Monthly Archives: May 2020

Mind Over Matter

Sports

Photos courtesy of Megan Buning, Augusta University and the University of South Carolina

A university associate professor and former softball star conducts research to help sports officials up their mental games.

You remember collegiate athletics, right? Those games that thousands of young men and women played – with the support of their fans – on campuses across the nation before their seasons were shut down amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus?

Well, we know college sports will be back. And when that time comes, thanks to the research efforts of a former softball pitcher and current Augusta University associate professor, athletics (and fandom) have the potential to be better than ever.

From Field to Classroom
During her college and professional softball career, right-handed pitcher Megan Buning exceled on the mound. However, she was always just as dialed in to what goes on in the mind during competition.

It wasn’t only the mental game of the players that piqued her interest, though. After all, they share space with other people on the field – namely game officials. Now, with her softball career behind her, her new profession has given her a way to stay involved in the game and to explore the psyche of the rules enforcers in sports.

Buning, an AU associate professor of educational research, is finishing a year-long study of the mental performance of umpires and sports officials. She works primarily with softball umpires to improve their skills, but she also has worked with officials in other sports such as baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer.

With her background as an All-American pitcher for the University of South Carolina, along with coaching stints at Florida State University and the University of Mississippi, she developed the ability to relate to sports officials.

“I can speak their language, and I understand the game,” says Buning, who lives in Evans. “Within athletics, it’s like a fraternity or sorority. There’s definitely a culture and a way of doing things. I enjoy it because I understand it from the inside.”

During her seven years as a Division I softball coach, the diehard Gamecock, who earned a bachelor of science in exercise science from USC in 2002, continued her own education. She earned a master’s degree in sports psychology at Florida State and a doctorate in higher education at Ole Miss.

She had intended to use her doctorate as a springboard to a career in athletic administration. However, her dissertation advisor told her she should consider a faculty position.

“It had never crossed my mind, and then this position came open. As soon as I got off the plane, I thought, ‘This feels like home,’” says Buning, a Greer, South Carolina native.

She joined the AU staff in 2014, teaching quantitative and qualitative research courses to graduate education students. During her second year at AU, Buning, who earned tenure last year, started letting herself teach like she had coached.

Immersed in the sports psychology world since 2006, she began translating these techniques to her education students to help them develop mental performance strategies and deal with anxiety.

“I teach all graduate students in the college of education,” says Buning. “Not many of them have a sports background, but I wanted to combine what we do in the classroom with what we do in the field.”

Commitment to Change
Softball tugged at her again, however, and Buning soon found herself back in the sport with the launch of the SEC Network. In the spring of 2015, she became a color analyst for South Carolina home softball game broadcasts on the SEC Network+ digital platform. Working in the booth, Buning, who also is an analyst for Clemson University softball games on the ACC digital network, realized that softball umpires were unprepared for the intense scrutiny that comes with increased television exposure.

“TV coverage was beating softball umpires down. Other officials have been on TV a long time,” says Buning. “It hit collegiate softball all of a sudden. It went from having 10 games a year on TV to having all of them televised. It happened so fast.”

She also found that her grasp of the rules wasn’t what she thought it was. “I think I know the rules, but they change a lot,” says Buning. “I ask the umpires about their perceptions.”

She started connecting with umpire coordinators, who assign umpires to games, and

asked if the officials receive mental training to perform their jobs like athletes and coaches do. When she discovered they did not, she decided to turn this training deficiency into a research endeavor that combined her passions.

“I wanted to do research that’s applied and can be beneficial and meaningful to others quickly,” says Buning.

In March of 2017, she started offering workshops, training camps and instructional rounds to sports officials to help them improve their mental performance through sports psychology techniques.

“Umpires have to be unbiased. They have to know the rules and mechanics inside and out. They have to make the right call because they can change the outcome of a game,” says Buning. “Coaches have to rely on kids to keep their jobs, and athletes have to learn how to perform and execute at a high level and win games.”

She works with two to five umpires at a time in the instructional rounds, and all of them must umpire at the collegiate level. In addition, the umpires must agree on the mental performance issue they want to address. These issues can include emotional control, refocusing after a controversial call or play, maintaining focus when they’re tired from calling multiple back-to-back games, communication, self-doubt and fear of failure.

“They’re hungry for this,” Buning says.

