August 1, 2012
Ride Rock Hill Interviews Reid Beloni
RRH: Reid, you are an accomplished cyclist and close to securing your Master’s degree. Tell us your background and what degrees you are seeking.
BELONI: In 2010 I graduated from Virginia Tech and received my B.S. in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise. This summer I will be finishing my M.S. in Exercise Science from Appalachian State University. I chose this field because of my personal involvement in cycling; I have been riding bikes since 2004 when I joined a high school cycling club. I really like how practical everything is, and at the graduate level I have found a lot of enjoyment in the research side of things. It is my goal to be able to apply all of my experience in cycling and my education towards working with athletes.
RRH: You’ve seen some high level academics around sports physiology and cycling specifically. Share some examples of colleges and universities that are leading these efforts.
BELONI: There are a lot of universities out there with researchers and students who are interested in sports performance. Not by coincidence, they are often located near high profile training facilities or in very physically active communities.
Appalachian State University does a surprisingly good job at having a quality education for students, a top level cycling program, and current sport physiology and performance research. I have been involved in all three. I came to Appalachian State University because of their nationally known Exercise Science program. People come from all over the country, and internationally, to get a degree here.
My primary role at ASU has been a graduate student and a graduate research assistant. I have been involved in some really interesting work. We have studied everything from different supplements to combat the negative effects of exercising at high altitudes to hydration and training strategies. That is all work I have done with one professor.
The neat thing is that the subjects we use in our studies are members of the cycling team, which I am also involved in. It works great for both parties; the researchers get really well trained subjects, and the cyclists get free testing and training from professors who are also really well-known coaches. This system attracts a lot of athletes. Unlike some universities which have the recruiting power of a varsity program, ASU’s club level program attracts the caliber of athletes who have won team and individual cycling national championships over many years.
It’s not only cyclists who come to this area. There are facilities like Zap Fitness which supports and trains collegiate distance runners aspiring to make the Olympics or World Championships. I don’t think it’s by coincidence that all of these things are in one place. This doesn’t just happen with one brush stroke, but if the facilities and an involved university exist, the athletes will come. The RHOC has the capacity to be the start of all this.
RRH: The Rock Hill Outdoor Center is set to become a mecca for cycling. How can local schools and universities position themselves to take advantage of these amazing facilities?
BELONI: It is going to be really exciting to see how the RHOC grows over the coming years. It just looks like a concrete oval in an empty field right now, but there are some really dedicated visionaries out there who got this project rolling and it won’t stop. I think the velodrome and associated facilities are going to be huge for three populations: young kids and youth groups, recreational cyclists, and world class athletes.
Just like I started cycling through a Charlotte-area high school cycling club, I think that the velodrome will be a great thing for kids of all ages to learn how to safely ride a bike and be physically active. I have heard stories of inner city kids being brought to a track, discovering the bike, and eventually winning national championships. These aren’t stereotypical bike riders, but people who fall in love with biking, and being physically active, because the track is available and there are programs through schools that allow them to use it.
The second group of users is going to be recreational athletes, probably from the local area and current cyclists, these users will frequent the track most often. I think there are plans for weekly night races in the summer. That will be a great family event, and unlike a movie, watching the race is free.
I also think the current open spaces at the RHOC will be great for the community. Free spaces allow people to be physically active, and the variety of facilities at the RHOC will surely increase recreational activity and physical health.
Finally, the last group of users is people who will relocate to Rock Hill because of the velodrome: the top-level athletes. They might be the smallest group by numbers, but they may be the most profound. When world class athletes come to an area, it is good for everyone. I don’t know the numbers for Greenville hosting Professional Cycling National Championships, but every business there is making a buck and I’m sure putting Greenville on the map has caused some people to relocate there.
I think this is where area universities can play the biggest role. The athletes are going to need certain facilities for training and recovery. The first university to dedicate some facilities for these athletes will have a huge heads up on attracting funding and press associated with the athletes and the students who will follow.
RRH: What does this mean for current and potential students, from high school through higher education?
BELONI: Well, I got into cycling while in high school. At that time the only national-level collegiate cycling programs were located in the Midwest or Rocky Mountains. I didn’t want to travel that far from home so I went to a school that didn’t have a well-known cycling program. Now North Carolina has a few schools which have national level programs: Appalachian State University, Lees McRae, and Mars Hill.
However, arguably the best program in the nation, Marian University, has built its program on success first found on a velodrome at a sports complex only a few miles from the university. While these N.C. schools are very prominent, I imagine that some students are going to choose between a university with proximity to the track or one with a large cycling program. That might lead to a regional shift of where the successful cycling programs reside. However, the track will be great for high school athletes because it is a great place for high school students to discover a love for biking, which will become a lifelong activity.
I also hope that it means that talented high school cyclists won’t have to leave the Carolinas to attend a university that is both a quality institution and one with a great cycling program and resources.
RRH: What could all this mean for local community and the region in the next 5 to10 years?
BELONI: It is hard to really project how the track will impact this area in the short term. Developers have grand ideas, but it is not as easy to foresee how the track will change cycling for Rock Hill and the surrounding area. While I enjoy competitive racing, I really just hope that the RHOC leads to more people being active.
Unfortunately, the south does not have a good reputation for public health. I think that the RHOC could be the catalyst for Rock Hill becoming a really fit community. If the RHOC gets someone to pick up a bike, or even running shoes again, for the first time in many years, then that is a huge success. It would be great if the RHOC, the velodrome, and all the associated facilities leads to this community becoming more active, fit, and healthy. I think that could be the legacy of the RHOC that no developer can ever plan for.
Thanks to Reid for taking the time out for us to do another great feature for Ride Rock Hill. Best of luck to him on finishing his M.S. this summer!