Pelotons, pedals and pavement
By Allie Anderson
Everyone has a hobby – but not everyone takes their hobby to a professional level. That is, unless you’re Joe Waters.
Joe grew up in Griffin, Ga., a small town 20 miles outside Atlanta. The youngest of three boys, Joe’s journey into biking started when he was just 13.
My brother was mountain biking and it seemed like fun,” Joe says. “I liked the idea of having a sport I could do independently.”
It didn’t take long for mountain biking to evolve into road biking, and soon Joe was signed up for his first race.
I was pretty nervous and didn’t really know what I was doing,” Joe recalls. “It was raining and the roads were slick.”
Despite the tumultuous conditions of his inaugural race, Joe continued to train. Within three months, he won his first race. Three years later, he was a “category 1” competitor.
In USA Cycling, categories range from 5 to 1, with 1 being the highest. You have to accrue a certain amount of points in order to advance. Points are earned based on a rider’s results from USA Cycling-sanctioned events. Podium slots earn the most points, and each time you move up, your points reset. The higher the category, the harder it is to advance.
Aside from cycling, Joe’s life progressed like any normal teenager. After finishing high school and attending college for a few semesters, Joe was ready for a change.“My oldest brother landed a job in Ogden, Utah, and asked me to come live with him,” Joe explains. “I was growing tired of Georgia and wanted to spend more time outdoors. I visited Weber State University’s campus and remember thinking, ‘This is awesome!’ I was surrounded by mountains.”
Joe transferred to WSU. He worked at Bingham Cyclery and continued biking while going to school, eventually finishing his degree in geography.
After graduation, Joe got a job with Dominion Energy Utah’s Distribution Mapping department. He has been with the company five years, and is currently a Programmer Analyst for Engineering and Operations.
“I like problem solving and the various challenges of my role,” he says. “I also like that the company is exploring renewable energy to reduce its carbon footprint.”
Even with a full-time job, Joe continued to train and compete. He won the 2014 and 2015 Utah Road Race State Championships for the Pro1/2 category. But Joe says it’s the races he didn’t win that are the most memorable.
“The mutli-day stage race in Hood River, Ore., was always a race I looked forward to. The final day ends with a 100-mile road race with 10,000 feet of climbing. The roads and scenery are amazing there.”
But becoming a seasoned rider doesn’t happen without injury. While most of his biking accidents occurred in pelotons (when a group of cyclists ride in a close pack), the worst took place in the mountains of Utah.
“I was coming down an unfamiliar trail when I encountered a sharp corner,” he recalls. “I landed on my shoulder and completely broke my clavicle. I had to walk two miles to the trailhead while my friend pushed my bike. We went to an Instacare, but they said it was too broken for them to do anything. We then went to the ER at the University of Utah where the nurse told me it was in danger of poking through the skin. I had to stay the night and got surgery the next morning. The doctor installed a titanium plate and some screws in my collar bone.”
The pain and discomfort of recovery didn’t stop Joe. Just one week after surgery he was back working at the bike shop, and in three weeks he was cycling again.
“I did have to take my hand off the bar anytime I saw a bump in the road so my injured side wouldn’t absorb the impact.”
Joe is currently sponsored by Bingham Cyclery and captain of the five-man road biker team “Peak Fasteners.” One perk of being sponsored is having top-of-the-line equipment. Joe’s bike retails for $5,000, has carbon wheels and electronic shifting.
Despite the intense training and painful injuries, the challenge and speed of cycling keep Joe pedaling.
He explains it this way: “At a certain point, you get addicted to hard work and the suffering involved, as weird as that sounds. I also really like going fast.”