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Fall 2004 Issue
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    You Can't Translate the Word "Wilderness"
    New Wilderness Legislation
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The Young and the Adventurous

The NOLS alumni featured in this section aren't sitting on their laurels. They're qualifying for the Olympics in cycling, working at a medical clinic in the Dominican Republic, climbing the Seven Summits, and circumnavigating the U.S. on a bicycle.

Jason McCartney
Jason McCartney
Olympic Cyclist

The word “comeback” is common to Jason McCartney’s vocabulary. The ’91 NOLS grad has spent the last year proving the critics, media, and folks back home that he’s not a cycling burnout. After winning a stage and the top climber seat at the Tour de Georgia, sweeping the Olympic Team Selection Race in Redlands, Calif., and lining up among a quartet of top U.S. cyclists last summer in Athens, McCartney’s cycling renaissance has begun.

McCartney had a passion for cycling before he came to NOLS for his Semester in the Rockies. During his course, he managed to tweak a few skills he now uses daily. “I think one of the keys to any NOLS course is group dynamics, and working in a group is what cycling is all about,” says McCartney. “The impact NOLS had on me was to open up new ideas about trying new things and tackling fears.”

Throughout his cycling frenzy, McCartney has faced adversity and plenty of challenging moments to prove these skills. “I think in every race there is a moment in which you want to quit, but you have to just struggle through it. You know everyone is suffering just as much as you and you must not forget that,” he says. “In the Olympic trials this year I suffered back from cramps and mechanicals to win the day. That doesn’t always happen, so over the years I have learned not to let bad results affect me too much. There is always another day.”

Success, however, has not always been the story for Jason McCartney. Following his quick ascent to the top 10 in the European amateur racing circuit, he dropped completely out of the cycling scene. “Cycling is a sport where everything has to work well physically and mentally,” he says. “I was not 100% so I walked away.”

After a two-year hiatus, the wheels started to spin again and the rejuvenated cyclist reintroduced himself to the sport. A mere two years later, McCartney turned pro. He wore jerseys for NutraFig, Jelly Belly, 7-Up/Maxxis, and finally Health Net, the turquoise team he led to victory in the Olympic trials.

It’s nice to know that in the midst of all this fanfare, McCartney is still a small town boy. His interest in cycling began when he sold a pair of shoes to Ken Lefler, a bike shop owner in Iowa City. McCartney began work at the bike shop, and soon, he was hooked. He purchased an Italian raceback from his brother’s roommate, and the rest, as they say, is history.

McCartney has watched many miles pass by since that first night on his NOLS course in the Rockies. “Hiking up from the bus for the first night under the stars, it snowed and in the morning I knew this was going to be the start of a great adventure,” McCartney says. The NOLS graduate took some time off following his course to backpack and explore the West. From there, the tale of our cycling hero only gets better. Next year, McCartney plans to shift gears and will join Lance Armstrong on the new Discovery Team and return to Europe to race.

Aside from his cycling endeavors, McCartney still upholds a reputation for serving nature in his scarce moments of free time. The cyclist has spent the past three off-seasons helping a friend on his organic farm. This year, he hopes to help at a forest preserve that also grooms cross-country trails. “The good thing is that my job in cycling is outdoors,” he says. “When my cycling career is over, I look forward to getting back to the wilderness.”

-Sarah Smith

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