PINKHAM NOTCH, NH – A little bad weather wasn’t enough to stop some of the Toughest bicyclist from tackling the highest peak in the North East this weekend. The start of the 46thMt. Washington auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb was delayed by two hours due to rainy weather, but once it calmed down the toughest hill climb in America was on for 397 cyclists. 40-year-old Aimee Vasse of Longmont Colorado became the first person to ever win the Race five times taking the top spot for the women with a time of one hour 4 minutes, and 5 seconds, Her personal best.
Her closest rival, Stefanie Sydlik, 33, of Pittsburgh, Pa., finished more than five minutes behind, in 1:10:32. Third was 48-year-old Kristen Roberts, of Reading, Mass., in 1:12:07.
“Today I think I went out a little too hard,” said Vasse as she warmed up with a blanket at the summit after her finish. “I got some cramping in my legs, and the headwind was tough for me. But Mt. Washington is fun. It’s my favorite race. I love New Hampshire!”
For the men 30-year-old Barry Miller of Beverly Mass won with a time of 53 minutes and 34 seconds. Miller went out quickly, leading the men through the first mile before he was overtaken by Eric Levinsohn, 28, of New Haven, Conn. Dropping the rest of the field, the two dueled from the lower wooded slopes of Mt. Washington to the treeline and beyond, before Miller finally broke away in the sixth mile and pedaled alone to the finish line.
Like Vasse, Miller started quickly, partly because the race awards a $750 bonus prize to whoever is in the lead at the one-mile mark. “After that,” he said later, “I tried just to settle into a rhythm. Then Eric came up pretty fast. He’s incredibly strong, and I didn’t think I could stay with him, but somehow I didn’t fade. When we got to the dirt section, I saw I had the lead, and I kept the momentum up.”
Levinsohn crossed the finish line second, in 56:03, but ultimately he placed third in the race. In the Hillclimb, racers start in waves at five-minute intervals. While Miller and Levinsohn started in the elite first wave, Drake Deuel of Cambridge, Mass., started in the second, five minutes later, and then made up enough of that five-minute gap to record a net time of 55:38 and become the official runnerup.
The first New Hampshire finishers were 19-year-old Darren Piotrow, of Jackson, who placed seventh overall in 1:01:31, and 55-year-old Johanna Lawrence of Nashua, tenth among all women in 1:25:54. Piotrow rode with the sponsorship of the Chad Young Foundation, named in honor of a promising cyclist – Chad Young, of Newmarket, N.H. – who set the current junior (under 20 years) course record in this race, and who died in an accident during a cycling race last year.
***For spectators at the finish line, the most inspiring story of the day was that of Brian Hall, 56, of Hampton, N.H., who has suffered from Parkinson’s disease since he was 15. Despite severe movement impairments caused by the disease, Hall secured permission from the race’s sponsor and beneficiary, Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, N.H., to compete in the Hillclimb by riding an e-bike, which contains a motor that assists the rider’s pedaling efforts. Hall completed the climb in less than two and a half hours, finishing ahead of several able-bodied cyclists.
“I was shocked at how hard it was,” said Hall as he recovered from the effort. “I skied Mont Blanc in 1992. I feel the same sense of euphoria and accomplishment today – I feel like I’m reborn.”
The oldest finisher was Giuseppe Marinoni, 81, of Laval, Quebec. Marinoni finished 308th overall in 1:56:31, breaking the former age-group record for me 80 and over by more than 20 minutes.
On the men’s winners’ podium, Miller was flanked by Ivy League cyclists. Deuel, who started bike racing only this summer, has competed in rowing as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Levinsohn recently finished medical school at Yale and is doing his residency at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.
The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb is the main annual fund-raising event for the Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, N.H., which provides environmental and recreational education for children, schools and families in communities in the White Mountains and the Mt. Washington Valley.
For full race results go to click here.
HAMPTON — Brian Hall was exhausted as he pedaled his e-bike up the final stretch of the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb.
Despite his fatigue, exacerbated by Parkinson’s disease, Hall pushed through and finished the 7.6-mile race as a crowd cheered. He finished with a time of 2:19:36, well behind the winner but meeting his goal of finishing the race.
“It was life-changing,” said Hall, 56, who lives in Hampton. “I had no expectations of getting to the summit. I really didn’t. I just wanted to be out there.”
Hall finished the Aug. 18 race 57th in his division, 364th overall. He spent a year training for the race and received special permission from the race’s sponsor to use an e-bike, an electric bike that allows the rider to turn on a motor, to assist him with mobility problems.
Parkinson’s makes it difficult for him to walk, but he found he can handle the movement needed to ride a bike.
Hall has had Parkinson’s symptoms since he was 15, though he was not diagnosed for an additional 11 or 12 years. A lover of sports like tennis and skiing, as well as a songwriter and guitarist who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Hall lost many of his abilities to Parkinson’s symptoms. He eventually underwent deep brain stimulation for his disease, but moving is still difficult, his voice also softened by Parkinson’s.
Still, athletics have remained part of his life. When he was 30 years old, he skied down Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. The ride down, which took four and a half hours, made him feel “so alive and so blessed.” When he entered the Mount Washington race, he said he had that feeling in mind and wanted to experience it again.
“I wanted to choose something I didn’t think I could do,” said Hall of entering the race.