Once they identify their focus area, the umpires come up with observable, nonjudgmental, evaluative evidence that illustrates if they’re struggling or doing well. “It’s like a court of law,” says Buning. “What are the facts?”

In the observational phase, everyone in the group watches videos or game clips of each other’s performances and takes notes. Then they come together in a virtual meeting, and Buning gives them strategies to improve their mental performance.

“I just facilitate. It needs to be led by them,” Buning says. “But they have to make a commitment to change.”

For Love of the Game
For her research, she worked with about 50 umpires in instructional rounds and more than 150 through workshops.

“Working with umpires and getting to know them has made me a better announcer,” says Buning. “It has also changed my view of the game and given me a deeper understanding of the entire game itself.”

She believes that working with sports officials has made her a better professor as well. “It’s not just lecture. It’s about integrating,” she says.

She hopes her work, which largely was complete by the time the coronavirus pandemic struck, will be published within the next year. However, she says she needs to expand and collect data from other types of game officials as well.

Buning also would like for sports fans to appreciate the thankless jobs of game officials.

“When fans are watching games, I would encourage them to take a step back and just remember that a lot of sacrifices and training go into what umpires are doing. They are private contractors that have other fulltime jobs. They take time off from work to travel to games. They do it because they love it, but umpires get mentally drained and beat up,” Buning says.

“Just because they’re being televised doesn’t mean they’re public figures. The institutions make the choice to put the games on TV. Just take a break and pause before you have an extreme reaction to what you’re seeing on the field.”

Her research already is having a positive reaction on sports leagues. Last fall the Peach Belt Conference announced that it would call on Buning to provide mental performance training to its referees and officials. She wants to continue her work with game officials as long as there’s a need.

“They’re not making a whole lot of money,” she says. “They’re out there because they love the game and love to be a part of it in that way.”

By Todd Beck

Photos courtesy of Megan Buning, Augusta University and the University of South Carolin

Barbecue Slaw Sandwiches

Entrees
  • 1 (5-pound) bone-in Boston butt (pork shoulder)
  • 1/2 cup barbecue dry rub (recipe follows)
  • Hamburger buns
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Chopped cabbage or coleslaw
  • Pickles (optional)

Dry rub (makes about 1 cup):

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika (Don’t use smoked or hot)
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground mustard
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Spread rub over pork, coating liberally (do not remove fat). Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Set grill up for indirect cooking (heat one side on high and leave other side turned off). Unwrap meat and place on unheated grill side, fat cap up. Adjust temperature as needed on the heated side to get a steady 250 degrees. Grill at 250 degrees about 11 hours or until thermometer inserted into middle is 195-200 degrees. Remove from grill and set in a pan; cover with foil and let rest 15-30 minutes. Hand shred with forks or pulling claws. Serve on buns with barbecue sauce, cabbage or coleslaw and pickle slices. Makes 16-20 servings.

Respite from the Fast Lane

In The Home

Photography by Sally Kolar

A couple that has plenty of get up and go can put on the brakes at their Clarks Hill Lake home when they’re ready for some down time

For two people who live life to the max, empty nesters Christine and Chris Walker took a minimalist approach when they downsized to a two-bedroom home on Clarks Hill Lake two years ago.

The exterior of the contemporary house is made of stucco, hardy board and 1-inch-thick cultured stone cut into 12-inch-by-24-inch pieces. Inside, the clean lines and open spaces offer the perfect backdrop to showcase the Walkers’ collections of art, sports memorabilia and automobiles.

“We have a fast life with the business we have,” says Chris, who owns Southeast Utilities of Georgia and also builds custom Ford F650 super trucks. “When we’re not working, we can spend time at the house for quiet and solitude. The lake is our passion. It’s our release.”

Sporting Life
The Walkers, who used to spend almost every weekend at Clarks Hill, knew they wanted to build a house on the lake. When they first saw the property they now call home, however, they didn’t like it. “The lot was completely wooded,” says Christine. “You couldn’t even see the water.”

After a second look, however, they reconsidered. Now the footprint of the house occupies space that once was filled with giant boulders, and the front door marks the spot where a giant white oak tree stood.

“Everybody in the family helped prep the land for the house,” says Chris. “After the land was prepped and organized, then we built the house. It made the placement of the house easier. I oversaw or built everything.”

