Our Athlete of the Month Award is a special honor that we bestow to individuals in the endurance racing world who serve as inspirational examples for athletes everywhere. This month, we honor Ernest Gagnon, whose story has captivated racers in cycling community and beyond.
When we last wrote about Ernie Gagnon at the start of the year, our community showed him a phenomenal response. So as this year (yelp!) is quickly coming to close, November seemed the perfect time to honor Ernie with our second Athlete of the Month award. More importantly, this is also a great opportunity to fill everyone in on his eventful 2012.
Going into the year, Ernie’s major goal was to focus on cyclocross and compete in at least two races. Well, he’s far exceeded that goal, as this month he competed in his seventh race of 2012 – finishing four of them, including the Shedd Park Cyclocross Race in Lowell, Massachusetts where he finished ahead of a chunk of the field!
He still trains occasionally with the MIT racing team but is no longer a member. He says it was an amicable shift as he outgrew what they could help him with, though Ernie still calls the cycling community his “second family” and believes that his friendships have only continued to grow stronger.
“They’ve been there to train, ride with me and support me in anything that I choose to do,” Ernie explained.
Ernie has also become a bit of a celebrity in the cycling world and as a result of some positive publicity (including a fabulous NPR piece). His story has now reached folks all across the country, including those beyond the cycling world.
“People started contacting me about how the story helped them try cycling, or get back on the bike, or just started to do things that they never thought they could do before to improve their life,” said Ernie explaining how rewarding the attention has been.
To go along with his relative fame, Ernie has also noticed a great improvement in his fitness.
“There was no way I could have done a cross race of any type last year,” he said.
He recognizes that his heart rate recovers more quickly and that he is “able to maintain the output for forty minutes and can push and push and push without collapsing,” which is a huge step forward for him.
Simple things have also improved: walking is easier, getting up hills requires less work, and he now fits into non-custom cycling shorts. Ernie always wants to lose more weight (he reports that the more he loses, the tougher it becomes) and to get faster, but he’s patient with his current rate of progress and for now, happy just to look like a regular cyclist.
But despite all that progress, Ernie still faces plenty of off-course obstacles: about a week ago he lost his engineering job with Sophos, an IT security company.
His first response to the news was one that most of us would have: how do I pay the bills? For Ernie, the issue is even more concerning given a potential lapse in health insurance, which Ernie relies on for Type II diabetes medication as well as for professional help for his anxiety.
Still, in spite of those concerns, Ernie recognizes that the position at Sophos never made him happy, ever more so in that his coworkers and superiors were not fully supportive of his self-improvement and cycling efforts.
“It was very clear that the job wasn’t me,” he explained.
It seems a safe assumption that many of our readers can relate to the power of fitness in transforming one’s health, but an even more important question is how to use that same dedication to transform one’s whole life. This is not an easy task; but Ernie recognizes the dual challenge and opportunity in this moment might allow him to pursue something greater.
When discussing what would be his ideal gig, his proverbial dream job, Ernie’s answers paralleled each of the personal challenges he’s had to overcome.
A public policy aficionado, he’d love to promote cycling in a way that makes the sport (and a healthier lifestyle) more accessible to more people, so that others need not struggle the way he has. And being all too familiar with the struggles of the U.S. healthcare system — ask him about pre-existing conditions or costs of preventive medicine and you’ll get an incredibly educated earful — Ernie advocates for better public policies that better promote personal responsibility for wellness.
So with all that, what are Ernie’s goals for 2013?
First, he aims to continue improving his general fitness and racing experience, namely through the Wells Ave Training Crit, a popular racing series in the Boston area. And perhaps more importantly, to continue to serve as an example for those still on the fence, undecided on whether to join the racing community. Because as he so eloquently puts it:
“When we help other people get healthy, we help everyone.”
Do you have a suggestion for our Athlete of the Month Award? If so, email Info[at]TRAVLETE.com!