Monday, November 27, 2006

FLC grad builds career as PGA caddy

Imagine "Caddyshack," Bill Murray and Fort Lewis College combined and you're part of the dream that Brendan Vahey is living.

Vahey, 25, who graduated FLC with a degree in Exercise Science in 2005, is a PGA Tour caddy for Jay Delsing.

Vahey started caddying at age 13 before he was even 5 feet tall. He began carrying one bag at Boone Valley Country Club in Augusta, Missouri. For 18 holes and four hours of work, Vahey was excited to bring home $14, plus tips.

After he grew a couple of inches, Vahey was ready for doubles (two bags and twice the money).
Before he got serious about caddying, Vahey was involved in his share of hi-jinks.

"We just thrashed the golf carts," Vahey said. "One of the guys in the cart barn made a trail in the woods, and we'd race those carts laughing our heads off."

The work was fun, but it could be difficult. Hackers were tough because they didn't hit the ball very far, and it was impossible to forecaddie (scout in front of the golfer and follow his ball).

Weather could be problematic and Vahey struggled while carrying monster bags, keeping umbrellas perched above golfer's heads and trying to keep the duffers' clubs clean. Sometimes, Vahey's frustration resulted in a kicked ball that kept things moving along a little faster and saved a stroke.

Vahey's fellow caddies bet on everything under the sun, and tickled each other with fuzzy golf head covers.

"We just giggled. It was hard to keep a straight face," he said.

Vahey's social skills were also a little lacking.

"We were supposed to speak only when spoken to, but I just wouldn't shut up."

After caddying at the Nike Tour for two years and the U.S. Open Sectionals at Boone Valley, Vahey started thinking about the PGA Tour. By chance, during a break from Fort Lewis College, Vahey met Delsing in 2003 at Boone Valley.

Delsing mentored Vahey, and showed him a few ropes.

"I realized that caddying on the PGA Tour was entrepreneurial, and I did some more research after graduating from FLC," Vahey said.

Traveling back and forth between St. Louis and Durango, Vahey finally hit the tour full-time in 2006. Delsing presented Vahey with a nice year-end bonus, and a handshake between the two served as an invitation for 2007.

Working the tour has been challenging and exciting for Vahey. During six months of travel and while logging 20,000 miles in his automobile, Vahey has seen a lot.

"Caddying can be cutthroat for the newer guys like me."

Vahey has also brushed elbows with greatness.

"Tiger Woods has an aura about him, and all of the other golfers defer to him," Vahey explained. "The other pros can be cocky when Tiger's not around, but when he shows up, everybody just puts their tails between their legs."

And where will Vahey be next month and next year? He's working on the side as a manufacturer's sales rep for Tom Wishon Golf Technology, a local company, The Drip and Health FX.

"I have so many different chapters I want to write, but right now I'm just focused on giving all of my energy to Jay and helping him win."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Squawker crowns two locals

At Saturday's Squawker Cross Classic up at Fort Lewis College, Todd Wells fell while running up the amphitheater steps and broke his chain ring guard.

Sarah Tescher took a fall at the start of the first lap of the Elite Women race.

Joe Burtoni fell, peeled his tire off, snapped his handlebars and suffered some road rash.

But after all of the mangled bicycles, carnage and wounded egos, local riders Matt Shriver and Sabina Kraushaar emerged as Colorado state champions.

The race was a criterium-style event on a course set up using rebar, plastic safety sleeves and miles of white ribbon throughout the FLC campus.

Shriver had a good start on his race, but quickly ran into trouble on the run-up near the beer tent.

"That off-camber side hill was the toughest part of the race," he said. "I was just trying to be smooth and not make too many mistakes."

After the first few laps, the elite men's event turned into a four-man race between Shriver, brothers Todd and Troy Wells and Joey Thompson.

The lead switched several times, but after Todd changed bikes in the pit area, Shriver pulled ahead for good.

On the elite women's side, Kraushaar held off Shannon Gibson.

Kraushaar, 18, an FLC freshman, was competing in only her second cross race.

"Before we started the race, I was just kind of hoping that I wouldn't get lapped," Kraushaar said. "This race was a lot of fun, and I'll probably do more of them."

Gibson, 40, splits her time between El Paso and Durango while toiling as a professional mountain biker/rolfer/massage therapist.

