Riding His Way to the Top
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.
Twenty-five-year-old Rahsaan Bahati is a rising star in the world of professional cycling. For the past seven years, he's been racing road bikes like the kind Lance Armstrong rides. Rahsaan has already won two of the most prestigious races in the U.S., and his dream is to compete in the world's most famous cyclist race - the Tour de France. Rahsaan says his love of the sport began when he was a teenager.
Mr. RAHSAAN BAHATI (Cyclist): I was going to Davis Middle School in Compton. I was seventh grade or eight grade, I don't really remember. But I do remember being in class and, you know, acting a fool a little bit, but it was - there's a story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" because I was getting into so much trouble, you know, week in and week out. The day that I really need to go to the rest room, the teacher didn't believe me. And I was hurting inside out, I was like, teach - Reggie Garner(ph) - he's the teacher. I said, teacher, I really need to go. Mr. Garner, please. And he didn't let me go.
So in my anger and frustration, I threw the eraser at him. And it hit him. And then the next day, he found out that I did it. And he told me a young lady ratted me out and I wish I knew who she was this day because she pretty much changed my life. It was because of her, he got me involved in cycling, you know. He said, you know, you need to choose something to do with your extra energy. He said you could choose biking or golf. And that's the time...
CHIDEYA: That's a really interesting reaction for someone you just hit in the head with an eraser.
Mr. BAHATI: He's a very good - he's a good man. He's a very good man. And to add to that story, his son was also a racer, African-American kid. So I tried it, and I didn't like it at first because it was part of, I guess, a punishment so I didn't look at it as it was fun. But my dad invested about $60 in me. He bought me a jersey and some shorts. When the program was over, I thought that was it for me. But when it came around the next year, my dad pretty much made me go back because he invested $60. And from that day on, I started to enjoy it.
CHIDEYA: So what kind of races do you do specifically?
Mr. BAHATI: I race road bikes, bicycles like Lance Armstrong race. And, basically, we do anywhere from 60 to 150 miles in a day.
CHIDEYA: So what do you feel when you start a race and what do you feel when someone is coming up behind you?
Mr. BAHATI: Well, most of the time if it's a big race, I don't sleep well. I have butterflies, I'm always visualizing the finish, what can go wrong. It may sound bad, but I actually do think about what if somebody crash in front of me, which way do I go, if I get a flat, what would I do, you know, things like that. And people behind me, I don't really worry about them because if they're behind me...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BAHATI: ...they're behind me.
CHIDEYA: I was reading one of your blogs. You have a couple of blogs. In 2006, at one point, you crashed. What happened then, and how did you feel about it?
Mr. BAHATI: Crashing is never fun. I mean, we're not protected by anything. We're wearing basically a spandex, you know, and going 30-plus miles an hour in the country is no fun at all. And sometimes you crash, it's your fault. Sometimes you crash, and it's not your fault, you know. And that's part of the sport. And I learned that a while a go that you can't really get down yourself from crashing because it's part of the sport, you know.
CHIDEYA: You write on your blog about Major Taylor(ph)...
Mr. BAHATI: Mm-hmm.
CHIDEYA: ...who's - I've read a little bit about his story before, but he's a real unsung hero.
Mr. BAHATI: Yeah, he is.
CHIDEYA: Tell us about him.
Mr. BAHATI: Well, back in the 1800s, there was a guy. His birth name was Marshall Taylor. And they named him - his nickname - Major Taylor because he was just bad(ph) good.
CHIDEYA: And this is in the early 1900s.
Mr. BAHATI: Late 1800s to the early 1900s. So in the early 1900s, he started to race. And he became like three or four-time world champion. He set tons of records - one mile, two mile, three-mile records. But he was forced to leave America because of discrimination. And he raced a lot in England, in France. And they loved him over there. And he became a superstar.
He means a lot to me and I look to him when I'm struggling a lot, you know. I go through some discrimination now, today, racing, and I always think about him, you know. He did a race. A guy intentionally knocked him over. He got back on his bike. He did - he finished the race, and he went back over and he shook the hand of the guy who knocked him over.
Mr. BAHATI: I always remember that story and I always think about that because to do that, I mean, that takes a real man, you know. I just went through something very similar in Wisconsin, you know.
CHIDEYA: Someone ran you off the track...
Mr. BAHATI: He didn't run me off to - but - off the road. He used some very racist terms as I was racing. And I could easily retaliate it by being physical with him, but I didn't. I took the higher road. And I feel good about it, you know, and I thought about Major Taylor when I did that.
CHIDEYA: Yeah. Yeah. What else has cycling thought you - about yourself, about the world?
Mr. BAHATI: Well, about myself, I've learned that you can always go harder. You should never quit. I've been in tons of races where I wanted to quit and give up, but I just learned to never quit. And my dad always used cycling and school, hand in hand, you know?
When I was messing up in school, he says, you know, you're not going to succeed in this if you don't succeed in that. Just the way you go out and train in bike racing, you have to apply that to your education. I've started to use that a lot in my marriage and with my kids. Just rolling it over because it's the same principles, you know, all the way across the board.
CHIDEYA: How long can you expect a career like yours to last? And what are you looking ahead to years down the road?
Mr. BAHATI: Typically, in cycling, you can race at a high level to maybe 35, 36 years old and then your body kind of starts to set down a little bit. That's not my goal. I want to make it to the Tour de France in the next couple of years. I'll be 27. Maybe do that for a few more years, and I would love to retire, you know, from cycling at around 30, 31 years old, you know, and spend more time at home. I've been doing this since I was 13 years old, and it's been nonstop.
I love this sport, and, like I said, I just - I see myself retiring early and doing something to help people who look like me out at the Lombard Park or whatever inner city to get into the sport because even if you don't want to compete, it's really fun. It's good for you, you know. And I think it helps you as a person to just get out and be free on a bike.
CHIDEYA: Doping - many, many more instances of people who've been winning major races getting basically caught...
Mr. BAHATI: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: ...after the races. Is it a good thing that this is exposed?
Mr. BAHATI: Oh, it is a good thing that it's exposed. But the one thing I don't like about is how the media really bashes it. In every other sport, guys get caught doping - baseball, football and they really don't make that big of a deal out of it, you know?
When Mark McGwire was busted for steroids, they kind of swept it under the rug. They brought it to our attention but they didn't really bash it like they did with Floyd Landis when he won the Tour or like they're doing the guy, Rasmussen, the Danish guy who was in the lead at the Tour and had to abandon.
I just think that cycling gets a really, really bad name from doping scandals. And I think all the way across the board there's guys that are doping in every sport, but for some reason, we're getting the bad end of the stick. And I don't agree to doping at all.
CHIDEYA: Have you ever thought about it?
Mr. BAHATI: Not in the fact that I was looking for a doctor or anything like that. I think when you're losing a race and this same guy is beating you day in and day out, you're wondering, wow, what is he taking, maybe I need to get some of that, and I say that a lot jokingly.
But to me, it's not worth it. I have too much to lose, you know. I mean, look at what they're doing to Barry Bonds, and he's big time. I'm just a small fish so I think if I was to get that on me, it wouldn't be good for my career. Like I said, I want to retire at 30. That would really put a damper to the future, you know. If I wanted to be into cycling doing something else, I think that would really set me back and people will hold that against me. I'm doing fine without it. I've been winning without it for the last 10 years, you know, so.
CHIDEYA: Well, Rahsaan, we wish you the best in all your further adventures.
Mr. BAHATI: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
CHIDEYA: Rahsaan Bahati is a professional cyclist. He's on the cover of this month's Road magazine. You can watch a video of his recent win at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix at our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org.
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