Zane Gruwell

Determination propels this young cyclist

Zane Gruwell inched his bicycle up to the starting line at his first race, the Pure Austin Driveway Series in Austin, next to other riders ages ten to fourteen. When the official yelled “Go!” Zane’s lean, muscular legs strained against the pedals, forcing the chain against the sprockets to propel his bike forward as he headed for race speeds of up to twenty-five miles per hour. About thirty minutes later, Zane and the other riders approached the end of the race, legs pumping, straining to coax that last bit of power from tired bodies in order to cross the finish line. Zane didn’t come in first, but he completed the race, which was a remarkable feat.

Zane, you see, has allergy-induced asthma, which he controls with medication and an inhaler, if needed. But he’s also been diagnosed as having vocal cord dysfunction (VCD). VCD is like asthma, except instead of his vocal cords opening up when he breathes in and out, they close, making it even harder to get air into and out of the lungs. But he wants to win bicycle races, and he’s doing whatever it takes to do so.

Zane Gruwell next to his bike

“He just got up one morning and starting watching the Tour de France on television,” Tricia, his mother, says. “He got up early and watched it every day.” The international event inspired Zane to take up cycling. Dad Jim researched and found a suitable bike. Zane has since helped to pay for upgrades to that bicycle, and he received a new bicycle for Christmas. Jim and Tricia don’t merely sit on the sidelines and watch; they also have bicycles and accompany Zane on local rides. Last summer, the three of them began going on fifteen- to thirty-five-mile rides with a cycling group out of Central Texas Power Sports.

In July, Zane took up racing, which requires considerably more conditioning.

“Zane is a fitness nut,” Tricia says. “He does push-ups, pull-ups, and so on, all on his own. He watches what he eats and gave up soda. He reads Bicycling magazine cover to cover and requests foods based on what the elite cyclists eat.”

To encourage Zane, Jim hired a coach who designed a training regimen that includes running and cycling. Zane runs distances up to four and a half miles, and he sprints on the track. He rides road, cyclocross, and mountain bicycles. Races are considered training exercises. To fuel his body for a race, Zane eats beans and rice three hours before. Forty-five minutes before a ride, he drinks a special diluted energy drink to sustain his energy. To help him tackle breathing problems, Zane sees a specialist, who has prescribed breathing exercises.

In addition to road races, Zane also enjoys cyclocross, a race that consists of riding laps on a short course that mixes terrains—paved paths, rugged inclines, and rough trails through wooded or grassy areas—and features obstacles. To navigate the obstacles, riders must dismount and carry their bikes. Zane has competed in one official cyclocross competition.

Zane competed in fourteen races and won one race during the 2013 season, but he’s not done, by any means. With his parents’ support and his “No excuses” attitude, Zane will do what he has to do to keep racing.

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