Anyone who has raced a bike in Arkansas over the past three years is familiar with the Drummond family. If youíre been on a podium in Arkansas, Texas or Oklahoma, chances are a Drummond child or adult was there beside you. There are 13 Drummond siblings, ranging in ages from 2-year-old Katie to 22-year-old Gerald. Not all the kids race but they all participate in what was at its origins an opportunity for the family to grow together.
The journey that placed an Arkansan atop the national mountain bike championship podium last year started six years ago with a suggestion from a grandparent, then a trip to Walmart to buy a few of the kids bikes for a Memorial Day outing. "The kids were home schooled and weren't involved in any extracurricular sports or activities.", says dad Gerry Drummond.
"It's something we can all do together, where we're not going in different directions. Those not participating can go and watch," says mom, Cicely Drummond. "It provides a lot of time spent together."
In 2009, Gerry took sons Cooper and Gerald to what was then a new visitors center at Hobbs State Park Conservation Area just across the lake from their home. They had no helmets. No water. And no experience for the notorious climbs along the nine-mile Little Clifty Loop. Hours later, the dehydrated crew finally made it back to the truck to down bottles of Gatorade. Little could they have imagined that in a few years, those climbs would be like a second home to them, a launch pad to leave race competitors shaking their heads in awe.
Soon after, the whole family started riding the trails at Hobbs on the weekends. Cooper told sister Emma there was no way she would make it up the climb the first time–that it was okay if she walked. She didn't walk. The competitive spirit that led Emma to prove her brother wrong is part of the Drummond nature. They don't quit.
"Our kids have always loved to climb," says Gerry. "That's when they want to punch it. It's always a race to the top. That's when you prove something–on the way up the hill."
The family would load at least a half dozen bikes on a 12-foot trailer and travel in their minivan to trails around the region. Gerald and Cooper would try to outpace one another, racing around the trails, while younger siblings and dad were strung along the trail for miles.
The family put hundreds of miles on their Walmart bikes before graduating to buying used bikes on Craigslist and augmenting with parts purchased on eBay. Gerry is a machinist at their family business, G-Pop Shop, which rebuilds turbochargers. The kids, particularly Cooper, are experts at making their parts lighter or even creating parts from scratch in a pinch. They started with just disassembling and assembling their own bikes, which is what Gerald was doing just before their first race at Slaughter Pen Jam in Bentonville.
"We didn't have jerseys or cycling licenses. The kids were on the start line while I was filling out registrations," Gerry says. "I had no idea what I was putting the organizers through."
At that point, the kids were riding one day a week, usually on Sunday. Cooper won his age group in a sprint finish, despite his handlebar coming off midway through the race. He stood atop the podium in his khaki shorts and hiking boots, beaming.
The next year, Cooper and Gerald did all the Arkansas and Oklahoma state races. John joined in with his first mountain bike race, a 30-miler at Spring Hill in Barling. Emma and Mercedes werenít far behind. And Cooper was on a roll. "He won everything," John says.
All the kids were doing well. Gerald tied for first in the Oklahoma series and was second in Arkansas. Emma won her category at Mellow Johnny's in Austin, a pro-level race, and became the family celebrity when she was interviewed by an Austin TV station.
In 2012, the family decided to try their hand at the national mountain bike championships in Sun Valley, Idaho. They put four bikes on the back of the minivan and three bikes on top. Little Will's bike was disassembled in the back. The family crowded into the minivan with the "brown bag special," a collection of snacks in a paper sack to keep their energy up.
"Oklahoma was the farthest west we had ever gone, and here we were going to Idaho," John says.
These Arkansans who seemed to be racing in every single category made a splash on the national scene. The Arkansas jokes flew from the race announcer, but their talent was undeniable. Mercedes won her category, and Gerald came in second. Cooper came in 15th in a tough, crowded field.
Will, at age 6, was the youngest competitor ever in a national championship. He climbed the ski slope service road on his 20-inch bike every lap, never walked or pushed, but was beaten by riders who were all four years or more older than him. Annie took third place on a heavy bike.
After that successful showing, training ramped up for the family. Three-hour rides had to be fit into a full-time work and school schedule. The Drummonds were riding on the Fayetteville bike paths at night. "If it's raining, if it's 10 degrees, we would do what's on that schedule," Gerry says.
As a comparison, in February 2012, the family did six bike rides. In February 2013, they only took two days off. They had new coaches, were using heart monitors and were upgrading parts on their used bikes. A 15-passenger van replaced the minivan, and Gerry invented a bike rack/travel trailer to hold all their stuff.
"The goal for us is not Europe or world-cup racers," says Cicely. "That would be the opposite of what we have now. We are thankful for the cycling and what it provides for these 'growing up' years. It's something the kids have to work hard for, train for, the discipline is good. The time they are able to spend together, the memories they are sharing, the relationships they have with each other and what they learn from these days, this is what has weight and will last. It's not all about cycling or the trophy. But if they are going to race, then race to win."