It took the Walkers about a year to build the house, and they moved into the Appling home two years ago. They also took a collaborative, but unorthodox, approach to the design of the house.

“We designed the garage, and then we designed the house around it,” says Chris. “I designed and engineered the house, and Christine was in charge of the interior design.”

A garage-first approach might be unconventional for most people, but not for the Walkers. Chris raced formula cars in the 1980s, and the custom truck builder also collects vehicles, which he houses in the 4,000-square-foot garage.

His collection includes a special edition, handmade Rolls Royce, which has a special sound system for opera and classical music with copper speakers and coils; a handmade, all carbon fiber 2019 McLaren 720s; a 1958 Jeep pickup, which was fully restored for Jay Leno’s garage; and a 110-year anniversary 2019 Morgan three-wheeler. He also has a fully electric, carbon fiber Lito Sora fighter bike – the motorcycle that Daniel Dae Kim’s character, Chin Ho Kelly, rode in “Hawaii Five-O.”

Chris collects professional sports memorabilia as well, and the garage is full of jerseys from pro athletes. “I’ve been collecting jerseys half my life,” says Chris. “I built trucks for a lot of these guys.”

He has signed jerseys from super truck customers including NFL stars Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, Plaxico Burress and Irving Fryar and NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. His collection also includes jerseys worn by professional athletes such as Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Joe Montana, Larry Bird and Greg Maddox.

Another sports memorabilia display in the garage features a collection of frames that each hold a photo of a Masters Tournament winner, his autograph and a badge from the year he won.

Other wall displays include boating memorabilia – Chris races boats now, with Christine at his side as his navigator. He stores his 45-foot and 47-foot race boats in Lincolnton, but the Walkers, who love to travel, keep their 26-foot Chris-Craft Catalina at their Chigoe Creek dock. The dock bears the name “Walker’s Cay,” which they fittingly call their lake retreat after the northernmost island in the Bahamas.

During the winter, they go out on the lake about twice a month. The rest of the year, they’re on the lake four times a week.

“There’s a little island where we like to go to meet friends,” says Christine. “When we’re at home, we’re usually on the lake.”

Designed to Entertain
Even though the house only has two bedrooms, it was designed for sleepovers and entertainment. The house features four-and-a-half baths (including a full bath outside), and all of the couches turn into beds so friends and family who come over to play are welcome to spend the night.

Frequent guests include their children, Savannah Walker and Cameron Morbey, who live in the area. Their other two children – son Christopher, his wife, Alejandra, and their son, Eliah, who live in Florida, and daughter Whitney Weathers, her husband, Jim, and their daughter, Sadie Jane, who live in North Carolina – visit as well.

Just inside the front door, a floating staircase leads up to the entertainment room – a favorite hangout for the Walkers when they’re not traveling or on the lake. To build the staircase, they put that giant white oak tree from their property to good use. Chris had it milled, and he used the wood to make the 18 steps and the railing for the staircase.

“I would say what I wanted, and he made it,” Christine says. “He’s detail-oriented and romantic. And he listens.”

The entertainment room features a black bamboo floor, which is made up of planks that are 4.5 inches wide. “I like the sexiness of black hardwoods,” says Christine.

The room also features black trim work, teal walls and exposed A/C and heat duct. “It’s the one room that pops out from the rest of the house,” Chris says.

Railed openings on one wall overlook the living room on the first floor, and big picture windows on the opposite wall offer a view of the lake. Furnishings include white couches and a stamped aluminum coffee table. A chalkboard barn door opens to a full bath, which includes a vessel sink and a shower.

For fun and games, the room includes a pool table, a poker table, a dart board and a flat-screen TV. The entertainment room is full of more sports memorabilia as well. Chris’ collection, which he has amassed in 30-plus years, includes a pair of boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali; a half-dozen coins used for the opening coin flip in various Super Bowls; countless autographed NFL helmets signed by the entire teams (including a Patriots helmet from Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl); and an autographed football from the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins’ perfect season.

He also has a baseball from the 100-year anniversary of the World Series, which was signed by all of the living World Series MVPs; a case full of Hall of Fame bats; and a 1997 World Series trophy that belonged to Florida Marlins closer Robb Nen. “I taught him how to fish,” Chris says.