Hall discovered cycling about five years ago, when he said his then-girlfriend wanted to get a mountain bike. He told her he thought mountain biking would be a wonderful thing for the two to share.
“She said, ‘No way, you’re not going to get a bike,’” Hall said.
While Hall’s girlfriend was skeptical he could handle riding a bike, he went to Exeter Cycles and tried a bike, finding his legs worked better pedaling a bicycle than walking. As he rode around the parking lot at the bike shop with its owner, he felt free.
“I’ve been living in a physical prison for much of my life,” Hall said. “Being on a bike... I get to have a break from the disease.”
When Hall entered the Mount Washington race, some doubted whether he should and told him not to enter. One of his best friends who had done the race twice questioned if Hall could even finish. Hall said he knew his friend was coming from a place of concern but told him, “That’s not my goal.”
“My goal is to be out there,” he said. “I’d be a fool and an idiot to think I would make it.”
Hall found the race physically challenging. The first couple miles were pretty steep, he said.
“By the time I got to the second mile, I go, ‘Oh my God, what did I sign up for?’ It was brutal.”
Hall had support following him, carrying extra batteries since the manufacturer of the bike was not sure how much power would be needed to make it up the mountain. He took two breaks in the race to rest and change his e-bike’s battery.
As he got higher, the fog intensified, as did his fatigue. When he took his second break, his friend asked him, “Are you going to do this?” and he replied, “yes.”
As he got closer to the finish line, a man he had never met before walked from the crowd toward him and said, “Come on, Brian, don’t quit.” Others chanted as Hall finished, the stranger walking beside him.
“It touched my heart,” Hall said. “It took my breath away. I couldn’t fail them... I couldn’t fail the other people that can’t ride up the mountain. I just kept going.”
Hall beat out 33 other cyclists by finishing and is proud of the medal he earned after crossing the finish line. He hopes his story can inspire others and plans to write a book about his life with Parkinson’s disease and accomplishments.
“I want to use this as a springboard to help others,” he said. “We’re more capable of things we can’t even imagine if we just try.”
PINKHAM NOTCH — The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb has been no stranger to inspiring athletes racing in the face of long odds. In recent years, the Hillclimb has welcomed cyclists with cystic fibrosis and double knee replacements. Now a New Hampshire cyclist with Parkinson’s disease will add to the list of inspiring figures who have faced the challenge of pedaling up the extraordinarily steep 7.6-mile Auto Road to the summit of the highest peak in the northeastern United States.
The 46th annual Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 18, at 8:35 a.m. The weather postponement backup date is Sunday, Aug.19.
Brian Hall, 56, of Hampton, began showing symptoms of severe foot cramping and rigidity when he was just 15. These were later accompanied by debilitating headaches, stiffness and balance issues. For 11 years the correct diagnosis was elusive.
“My neurologist said I was the healthiest sick person he had even met,” said Hall recently.
Eventually Parkinson’s was confirmed, and Hall has been coping with the disease for 42 years. Adjusting to impairments in movement and balance and to other symptoms that cannot be reversed, Hall has responded by living as active a life as possible — including, this month, bicycling up one of the hardest climbs in the world.
Professional cyclists have called the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb as difficult as the hardest climbs in the Tour de France. As it rises to Mt. Washington’s 6288-foot summit, the Auto Road offers not a single moment of level surface where the rider might take a break from hard pedaling.
“If anyone asked me why I was attempting to climb Mt. Washington on a bike,” Hall remarked, “I would say, ‘Because I can’t walk it!’ Seriously, I would like people to know that catastrophic health news isn’t necessarily the end. I like to think of it as a new beginning.”
All his adult life, Hall has pursued various ways of adjusting to his disease. In 2007 he underwent Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), in which electrodes are implanted into a targeted part of the brain and then an impulse-generator battery is installed, which works like a pacemaker. The intent of the operation is for this battery to send impulses (which can be controlled by an on/off switch) to block electrical signals that cause Parkinson’s symptoms.
Hall was also on medication to help with the symptoms that come with Parkinson’s disease but got off it 10 years ago as he believed the side effects were killing him slowly.
In the Hillclimb, Hall will use an E-bike, equipped with a motorized support system that becomes engaged when the cyclist pedals — a necessary accommodation for someone with this terrible disease. But do not let the assistance of the E-bike fool you on Brian’s athleticism. Brian has skied on the slopes of Mont Blanc in the Alps.
“I haven’t had that feeling of exhilaration since then,” he said this summer, explaining that part of his motivations to compete in the Auto Road is to gain on Mount Washington the same kind of excitement he felt in the French Alps.
As he continues to live an adventurous life, Hall is also writing a book about his journey. Its title: “Not Afraid to Fall.”
“I go out into the real world, and I sometimes stumble and fall,” he says in the book’s introduction. “If I were concerned about how people saw me, I'd never leave home. I owe this disease great credit for who I've become."
The Hillclimb is the main annual fund-raising event for the Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, which provides environmental and recreational education for children, schools and families in communities in the White Mountains and the Mount Washington Valley. The entry fee of $350 includes a substantial (and tax-deductible) donation to the Center. Registration for the 2018 Hillclimb is still open. Interested riders can register at bikereg.com/mwarbh. The registration deadline is this Monday, Aug. 13 at 11:59 p.m.
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