Manuel Ferrara is a rider from Monterrey, México. He normally trains with me and my sisters in the Velodrome of Monterrey, I wanted to do an interview with him to share his story with all of you who are passionate about cycling but are not competitive riders. Arni (as we call him) rides in the Master Category and he was a multi-medalist in the Master Pan Am Champs this year.
How did you get into riding a bike?
I actually started riding some years back due to knee injuries, the doctors gave me an option between swimming and biking as rehab and, since I swim about as good as a heavy rock I decided to bike. At first it was just for my health, and then I found a local cycling group, the Biscauch, that took me in after one of my friends invited me to join them, this was still recreational even though I had to actually train to even do the Sunday rides with them and not get dropped! After some time I got the hang of it but never really saw myself as a competitor in this sport, mostly because of my build. I am 5’6” and weigh 165 pounds, mostly due to weightlifting, a bit too heavy for all the uphill’s you know.
What made you take up cycling as a competitive sport and not only as a hobby?
Your dad and coach Rolando Arreola actually did. He saw me sprint against one of the elite track riders during a Sunday ride and started sending me videos of track sprints… Chris Hoy, Theo Bos, you name it, big names that at the time meant nothing to me. Heck, I’d never even seen a track at that point, and this was only two and a half years ago…! I think it was mostly the adrenaline that lured me… that and the fact that my oldest daughter Karla is a competitive swimmer and the young one Sara started cycling. She had stopped Diving due to heel problems and one day Armando (Mandy) Menendez, her coach, and your dad insisted she had good potential for the track; this after looking at her once in street clothes at the bike shop and her never having ridden a bike! I believed them and convinced her to try track cycling and when she did I decided to try it myself. What the heck I figured we would both be new at it…
Tell me the challenges that you had to face to start racing.
Well, first of all, it was not easy to organize my time around work; I had to incorporate the specific leg training into my lifting routine twice a week which meant doing heavy squats at 5:30 in the morning if I wanted to do them at all. From there it was straight off to the Track and then shower and eat to be in the office at 9:30am. Second, I had to fend off old knee injuries to strengthen my legs and get into shape for the events I was aiming for. And then there was the bit about learning to ride a track bike… no brakes? No free wheel? Bankings, really?!? These were all new to me and all things I was advised not to start trying at my age… ha! Finally, the awkwardness of being the only one not under the age of 23 trying this sport, at least here in Monterrey. There was no Masters Track Category to go race in!
What was it like to compete with the elite riders in Mexico?
Intimidating, scary and exciting!!! Where is the Masters Track League when you need one?!?
My first challenge was to not looking foolish in a sport they’d all mastered already. I did not want to be the old man that comes in way behind the young bunch but receives pity applause just for trying; I wanted to be like them, and even be one of them one day. These kids have no fear and still think they are made of steel or rubber, I don’t know, but nothing can faze them! So for me a decision had to be made, it was either put my fears and worries aside, think like they do and get on the track… or stay home! So I took to the track. Fortunately I seemed to resemble the image of a sprinter, so that helped a little at first… until the first race! A flop, but at least I did not come in last, which was comforting and gave me the motivation to go on with the project. Of course I would never have dared to do so without the support and guidance of you dad and you girls. I put my trust in him as a coach and fully believed he would not ask me to do anything I was not ready to, I left my pride aside and put up with being dropped by your sisters (Sofia & Chely) and you at training and just worked at hanging in there. Of course I’ve made my share of rookie mistakes along the way as the pressure of the events still gets to me, and my abilities have yet to be polished up, but I am slowly getting better; your dad has been very patient with me.
All in all it’s been a great experience… you have all taken me under your wings, your dad, the other coaches and the elites have taught me a lot about training and racing and I now feel like a part of the track community, all though it still feels funny to be called Tío (uncle) by every racer out on the bike.
How do you handle cycling and working?
It’s tough at times; I have made an effort to organize work around training and training around the meetings, and so forth… to do this I have to start the day early and get it all in before I go to the office, so I am leaving the track when the Elites are only starting their morning practice. I make it into the gym by 5:30am so I can fit it all in, they lift in the afternoons. I have no time to rest, let alone sleep after heavy work outs or even eat at the right times, but I try and do my best and live with what I can manage. Fortunately I have had a lot of help and understanding at the company and they have tolerated and even supported my efforts with rescheduling meetings and things when necessary which has been a life saver for me since there is a lot of training that needs to be done and the track is not exactly around the corner.
What does your family think about you competing at the track?
Well, they worry for me since they have seen their share of bike crashes, they have seen me come back from the hospital after one of them and they know that it is all part of the sport and a risk that will not go away. But they understand of course since they are all athletes themselves; my wife was a European Champion in swimming, my oldest daughter will soon be going to Boston University on a Swimming scholarship and is a National Champion in her discipline and, my youngest daughter has made her mark in cycling by winning at Track Nationals in her age group as well. So it follows that they understand my need to be competitive and, even give me a hard time for being the only one in the family without a gold medal. Something I hope I can change in the upcoming seasons.
What are your plans for next season?
I will work to get stronger and faster, continue with the ongoing schedule we have laid out and either go to the Masters Pan Am Games in the fall or aim straight for the Masters World Championships in Manchester. It all depends on the number of team mates we manage to round up and the dates of the events. I will probably participate in some Elite Track cups during the spring and summer as well where I will try to better my times and the 8th and 10th places I have managed so far. A top 5 at the Elite Nationals would be sweet although it seems ambitious; hey, one has to have goals and dreams!
Do you have a favorite quote that you read or think about before racing?
I actually have many, I have always liked quotes as they provide good motivation, but my all-time favorite is still:
“Because talent alone won’t take you to the top and luck won’t last forever… perseverance is what winners are made of.”
Of course a new found one due to my present age and the contrast to those around me is this one:
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw
Can you give any tips to other people interested in cycling who don’t know how to combine it with their work?
I have found it to be true that in cycling the time you spend on the bike is directly proportional to the level you can acquire; so go out there and bike, have fun, figure out where you are at and what you want out of this sport and then do what it takes to get there. Whether it’s recreational, to get into shape and maintain health or to be competitive, the main thing is that you enjoy it, then, it will not be such a sacrifice to find the odd hours you need to fit your rides in, train and still make it to work on time.
Thank you very much for your time and for sharing part of your story with us, we will keep following your progress in cycling and wish you all the best!