He loves all professional sports teams, but the south Florida native is partial to the Dolphins and the Marlins. Since moving to Georgia in 1996 (Chris was sold on Columbia County after a convenience store clerk told him “around here, you get your gas first and then pay for it”) he also has become a fan of the Falcons and the Braves.

The entertainment room leads to an open-air porch, where Christine and her girlfriends like to sit during “game night” at the Walker house. The porch features a fire pit surrounded by four square stools and an outdoor kitchen with a teppanyaki grill. A spiral staircase connects it to another porch below.

Spacious & Sleek
A vaulted ceiling brings a feeling of spaciousness to the living room, where big picture windows overlook the landscaping in the front yard. “We don’t like curtains and doors,” says Christine.

However, the doors they have were made in Italy with solid wood, and they’re lined with aluminum strips. A two-sided, vented, propane-burning, slate fireplace separates the family room and the kitchen.

Chris made the open shelves in the kitchen from the oak tree they had milled and mounted them with industrial plumbing pipes that he painted black. The oak ceiling was made from the tree as well.

In addition, the kitchen features deep drawers and cabinetry with no hardware, a farmhouse sink, stainless steel appliances, a walk-in pantry with a pocket door and a chandelier, and countertops of vein-free, manmade material. A clear vase, which holds oil-based, floral décor, sits on the adjoining dining area table.

The master bedroom also features a vented, propane-burning, slate fireplace as well as a mirrored wall, a walk-in closet with an island in the middle and a “futuristic, crazy” chandelier.

“Every room has a chandelier, but that’s the only light fixture in the whole house that Chris picked out,” says Christine. “In the rest of the house, we have frou-frou chandeliers.”

Two oversized Oriental porcelain vases, which had belonged to Christine’s mother, stand in the corners on one side of the room. Doors lead out to a balcony on the other side.

The adjoining master bath has tile flooring, a stand-alone tub, a walk-through tile shower, two trough sinks and a separate water closet.

The antiques that Christine once favored have been replaced with sleek, modern furnishings, and artwork has a constant presence throughout the house as well. “Art can be passed down for many generations,” Christine says.

An oil painting, which they watched the artist finish on a river in Bangkok, hangs on one wall in the living room, and a hand drawing by Picasso hangs on another wall. A print called “Vintage” by Erté, a Russian-born 20th-century French artist and designer, hangs in the kitchen.

Tucked under the floating staircase, a hand-cut bronze sculpture, “Callisto” by Michael James Talbot, sits on a granite base. An abstract oil on canvas triptych lines the wall by the staircase.

They got a wood carving on the back porch in the mountains of Taipei, Taiwan when they took Christine’s mother there. “He is carved out of a tree root,” says Christine. “He has to be by a door because he wards off any bad spirits and brings in health and happiness.”

In a back hallway, the Walkers grouped 25 of their favorite black-and-white family photos in black frames with white mats. Even the laundry room is a gallery, where two pictures that Chris had done for his wife for Christmas one year, hang on a wall. To honor her penchant for footwear, one of the pictures is an oil painting of a shoe and the other features hundreds of shoes hand-etched with Xs and Os in copper.

While artwork is a necessity in the home, the couple took the opportunity to shed anything they no longer needed when they moved into their lake house. And that minimalist attitude hasn’t changed.

“If we don’t use it, we don’t keep it,” says Christine. “Except for clothes, shoes and pocketbooks. You can’t have too many of those.”

By Betsy Gilliland

Get the Picture

People

A former photojournalist, who now works in the corporate world, is having his first show since his recent return to photography.

For some people, the commute to and from work is a daily grind to be completed as quickly as possible. Then there is photographer Patrick Krohn. He manages to turn his 5-mile commute into a 30-minute trek every morning and afternoon.

“My commute takes longer because I stop and take pictures all the time,” he says. “I’m always looking around and seeing how I could make a photo from a scene.”

Krohn, who spent more than 10 years as a photojournalist and now works as a price analyst in the corporate world, recently returned to his first love of photography after almost 15 years. He primarily photographs landscapes and nature.

“It’s easier to do on my schedule,” he says. “The landscape is always there. It’s on its own time. It doesn’t require planning.”

Krohn will share his work with a photographic show, “Some Eclectic Musings of a One-Eyed Dog,” at 4P Studios in Martinez from March 31 – May 2. The photographs will include landscapes that he passes going to and from work each day as well as scenes from recent trips to the Pacific Northwest and to the Lake District in England. All his original works will be available for purchase.

