The Skyhawks Cycling team is no slouch: Winners of 20 Division I national championships since 1994, FLC Cycling is one of the premier collegiate cycling programs in the country. Competing in track, mountain biking, cyclocross, BMX, and road, this year's team is ranked #2 in the nation.
The FLC squad has especially excelled in mountain biking, that oh-so-Durango sport for which the Cycling team has earned 16 national titles, including the inaugural collegiate mountain biking national title in 1994, the team's first-ever competition.
That's why it's amazing that the seeds for this powerhouse of collegiate cycling were planted 30 years ago by two student dishwashers and fertilized with free pizzas.
Dan Brown (Geology, '87), one of those FLC students working nights in the kitchen at Durango's Olde Tymers Cafe, explains how he came to help launch competitive cycling at FLC.
“I first drove into town on one of those picture-perfect June summer days in Durango,” he recollects. “Clear blue sky, snow on the peaks. I stood on that mesa the FLC campus sits on and in 10 seconds I decided that's where I was going to go to school.”
“In September my friend and I drove to Durango. He dropped me off and I didn't know a soul,” Brown continues. “I was in Durango, and I needed some kind of transportation. I didn't know anything about bikes, so I walked into the Outdoorsman bike shop on Main Avenue, and then-bike mechanic Ned Overend sold me a mountain bike.”
“That's how I started biking,” he says. “I bought a bike to get around my first semester, and I just started mountain biking.”
The mid-1980s was still the infancy of what today is the mega-industry of mountain biking. As Brown and his classmates rode the few trails in the area at the time, they ran into more and more people drawn to this new adrenaline-driven activity.
By Brown's senior year, he and his friends were ready to turn up their adrenaline – and to bring their mountain biking from town to campus at the same time.
“It just dawned on me that with all these sports on campus, there wasn't any mountain biking,” Brown says. “So with my friend Brian Franks (Political Science, '91), I approached the person handling the intramural sports teams and pitched her on the idea that we would create a track on campus. Then we could run races and create an intramural mountain biking program.”
The intramural race program was accepted, and Brown and his friends, including Franks and Scott Boswell (Accounting, '88), cut a course out of the scrub oak and pinion-juniper-covered section of campus that today is home to the Cycling team's Factory Trails course.
Brown and his cohorts also turned to the classic Durango way to gather people every week: pizza.
“At the time we were working for a pizza shop called Giver's Grinders. We were the nighttime pizza delivery boys,” Brown says. “We convinced the owner to sponsor a free pizza for the winner of the bike race each week.”
Even after Brown and his cycling friends – who are still friends today, Brown notes – graduated, the intramural mountain bike racing program continued, and cycling at FLC grew.
The 1990s opened with Durango hosting the first-ever professional mountain biking World Bicycle Championship, held at Purgatory Ski Area. Ned Overend, the bike mechanic who sold Brown his first mountain bike, took the gold medal.
That fever spread to FLC, where in 1993, a dozen students created a loosely formed FLC Cycling Club. In 1994, the official FLC Cycling team was born when the student body voted to allow activity fees to support the Cycling Club.
That year, in its first intercollegiate competition as a club sport, the new team won the first-ever National Collegiate Cycling Association mountain biking national championships in Castaic Lake, California, defeating perennial national cycling powerhouses like the University of Colorado, Stanford, and Cal Poly.
And they haven't looked back since.
Yet today, even with its success and titles, the Cycling team retains that fun club spirit, but with the coaching and resources of a varsity sport. Just like in the 1980s, anyone can still ride with the Skyhawks Cycling team – all it takes is to join is a helmet and a hunger to ride.
For Brown, that spirit and that sense of individual accomplishment from his time cycling at FLC stayed with him into his career. Today he is president of his own firm, Partners Environmental Consulting, Inc., in Solon, Ohio, specializing in environmental cleanups and restoration.
“When I started this company from scratch. I really had no certainty of success, but I was all in. I felt like I was at a table in Las Vegas,” he laughs. And he can laugh, because today the company has steadily grown to about 30 people.
“In the early days as a start-up, I didn't think it would be at the size that it is today,” he says. “A couple people and I were working out of an old house, just doing some consulting. But we found more success than that. Companies liked what we did and liked our approach. They saw the value in it, and so we grew.”
Sounds like a familiar story.
“Yeah, that's just how things happen,” Brown says, laughing again. “It starts with a couple of guys who want to have a little fun and win a pizza. It's pretty amazing.”