others” according to Vogt.

Vogt describes the ride as 40 miles of pavement at a fast pace on rolling farm roads south to Elkton, over to Beaver Local High School, then to Lisbon for a ride down state Route 164 back to Columbiana.

“Everyone has their own unique personalities and [we all] enjoy the camaraderie,” says Vogt. “Afterwards we eat at the sandwich shop and talk about the ride.”

“I use to ride bikes all the time when I was younger, but as you get older, your priorities change and work takes over,” says Kaleb Beaver from Leetonia. “Until I finally got back on a road bike thanks to a good friend and coworker, I had forgotten how free and alive I felt when I was young.”

Pictured: A biker competes in the Dave Drabison Memorial June 24 at West Branch State Park.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.