With his journalistic background, Krohn takes a documentary approach to his photography. Resisting preconceived notions before he ventures out into the world with his camera, he just gets excited about photographing what is presented in front of him.

“I’m not changing anything around me,” Krohn says. “I find things and explore them as I would as a journalist. I find nature as it is and see it the way it is. I enjoy discovering something and then composing it in a nice way. I have always been fairly creative, but photography just clicked with me. I enjoy the creativity of being out and about – even in the pouring rain.”

Carolina Bay Nature Preserve in Aiken is one of his favorite places to take photographs. Unlike typical bays, Carolina Bays are oval or roughly circular depressions that are common in the lower elevations of the Carolinas. They tend to collect water and often develop communities of plants and animals that are unusual in the surrounding area.

“There are no vistas in this area, but there’s a lot of great nature if you just look at it,” Krohn says. “There’s nature all around us. I keep going back to the same places at different times of the day.”

Krohn, whose photography business is called One-Eyed Dog Studios after his one-eyed rescue terrier, Rogue, also teaches photography workshops at 4P Studios and at Art & Soul in Aiken.

“I enjoy putting classes together,” he says. “I like letting people know there’s so much you can do with photography. There’s no failure, just figuring out if you’re doing things right or not.”

If You Go:
What: “Some Eclectic Musings of a One-Eyed Dog,” a photography exhibition by Patrick Krohn

When: Tuesday-Friday 1-5 p.m. and Saturday 1-4 p.m. March 31 through May 2, or by appointment; free artist reception 4-6 p.m. Sunday, April 19

Where: 4P Studios, 3927 Roberts Road, Martinez

How Much: Free

More Info: (706) 267-6724

No Letting Up

People

A Q&A with the chief medical officer of Augusta University Health System.

By now, all of us have heard more than we ever wanted to hear about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. In early April, however, Dr. Phillip Coule, vice president and chief medical officer of Augusta University Health System, shared valuable information about the disease. At that time, the Martinez resident, who graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 1996, said the area could pass its peak load of cases by late April. The Q&A has been edited slightly for clarity and space considerations.

Q: What is it like working in the hospital on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic?

A: The team and our ICU staff are working incredibly hard, and they’re doing a fantastic job. There are lots of cases in the community as well as patients transferred from Albany. The patients in the ICU are very sick. We have two designated COVID-19 ICUs, but morale is high in the COVID-19 medical ward.

Q: How was AU Health able to develop a test so quickly?

A: If there’s a hospital version of “Doomsday Preppers,” we’re it. We have a leadership team that’s forward thinking. We have people who are constantly monitoring the latest trends in healthcare and what’s emerging. We were closely following the coronavirus developments in China and knew we needed to be ready. Everybody realized what could happen here and started preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We started pursuing multiple testing platforms early on.

We knew the world was coming to town for Masters Week. Our goal was to have testing available by late March. We were pursuing different test platforms with different supply chains. We realize that Augusta is an international city and travel-associated cases were occurring early on in this. We realized Augusta needed to be prepared for a pandemic.

We didn’t make any changes after the Masters was postponed. This was widespread, and it accelerated our response.

Q: Which departments at the hospital have been affected by staff reductions?

A: These are unusual times. The shelter-in-place order is causing some people to defer some of their healthcare needs. That has decreased the need for surgeries that can be postponed, but we’re looking at ways to get patients back in the system.

Q: Can you tell if social distancing and sheltering in place are working?

A: We certainly do not want to let up now, but there is some reason for optimism, cautiously so. The combination of business closures, identifying and testing cases, and other measures have helped. There’s some evidence that we’re bending the curve. We need to keep doing what we’re doing.

Q: When do you think things might return to normal, and what will that look like?

A: My hope is that by the end of May or the beginning of June, we start to see things return to normal. We might see a loosening of mandatory closures. Restaurants might reopen with caution. We have to wait and see what happens before we get back to completely normal, but we don’t want to loosen up and then have things get out of control again.

We’ll feel a little better about the relaxation of the measures going into the summer. If we can get the ability to do antibody testing, it would allow us a better opportunity to know what’s really happening with this disease. Since some people only have mild symptoms, we haven’t been able to identify the true denominator. We hope to see signs of herd immunity where a lot of people don’t get the disease in the short term, making it harder for it to be transmitted.

