Port High sophomore Calhan Norman credits his national ranking in bicycle racing to a strategy of going all-out, especially down hills and sometimes into the air
Port Washington High School sophomore Calhan Norman keeps the kind of manic schedule that would make most people tired just thinking about.
He swims the individual medley and backstroke for the Port Pirates swim team, and also runs cross country for his school in fall and track in spring.
In his spare time, Calhan is a nationally ranked bike rider in cyclocross, riding in the juniors division for the Thiensville-based Team Extreme. He is also ranked in mountain bike racing.
“I consider myself a biker who happens to swim and run,” the slightly built Calhan said when asked about what priorities he sets in his life.
Cyclocross is sort of a cross between mountain biking and motocross, although totally reliant on pedal power.
Races are time-based rather than a set distance, with the winner being the rider who covers the longest distance on a grueling course over a given period of time. The typical cyclocross race is 30 minutes.
The bikes used look more like conventional road bikes than mountain bikes, but are modified for off-road racing with thinner knobby tires to maneuver over courses that can include grass, dirt and hills.
They also tend to be light, because bikes often have to be carried over obstacles.
Like high-end racing bikes, the best cyclocross bikes are made of light-weight material like carbon fiber and can cost $4,000 or more.
After starting his racing career on a heavy mountain bike, Calhan now rides a second-hand cyclocross bike that was purchased from a former national champion for $1,200.
He said he always has his eye out for new and better equipment.
Growing up in an athletic family, Calhan first became interested in cyclocross in 2010, after watching his uncle Mike compete in a local race.
The youngster was quickly hooked on the thrill of competition and pushing himself. The more races Calhan took part in, the more confident he became.
Earlier in the month, the entire Norman family — parents John and Michele, and brothers Rowan, 20, and Egan, 18 — spent winter break at the weeklong USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships in Asheville, N.C.
“It was kind of a last-minute thing. We were actually planning on going somewhere else, but we decided to go to nationals and it turned out to be really neat,” Calhan’s father John said.
The juniors race attracted more than 80 riders from all over the country. After starting at the back of the pack, Calhan said he had a hard time working his way through such a crowded field.
“I was not used to riding in such a big group. It was a real crazy 30 minutes,” Calhan said. “It was amazing to see how good some of those riders were.”
While he didn’t win at nationals, Calhan has tasted his share of success, winning the state championships for his age group two years ago and finishing second last year.
Although Calhan said he doesn’t really care about such things, his proud parents keep a close eye on where their youngest son is in the national rankings.
Calhan said he hasn’t developed a real race strategy or formula for victory.
“I just go out as fast as I can. My favorite part of racing is going as fast as I can down hills,” he said.
Instincts take over when Calhan is in the middle of a race, something that no amount of anticipation can fully replace.
“There are times when I am racing downhill and get airborne. I don’t think about what I am going to do next until I’m in mid-air,” Calhan said.
He said his tackle-whatever-happens approach to racing has worked pretty well.
“I ride as hard as I can. Sometimes someone ends up riding harder than I do, but it has worked about 90% of the time,” Calhan said.
Although he is an accomplished mountain bike rider, he said he prefers cyclocross.
“I like the scenery you see while mountain biking, but I like how you have to be fully alert for every moment you are riding in cyclocross,” Calhan said.
Although races can be grueling, he said he makes no particular effort to toughen his body for the challenges of the sport.
“I don’t think there’s been a day where I can say I actually trained on a bike. I just go out and ride,” Calhan said.
When biting cold makes outdoor riding impossible during the long Wisconsin winters, he grudgingly resorts to mounting his bike on a stationary trainer.
“I hate the trainer,” Calhan said.
Although he has done well in state and national races, Calhan said he gets no star treatment from his classmates.
“I’ve always had a reputation for being a bit weird and I guess this just fits in with that,” the youngster said.
Calhan said he realizes living a driven life doesn’t come easily. It can take its toll, even on a young body.
“I feel like I get a five-minute break for every five hours of work I put in,” Calhan said while eyeing the couch for a late-afternoon nap.
Photo Credit: Port Washington High School sophomore Calhan Norman is proving to be a determined competitor in the grueling sport of cyclocross racing.
Photo by Sam Arendt