Tour de K-State
McLouth graduate competing at Kansas State on cycling team
Cycling often is a sport that goes unrecognized.
But for Mark Smelser, it was a sport that called his name. What once started as a recreational activity is now a competitive sport for the 20-year-old McLouth native.
As a high school student, Smelser competed in cross-country and credits his knowledge of teamwork to his time spent there. Smelser's father, Allen, purchased a bike for him in high school. It wasn't long before cycling became a hobby.
In his first competition, Smelser and his father attended the Sunflower State Games. Smelser had competed in the mountain bike competition and walked away with a second-place medal.
"It was so much fun, I was just hooked after that," Smelser said.
It was after his start at Kansas State that Smelser really got involved in the sport of cycling. At the annual activity fair, Smelser actively sought the cycling club, knowing it existed after seeing a K-State jersey on a competitor.
The Kansas State Cycling Club, after several years of absence, was reintroduced in Manhattan in the spring semester of 2001. In addition, the club is a member of the North Central Collegiate Cycling Conference, which is part of the National Collegiate Cycling Association. The club has approximately 70 riders -- 14 of those, including Smelser, race on a regular basis.
Smelser really started racing in the spring semester of his freshman year. He now has been involved and racing as a Wildcat for 2 1/2 years. To Smelser, being on the cycling team has taught him much, including that cycling is more than agility.
"The team has taught me a lot," Smelser said. "They have knocked me back in line when I was doing stupid stuff.
"There is a lot of strategy involved, you have to be able to outthink others. The pack is always stronger than the individual."
For the team there are three main types of racing: mountain, road and cyclo-cross which involve many laps around a short, rugged course. Though Smelser mainly competes in road races, his favorite is mountain.
"Mountain racing is a lot harder, but it is also a lot more fun," Smelser said.
There are four or five collegiate races throughout the year in each type of racing.
Not only does Smelser compete in collegiate races, and local races such as the Spring Fling series at Clinton Lake, but has gone to many out-of-state races.
Smelser has traveled to local states such as Oklahoma and Nebraska, but also has traveled to New Mexico and Minnesota.
Smelser has represented the K-State Cycling Club well, participating in many collegiate races, including National races. Smelser said his biggest accomplishment took place at the Conference Championship when he participated in the men's criterium.
The race consisted of riding around a mile loop for an hour. When the hour was finished, an additional three laps led to the conclusion of the race. Thinking he was in third place, Smelser was surprised to ride away with a first place victory.
Cycling not only requires money, but also plenty of time. Time and money aside, Smelser said the toughest thing about cycling is training.
"It can get really expensive, you can have a different bike for each type of racing," Smelser said. "If you want to be good and achieve what you can, you have to put in the hours."
Even during the summer months Smelser continues to train and compete in cycling competitions. He continues to compete in short races at Haskell University in Lawrence and trains on his favorite trails at Lake Perry.
"I work and then I go home, jump on the bike, and won't get back home until after dark," Smelser said.
Smelser puts much time into training, but he gives most credit to a higher being.
"All of this would not have been possible without God's help," Smelser said. "I give God all the credit. He has given me all the gifts."
With school around the corner, Smelser looks forward to going back to Manhattan and continuing his participation on the K-State cycling team.
He'll continue to compete this fall for the Wildcats and prepare for the Collegiate Mountain Nationals, which will take place in October in Seven Springs, Penn.