Promoting the Air Force, one pedal pump at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Hrair H. Palyan
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
The result of more than five months of relentless training and conditioning for two Ellsworth Airmen will be recognized with that first pedal stroke starting a seven-day journey through the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa on July 22.

Every year, Airmen from around the world sign up for the Air Force cycling team's annual trip to ride in RAGBRAI and every year the event attracts the attention of competitive athletes eager to take on a new challenge.

For Lt. Cols. Derek Leivestad, 28th Bomb Wing deputy chief of safety, and David Henshaw, 28th Operations Support Squadron director of operations, this will be their first ride with the AF cycling team.

"I started riding before I graduated the Air Force Academy in 1993 as a way to stay in shape, and although I still ride to stay in shape, it has more meaning for me now," said the 41-year-old Leivestad. "When I am riding, I can forget everything else and get lost in the ride. It is my release."

Now at its 40th year, RAGBRAI began in 1973 as a six-day ride across the state of Iowa by two Des Moines Register columnists. It has grown into the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world and now encompasses seven days of riding, averaging 468 miles.

"Fortunately, RAGBRAI is more of a ride than a race," said Henshaw, who started riding three years ago to improve his health. "I focused a bit more on cycling than running and swimming over the past few months, but haven't done as many long rides as I would have liked. I'm basically a novice in cycling, and this will definitely be the longest week of riding I've ever attempted."

Henshaw said training at a higher elevation in the Black Hills has proved to add an advantage to his and Leivestad's endurance, saying, "I don't anticipate any trouble logging the miles - should be fun."

The route changes every year, but the ride begins somewhere along Iowa's western border on the Missouri River and ends along the eastern border on the Mississippi River. Eight Iowa cities serve as host communities for overnight stays along the way.

"The Air Force uses the AF cycling team's participation in RAGBRAI as a recruiting tool, similar to the AF marathon," said Leivestad. "Along the way, we will be meeting different people in the towns we visit and answering questions about our jobs and experiences in the Air Force."

The pair have been training for the event through a variety of activities. For example, both Leivestad and Henshaw recently completed the 2012 Mickelson Trail Half Marathon at Deadwood, S.D. After tackling RAGBRAI, they plan to take on the Harvest Moon Half Iron Man in Aurora, Colo.

"The biggest challenge is trying to balance work, family life and training," said Leivestad. "It is a juggling act to balance my son's soccer and baseball with other family time and work while still getting in the amount of training necessary."

Henshaw, who recently lost 25 pounds after he started commuting to work every day on his bike, said that he enjoys the challenge of competing in physical events and living a fit and active lifestyle.

"It's great to see improvement as I compete against myself and have the satisfaction of setting and reaching my goals," Henshaw said.