Q: When do you think you will be able to start testing for antibodies?

A: Hopefully, by summertime. We are pursuing different options to test for antibodies, but we don’t have funding yet.

Q: How does this pandemic compare to anything else you’ve seen during your career?

A: This is unprecedented. I was involved in the response to 9/11, and I thought that was the only time I would see a disaster of that magnitude. Then I responded to Hurricane Katrina, and I thought that was the only time I would see another disaster of that magnitude. Then COVID-19 happened, and I’ve never seen anything like it.

It’s also remarkable to me how quickly people have adjusted to social distancing. We went from handshakes to fist bumps to elbow bumps to waving from six feet away. I’m hoping we go back to hugs. I’m hoping we go back to normal.

Q: What do you think things will look like in May?

A: I think we’ll know by then how we’ve weathered the storm.

Q: Is there a silver lining in any of this?

A: I’ve never seen a team pull together like the AU team has pulled together. We’ve done a world-class job in responding to this pandemic. That includes our pastoral staff, volunteer services and patient family services.

There are so many bright spots in this, I can’t count them all. Companies large and small have offered to donate masks. We can’t accept hand-sewn masks because there is so much variability in them, but we have accepted hand-made caps. My wife helped organize a sewing brigade to make the caps. They have been wildly popular. Everyone has loved them. People have fired up 3-D printers to print face shields.

We’ve had an incredible outpouring from the community. The support from the community has been great and very much appreciated. The parking lot prayers* were especially inspirational, and the food donations have helped to lift the morale of the staff.

Q: If there is one thing you would want people in the community to know, what would that be?

A: The importance of social distancing. It’s incredibly important for us to remember. Houses of worship and funerals will present the greatest risk to our most vulnerable populations. It may be necessary to modify things like that in the short-term so we can get back to normal in the long-term. And I’ve never been prouder of our entire team and the com

The Business of Biking

Sports

Photos courtesy of SORBA-CSRA and Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse

May is National Bike Month, but cycling is big in this area all year-round

For most people, riding bikes is just plain fun – a reminder of carefree childhood days that were full of endless possibilities for adventure. Better done with friends and family. But in the age of coronavirus outbreaks and social distancing, biking also can be done alone to get some exercise or to clear your mind.

In this area, however, cycling (at least under normal circumstances) is more than an outlet for physical and mental well-being. It is big business that attracts out-of-towners to ride local trails or to participate in cycling events.

“We have a lot of outdoor resources, but cycling is probably our number one asset when it comes to attracting visitors to the area,” says John Luton, director of the Columbia County Department of Community & Leisure Services. “Augusta has hosted several cycling events, and we have partnered with them to host events here.”

An Economic Driver
USA Cycling events held in the area from 2017 – 2019 had an estimated economic impact of $183,000 on Columbia County, according to Shelly Blackburn, Columbia County Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director.

Last year’s Paceline had an estimated economic impact of $83,000 on the county. (This fundraiser for cancer research at Georgia Cancer Center normally is held in May, but it has been postponed until a later date this year.) These figures do not include the additional impact on surrounding communities, Blackburn says.

According to the Augusta Sports Council website, the estimated economic impact for the 2017 USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships, which took place in downtown Augusta, Fort Gordon and J. Strom Thurmond Dam in Columbia County, was more than $2 million. The estimated economic impact of the 2107 Ironman 70.3 Augusta was $4.7 million, and the triathlon, which includes a 56-mile bike ride, has generated more than $20 million in economic impact to the city since the inception of the triathlon in 2009, the Sports Council website says. In addition, the IRONMAN Foundation has awarded $143,943 in grant funding to 130 non-profit organizations to date in the region.

“Augusta is considered a hotbed of cycling, and USA Cycling loves to bring events here because of its relationship with Augusta Sports Council and Fort Gordon,” says avid cyclist and Evans resident Randy DuTeau, who founded Wheel Movement CSRA and is a board member of Georgia Bikes.

Wheel Movement CSRA is nonprofit bicycle advocacy group for Columbia, Richmond and Aiken counties, and Georgia Bikes is a nonprofit organization that improves biking conditions and promotes the sport throughout the state.

