Over the years we've all heard the stories about professional racers being full time students or having full time jobs, mixing in with their racing. Joshua Cartwright is a full time student at Florida State University, while racing the 250 East Coast Supercross Series. What you don't hear about very often, are racers who are going to school full time, who are also competing in sports for their school. Rachel Gutish happens to be one of those racers. Rachel, who hails from Terre Haute, Indiana, attends Depauw University in Greencastle, Indiana competing in Pole vaulting in the North Coast Atlantic Conference. Mix that in with competing in the Maxxis Endurocross Series as well as the Amsoil Grand National Cross Country Series, most of Rachel's weekends are filled up until June. How about combining all three into one weekend? Rachel had to do just that this past weekend in Florida during the kick off of the 74th Annual 'Bike Week.' The opening round of the Maxxis Endurocross Series on Friday, a track meet on Saturday (in Indiana), and the opening round of the Amsoil GNCC Series on Sunday, makes for a pretty busy weekend. Rachel was gracious enough to chug a few (dozen) cups of coffee and type up a paper about her hectic weekend. I'm giving her an automatic A+ for her efforts.
My Insane Weekend
First comes a slight gaping of the mouth and widening of the eyes. Then comes a look of amused disbelief, similar to the expression that someone might have if I told them I was taking up alligator wrestling or naked waterskiing. You’d think I’m doing something really bizarre. I guess when I take a step back and look at it objectively though, from the point of view of someone who hasn’t spent the last few years trying to do everything and then some, it does seem a little bit insane.
So, I’m a full time college student and Division-III college track and field athlete (pole vaulter) at DePauw University. Nothing particularly unusual, there’s a lot of student-athletes – the NCAA estimates there’s around 460,000 of us. What makes me different is the fact that I am balancing all of this with my racing career as well. This makes my schedule pretty hectic, between races, training, travel, working out, classes, track practice, meets, homework, etc.
Before we really get started, I feel like I should mention that I have the best parents ever! They’ve helped me all through my racing and everything else, and I’m deadly serious when I say that I wouldn’t be where I am without them, and they go above and beyond when it comes to making everything work out. The fact that they drove through a blinding snowstorm (in Kentucky, of all places!), plowing through snowdrifts past stranded cars while dodging skidding semis at 3 am, so we’d make it to the opening round of EnduroCross in Daytona Beach, Florida shows just how dedicated they are. We ended up driving almost 22 hours straight, arriving Thursday evening, the day before the race.
The morning of the race dawned bright and early – too early for all of us and 65°F and raining to boot. C’mon Florida, get it together! Fortunately, like most EnduroCross races, this one was indoors. The track wasn’t super tough, with the exception of the pro line, consisting of the matrix – a spaced log section that makes an appearance in almost every EnduroCross – and an uphill rock section, which all classes (except the male pro riders) only had to run on the last lap. Every time I went out during practice I hit it, hoping to have the advantage on that last lap. I struggled the most with the matrix. The spacing was different, or the logs were bigger, or something was harder than usual, because I didn’t clean it once all day long. Ironically, on the last lap, by some miracle I nailed the matrix, but the uphill rocks, which I had no problems on all through practice, are what knocked me down from third to fifth.
We loaded up bikes and helped tear down the pits before we left, and got to our hotel around 1am. By now I’m sure you guys are thinking “So what Rachel – we’ve all driven through rough weather and had races where we blew it on the last lap – none of this is sounding particularly special so far.” Well, I had just enough time at the hotel to take a quick shower before getting back in the rental car and driving back to the airport so that I could make my 5 am flight back home to Indiana. You see, the second-most important track meet of the season was on Friday and Saturday. I was racing in Florida on Friday, but fortunately, women’s pole vault was scheduled for Saturday.
I landed at Indianapolis International around 9:00 – just enough time to eat breakfast, drive to campus, change into my uniform, check in with my coaches and warm up before competition started at noon. Despite being a little on the tired side, since I’d raced the day before and was running on about 4 hours of sleep, I actually put in my best finish of the weekend at the meet. With a jump of 3.22 meters, I became the NCAC (North Coast Athletic Conference) champion in the pole vault. I was relieved to have vaulted reasonably well, as it was a little nerve-wracking spending all that time and money, running the risk of finishing badly and making it not worth it to have come back. However, I didn’t really realize how big of a deal a conference championship was until after the fact. I mean, sure, my teammates had all been really excited for me, and my coaches seemed happy, but it wasn’t until I checked results at the airport that night (I’ll come back to that later) and realized that only one other athlete from DePauw had won their event, most of the winners were upperclassmen, not first years, and that I had scored 10 out of my team’s total of 56 points that I realized that I had done something pretty cool.
I didn’t have very long to celebrate my win, or see how my team finished overall (7th), or even to stay for the podium ceremony. My weekend wasn’t over just yet. I mentioned that I checked results from the airport in Atlanta. This was because I had to go back to Florida again, this time for the opening round of GNCC on Sunday. We landed in Orlando around 11:00 pm and made it to our hotel by 12:30 am. I was up at 6 the next morning, thoroughly exhausted but with the home stretch in sight.
Honestly, I’m surprised that I ended up as well as I did. I mean 7th isn’t great or anything, but the fact that I was worn out before the flag even dropped coupled with my extreme distaste for sand whoops meant that I was pretty pleased with my finish. I got off the start really well, but was having trouble maintaining an all-out race pace. I had some pretty good battles, and that was pretty much all that was motivating me to keep pushing. I’ve got to say though, I can’t ever remember being so grateful to see the checkered flag.
After yet another late night and early morning flight (after all, I had 3 classes and track practice to get to on Monday!), I was on my way back home (again). With about 3 minutes to spare and shadows under my eyes deeper than Marianas Trench, I staggered into the Modern Languages office just in time to take my makeup German exam. I guess I must have looked pretty rough, because the nice woman proctoring my exam actually offered to go get me a cup of coffee from the office coffeepot. And with that, my (somewhat) insane weekend was finally over. I think I have finally found the limits for what I can manage in one weekend, and though I wouldn’t change anything I did, here’s to hoping that it will be quite a while before I have to do something like this again!