"A lot of these girls are in great shape after just coming off of nationals, but this sport is about endurance and that gives older women more of a chance," Gibson said. "This was my first cross race, but I've been sitting around and getting fat and lazy since the end of mountain biking season."

Todd Wells, last year's cyclocross national champion, finished second to Shriver, just seconds back.

"I was chasing hard, but there just wasn't enough time to catch Matt," he said. "This race was super fun, and the crowds were great."

After all of his racing travels this year, the older Wells brother was happy to have such a high-caliber race in his hometown.

"It was nice to sleep in my own bed," he said

Younger brother Troy - who was the U23 national champion last year - finished third.

"I was going the whole race pushing my VO2 maximum, but it was a little easier with all of the people cheering," he said. "I'll be heading to Nationals in Providence in a few weeks, and I hope I can do well there. But I've still got a lot of work to do."

Todd Wells will also race at the National Championship, while Shriver will finish his cross season with races next weekend in Portland and Seattle.

Rick Crawford, the FLC cycling coach, was pleased to host the first state cross championship in Durango.

"We've got some of the best cross racers in the world living here," he said. "I hope we can get this race here again next year."

Ned Overend, Steve Owens, Chad Cheeney and countless others had their share of falls and horror stories on the course.

"The start of these things is pretty hectic," Overend said. "Power and accelerating are my weakness, so these kind of races are good for me to work on that."

Jeremiah Bouchard, an FLC student, was participating in his first cross race. There were a lot of first timers, but none as courageous as Bouchard. He has one leg amputated at the ankle.

Despite his disability, Bouchard races on the cycling team and hopes to give skiing a try this winter as well.

Jade Goh, 24, raced in the Women's B event. After a birthday four days ago, Goh wanted to try something different and give herself a present.

"I came in last place, but my goal was just to finish so I'm happy," she said.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

FLC cyclist collects national titles

Alex Hagman, 22, a Fort Lewis College exercise science major, now has a sombrero of national champion jerseys.

Adorned with an American flag, stars on the shoulders and horizontal stripes on the torso and a collegiate national emblem, the jerseys are works of art - and prized possessions in the cycling world.

It has been a bit of a dream come true for this quiet, humble, young man from Aspen.

Last summer, Hagman ventured to cycling's blue collar towns in England and Italy. Riding for the Ag-isko/Dart/-CyclingTV Pro Continental Cycling Team, Hagman shared a small apartment with other FLC students in Sansepolcro, Italy.

Besides racing and shuttling back and forth between Tuscany and the Motherland, Hagman picked up an Espresso habit.

"Italy has the best Espresso and now that I'm back in the United States, I'm not drinking them as often," Hagman said.

Having said that, Hagman still sipped on an espresso at the Steaming Bean.

Hagman will graduate this December and he expects to sign a professional contract with a road bike team around that time.

Even though Hagman's roots are in mountain biking, Hagman thinks that his chances of a lasting professional career are better as a road cyclist.

"I was hoping to stay in Durango next summer but there is a good chance that I'll have to move back East in order to fulfill my obligations," Hagman said.

Besides schoolwork, training and racing, Hagman is also keeping busy with an internship at the Durango Community Recreation Center.

"I'm learning the administration side and getting an overall feel of how everything runs," Hagman said. "I'm working with Rick Callies, and we look at safety and how everybody works together."

Hagman is also working on a sports administration option at Fort Lewis College.

Of the four national championship jerseys, Hagman is most proud of the team title that FLC won.

"Everybody was clicking really well, and no one dropped the ball," Hagman said. "In the past four years, we have won team national championships three times."

Besides concentrating on his cycling speed, Hagman is focusing on keeping a level head.

"I might be a little faster than some other riders but I'm not a better person than anybody else," Hagman said.

"If you're racing bikes, it's important to have fun, not get an inflated head and be happy and gracious that you can ride your bike so well."

It's been a long season for Hagman that started last spring and for now, he's content to sip coffee, focus on his studies and mellow out a little bit

Now, what to do with four jerseys, since you can only wear one at a time?

"I had all the members of the FLC cycling team sign one of them and I'm thinking about giving one to my parents and maybe another to one of my sponsors."

For more information, photos and race schedules see