DuTeau, who works in sports tourism, estimates that each person who comes to the area for a cycling event has an economic impact of $300 to $500. “Cycling is a huge economic driver for this area, and we need to continue to support it,” he says.

Other competitive cycling events that have been held in the area include the 2015 and 2016 USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships at Wildwood Park and the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships in downtown Augusta and Fort Gordon. This event, which was held here last year and was scheduled for May 8-10, was cancelled this year because of coronavirus concerns. However, says DuTeau, five sets of Collegiate Nationals have been held here since 1994.

In addition to Paceline, fundraising cycling events include Lock to Lock, which benefits local cycling advocacy efforts, and Flow Master, which raise funds to maintain the Forks Area Trail System (FATS) in Sumter National Forest in South Carolina. The annual Best Dam Ride Ever supports Augusta Urban Ministries, the CSRA chapter of the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association and the Liam Caracci Foundation.

“When people come to these events, they are spending money for hotel rooms and food,” says Phil Cohen, owner of Chain Reaction Bicycles in Evans. “It’s not like Masters Week, but altogether, they’re really significant.”

With 37 miles of single- and double-track trails, FATS has made this area a mountain biking mecca.

“FATS is a destination trail. IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) has designated it as an epic trail – the highest designation,” says Cohen. “When it was designated, there were only 10 epic trails in the whole country, so that put the area on the map for mountain biking.”

Drew Jordan, owner of Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse, agrees. “It’s the crown jewel for the CSRA. We have people come from all over the world to ride it,” he says of FATS. “We also have great road riding here. From downtown Augusta, you can be out in the country in 15 minutes. We have another 100 miles of mountain bike trails besides FATS.”

Other mountain bike destinations include the Augusta Canal path; Wine Creek; Bartram Trail, which is a good beginner trail along Clarks Hill Lake; and trails at Mistletoe and Hickory Knob state parks. The North Augusta Greeneway; Phinizy Swamp; Range Road, a hilly, challenging course at Fort Gordon; and the Evans to Locks path, which extends from Evans Towne Center Park to Savannah Rapids Pavilion, are popular biking locations as well.

In addition, Phase I of the Euchee Creek Greenway – a series of off-street bikeways, walkways and trails in Columbia County – is nearing completion. The almost $8.6 million project, which was part of the 2016 general obligation bond, includes two segments – a 2.4-mile trail that connects Riverwood Plantation with Blanchard Woods Park and a 6-mile trail that connects Canterbury Farms subdivision with Patriots Park.

A mix of public grants and private donations is anticipated to fund future phases of the greenway, which will include 27 miles of multi-use paths from the city of Grovetown to the south to the Savannah River to the north.

“We have trails that beginners can ride, and experts can have fun on them as well,” Cohen says.

In addition, SORBA-CSRA co-president and Martinez resident Angela Allen, says, “We have year-round riding here, so this is an awesome destination for cycling.”

SORBA-CSRA is a volunteer, non-profit organization that promotes trail preservation and development as well as riding for mountain bikers. The CSRA chapter, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019, works with Mistletoe State Park, the U.S. Forest Service and Augusta Canal Authority to maintain about 150 miles of trails in the area.

“Trails are beneficial to Columbia County for many reasons, but mostly they help to create and maintain a great quality of life. While trail systems are a tremendous recreational asset for our citizens, they also attract visitors. These visitors spend money on lodging, food and beverages, arts and culture, recreation, retail and more, which ultimately support local businesses and jobs,” says Blackburn.

At Your Service
Those businesses and jobs include local bike shops like Chain Reaction Bicycles, Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse, Outspokin’ Bicycles and The Bike Peddler.

“Local bike shops serve the community year-round,” says Cohen. “They hire people and spend money in our market.”

He says cyclists fall into three categories – road cyclists, who ride hard and fast; mountain bikers, who ride off-road; and recreational bikers. “They’re not into going fast or jumping over rocks,” Cohen says. “They just want to have fun with their families.”

The area bike shops cater to all types of riders. In addition to the sale of bicycles and bike accessories, they offer repairs and tune-ups, fitting services and workshops on topics ranging from basic bicycle repairs to road etiquette. The bike shops normally hold group rides several times a week as well, but these events have been suspended because of social distancing efforts.

