Building a ‘stronger community’

Bicycle wreck drives man to build safer, more devoted training group

by Hugh Fisher

Billy Doherty doesn’t like to focus on the wreck that nearly ended his life.

“It’s old news,” he said.

But it was that wreck that pushed him to become one of the areas biggest proponents of safe athletic training.

On Aug. 19, 2010, Doherty was riding his bicycle along Rocky River Road, Davidson, training for a triathlon.

“A truck came beside me, on the left side of me, and immediately made a right-hand turn,” he said. Doherty said he had no time to react.

Doherty slid his bicycle, slammed into the side of the truck and was trapped beneath it – dragged for some 40 feet.

“At that point, I thought that it was over,” he said.

The truck stopped with its wheel on top of him.

He was in the hospital for 10 days, followed by skin grafts, reconstructive surgery and months of rehabilitation.

At first, his wife didn’t want him to ride again, but Doherty said he had to get back on the road.

“I wanted to still overcome, you know what I mean?” he said.

Today, almost a year and a half after the accident, his push to heal and resume his training has driven him to create a group dedicated to safe training. That group, Strong & Focused Triathlon Club, “is a way to keep that energy moving,” he said.

The club’s name reflects Doherty himself: strong, despite the long odds against him, and focused on helping others achieve their success.

“It’s a club that provides opportunities for group training, in its simplest form, so that people don’t have to train by themselves,” Doherty said.

Unlike other training groups that charge membership fees, Doherty said Strong & Focused is about networking, finding opportunities to train and the people to push one another. Greg Mullet, a committee member and the club’s social chairman, said the online postings of workouts have helped him meet new people in a relaxed setting.

“There are a lot of triathlon groups out there, but you have to pay for membership,” Mullet said. When training for the Alcatraz triathlon he said he couldn’t find anyone who’d swim with him in early March.

That is, until he reached out to the group.

And there’s another benefit that comes from having dedicated training partners: a group mentality gives a competitive edge.

“You have to do well, because there are people watching!” Mullet said.

Many come for what they say is a safer way to train for bike races.

Cyclists in a group are safer than lone riders, Mullet said, because they’re more visible to motorists. Mullet said members join the group’s Facebook page to train for all sorts of events, including half-marathons, marathons, 5K and 10K races.

“That’s the beauty of the club,” Doherty said.

Last year, there were about 50 registered members.

Beth King, of Huntersville, said she’s been involved with Doherty’s group since the beginning.

“I have young children, and it’s good knowing you have other people you can hook up with to go out on group rides,” King said.

King said the group attracts competitors of all levels, from beginners to those with advanced training plans already underway. This year, members say they hope Strong & Focused will expand its membership base.

Members have designated the Latta Plantation sprint triathlon in June as a club race, with all members expected to participate. Mullet said there will be other club races.

In addition, when they’re not competing, members often go to races to cheer fellow members on.

That encouragement calls back the weeks of recovery after Doherty’s accident.

Though he kept setting goals, Doherty said, those training goals kept slipping by. He reached out to his new community for support.

“There are days you go out there and you have to ride,” Doherty said.

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