Alumnus touts ‘roller coaster’ at velodrome

Special to Western NewsCraig Saari, BA’01 (Kinesiology), BEd’02, cycles the Forest City Velodrome. For six years, he has been president, coach, manager, troubleshooter and mobilizer as part of a large team of volunteers/members who also love to cycle.

For Craig Saari, BA’01 (Kinesiology), BEd’02, each day offers an exercise in time management.

There’s his full-time job as student-success teacher at Strathroy District Collegiate Institute and his after-school schedule as head coach of the school’s senior boys’ volleyball team. There’s competitive racing as a member of the To Wheels cycling team, daily workouts on the indoor bike at home and his commitment to a balanced family life.

And then there’s the Forest City Velodrome, one of just six indoor tracks in North America, where his role atop the facility commands 20-25 hours a week of his time. For six years, he has been president, coach, manager, troubleshooter and mobilizer as part of a large team of volunteers/members who also love to cycle.

“I do it because I like to see people experience that thrill of a lifetime when they get on the track for the first time. It’s a ton of fun,” he said. “I like to tell people it’s a human-powered roller coaster.”

Cyclists will be pedalling up a storm this coming weekend in what will be the facility’s largest event ever – 1,001 laps of racing by professional male cyclists on Saturday and 1,001 laps by professional women on Sunday. The endurance-and-speed competition features some of the fastest indoor track cyclists in North America and has prizes totalling more than $16,000.

“This might be the biggest purse in Canadian (track) racing,” said Saari, helping organize the competition and fundraiser with velodrome co-founder Rob Good and a contingent of volunteer enthusiasts.

The 1,001 laps amounts to 138 kilometres, a spectacle that should take a little more than two hours, all counter-clockwise, from start to finish.

As cyclists travel about 60 kilometres per hour on the 51-degree track, spectators will be treated to intense competition, precise bike-handling and great rivalries, Saari said.

Saari has always been a keen competitor, and he dabbled in a lot of sports.

In his first year at Western, he ran track until sidelined by an injury. Then he played in intramural volleyball and inner-tube water polo. But mountain biking attracted his attention, then cycle road racing and, in winter months initially, the track at the Velodrome.

Now operating for 16 years, the Roxburgh Road facility used to be home of the London Knights hockey team as what was once the London Ice House. It has undergone a lot of changes even since the custom-built wood track replaced the rink.

Last year, cyclist Ed Veal rode 735.8 kilometres in 24 hours and raised $60,000, which allowed velodrome organizers to do “a full facelift” of the space, including new lighting and heating.

Most of its 130 members are recreational cyclists, some are beginners and others are high-calibre competitors.

Saari said the velodrome is safer than road cycling, more sociable than indoor training on a stationary bike and a fast track to fitness and friendship.