Chain Reaction also refurbishes about 500 used bicycles a year and donates them to Augusta Urban Ministries, which provides the bicycles to individuals who use them as their primary mode of transportation.

The Bicycle Peddler, which offers bike rentals, the sale of bicycle accessories and bicycle repairs, has a contract with Columbia County to operate at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.

The county also has a dozen B-cycles that are available for rent through a self-service system at Evans Towne Center Park, and Luton says people primarily use them to ride around the Evans Towne Center area. “We hope they will take off when we can add other hubs at other parks,” he says. “We will have additional bike stations, but we haven’t had a chance to build on it.”

Have Fun, Get Fit
According to the 2018 Georgia Bikes Bicycle Safety Action Plan, bicycle friendly communities enjoy higher property values, more tourism revenue and improved public health. Routine, daily exercise like bicycling is a proven strategy to decrease a community’s rates of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

“Biking is getting bigger and bigger in our area,” says Allen. “It really has grown exponentially through the years, and it is fantastic exercise.”

As a non-weight bearing exercise, Cohen says, it is easier on the body than some activities. “If biking is something people enjoy, they stick with it,” he adds.

Brett Ardrey, owner of Outspokin’ Bicycles, calls cycling a great cardiovascular exercise that also offers social benefits such as the opportunity to meet new people and learn about new places around town.

For some area cyclists, however, biking is more than a way to exercise. “Doctors, lawyers and bankers ride to work every day,” says Ardrey. “They can park closer to their office or in their office. Medical people can go right up to their door instead of having to park so far away.”

Sam May, manager of The Bicycle Peddler, sees people commute through Savannah Rapids to work downtown. “When they do that, they get their 30 minutes of exercise a day,” he says.

He has one customer who lost more than 150 pounds by bicycling.

“Augusta is a good place to get into cycling,” Jordan says. “The cycling community here is welcoming, nice and helpful to all skill levels. You don’t have to wear spandex and be super-fit to ride a bike.”

Co-Existing with Motorists
Despite all the benefits of cycling, however, the 2018 Georgia Bikes Bicycle Safety Action Plan says that bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities have been on the rise for the past several years. As a result, the Action Plan calls safety the most urgent issue related to bicycling in Georgia.

“Cyclists are allowed to be on the road,” says DuTeau. “There needs to be better interaction between motorists and cyclists, and it’s not always easy because people are distracted. Cyclists need to be accountable, too. We have to pay attention and follow the rules of the road. We have to obey laws, use signals and be smart.”

With so many vehicles on the road, Cohen says, areas where cyclists used to ride are almost impossible to ride now. “Even if cyclists are doing everything right,” he says, “if a car hits them, the cyclists lose.”

Ardrey says cyclists can educate themselves by going online and accessing the Georgia Bicycle Law Enforcement Pocket Guide, which explains bicycle traffic laws.

“As long as we can educate cyclists that they should ride like a vehicle, we get more respect from cars,” he says.

Jordan believes cyclists and motorists are co-existing better because people are becoming more educated.

“It always requires a little diligence on the bicyclists’ part – choosing when and where to ride, wearing bright colors and having flashing lights,” he says. “Drivers texting is the biggest problem, probably more than aggressive driving.”

In addition, Jordan says, cyclists always should wear a helmet. Some helmets even have built-in technology that triggers an alarm on a cyclist’s phone to send his location to a designated emergency contact if he falls and hits his head.

“With more bike lanes and more safe places to ride, more people will ride,” Cohen says. “Nationwide, the number one reason people don’t ride is that they don’t have a safe place to ride. Biking is strong in our area because we have safe places to ride. It adds to the quality of our life and makes this a great place to live.” 

By Todd Beck

Feeling Good

People

Appling resident Cole Phail must be feeling good after the Greater Augusta Arts Council announced that he won its James Brown Mural competition in an online voting contest.

His mural, “The Spirit of Funk,” will be painted on the side of the building located at 879 Broad Street in Augusta. Phail used a variety of art styles such as realism, graphic style and impressionism in his submission.

Phail’s painting also included lyrics of Brown’s greatest hits as well as the singer’s various nicknames and titles. Brown’s catchphrase, “I Feel Good,” is the theme of the mural.

“My hope is that the viewer will get the full impact of the life of James Brown with a casual viewing, but will be enticed to spend more time studying the details layered throughout,” Phail says in his artist statement.