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Airman balances cycling with Air Guard mission

PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ore. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

With endurance cycling, nearly every part of the sport is tough; from the demands of distance and the quality of the competitors, to the changing natural elements on any given day.

For Tech. Sgt. Dwayne Farr, those difficulties pale in comparison with splitting his time between the grind of bicycle training to his no-fail mission with the Oregon Air National Guard.

Over the past eight years, Farr has been assigned to the 142nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Portland Air National Guard Base, where he is currently the NCO in charge of aircrew egress. It has only been in the past four years that curiosity has transformed him into an elite international cyclist.

“It started off really simple," Farr said. "I wanted to see if I could commute from home by bike and use the time going back and forth to get in some exercise."

Yet six months after jumping on his bike, Farr was involved in racing events on weekends around the Pacific Northwest. The endeavor served to refuel his desire to participate in sports at the competitive level.

Competitive streak

At slightly less than 6 feet tall, slender and with a constant and contagious grin, Farr’s unassuming and easy-going personality obscures his deeply competitive nature. At Ridgefield High School in Vancouver, Washington, he was a standout point guard for the school’s basketball team, which made several appearances in the state finals.

“He was an incredible basketball player growing up and into high school,” said Chief Master Sgt. Don Brice, the 142nd Fighter Wing alert superintendent of maintenance, and also Farr’s stepfather.

Brice said that Farr’s style on the basketball court over the years put a great deal of impact on his knees and other joints.

“He has an amazing cardiovascular reserve that has translated well into biking, where he now doesn’t do all the cutting and slashing, both up and down the court,” Brice said of Farr.

Brice has been the father figure in Farr’s life since the age of 11, and he made the phone call when Farr wanted to talk to the Air Guard recruiter eight years ago. “One of the reasons I joined was definitely because of him (Brice),” Farr said.

Balancing priorities

But Farr struggles with a dilemma; balancing his two passions -- cycling and his job with the Oregon ANG. Biking takes time away from his career and continuing education goals, yet the demands of his job makes training problematic because of time and energy constraints.

“He feels a real responsibility to his fellow Airmen, especially since he is the shop supervisor with the demands of the mission,” Brice said. “Yet knowing how much the coaching staff and military organization want to support him, he struggled for a while to find the time to commit more to the sport.”

To create a win-win situation, Farr was able to compromise with a work schedule that allows him to thrive at both endeavors. He sat down with his supervisor, Lt. Col. Todd Hofford, the 142nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, and created a schedule that permits him to work four 10-hour days each week, allowing one full day to train with his local team.

“It’s pretty incredible to realize what a professional athlete we have working here every day,” Hofford said. “Not only has he put Oregon on the map, but he’s integrated a team of officers and senior enlisted. He is the fastest contributor (of the team) and also the junior-ranking member."

Hofford emphasized that the positives outweigh the negatives in Farr’s circumstances and stressed that he inspires co-workers and leadership throughout the maintenance group.

“When you talk to him about his story -- from just jumping on a bike one day for recreation to where he is today -- it’s incredible,” Hofford said. “His energy and positive approach to everything is infectious.”

International cycling competition

Farr was one of more than 8,500 athletes from 123 nations that participated in the 2015 Military World Games in Mungyeoung, South Korea, in October. Of the seven U.S. military competitors who made up the cycling team, Farr was the only enlisted member of the squad.

On a mostly flat course, the 95-mile bike race on Oct. 6 included competitors from 16 nations.

“My job was to cover the early moves and breakaways of the other riders,” Farr said of the event and his team’s strategy for the race.

As the race progressed, Farr said that it was up to teammate Ian Holt to chase down the final lead riders. “Ian’s a sprinter and track guy so, by the end of the race, we held our own but were not able to cover other team moves,” he said. “In the end, there was no final card to play.”

Still, Farr said the experience left him with a new level of excitement, representing the U.S. on a world stage.

“It is something special, and yeah I have to admit, there were chills at the starting line," he said.

Uncommon balance

Prior to his trip to South Korea, Farr said he had competed in other races earlier in the summer to prepare him for the games and once again underlining some of the unique challenges he faces with a dynamic dual career.

During a competition Sept. 4-7 in Vermont, Farr said he competed in four different events on four separate days, and finished eighth overall. He said his team director and coach, George Gonoung, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander, told him he was probably the only person with a full-time job to finish in the top 20.

Farr said he communicated almost daily with Gonoung, who lives in Washington, D.C., sharing training data and discussing diet, weight, cross-training workouts, and other performance topics.

Now that it’s the offseason, Farr has reflected on the past year and wonders about what it would take to proceed to the next level of his cycling career.
“To sign with a pro team means I would need to quit my job here,” Farr said. “I don’t want to do that.”

Coping with training rigors

Having raced now in nearly every state and many other locations in Europe, Farr said some of the excitement is starting to wear off. The training can be grueling, and the elements take their toll over time, he said.

“There are those 20-minute, hill-climbing training rides where I go as fast as I can as far as I can. It’s one of the worst feelings ever,” he said with a laugh. “But literally, to reach the top of this sport, you have to have that killer instinct.”

And then there are the distinct weather conditions when riding in the Pacific Northwest nine months of the year.

“I’ve come home from a 100-mile training ride and my hands are so frozen I can’t get the key out of my pocket to unlock the door,” he said. “But like a gold fish, a horrible experience on one day is easily forgotten the next day.”

Still, Farr said taking his game to the next level comes with some perplexing choices. At 28, he’s at a prime age for endurance athletes, but he’s not sure at this point what will be the next step beyond his currently synchronized biking and Air Force careers.

“I’m really pleased with where I've gone,” he said. “As much as I love cycling, I love coming here and being part of the team I work with every day. For now, it’s great that I can do both.”