by JD Kimple
If you’ve raced or spectated in the OVCX (Ohio Valley Cyclocross) series, or if you were at cyclocross Nationals this year, you might have seen Charles McDonald. Of course, there are lots of folks emailing his photos around the internet stating what a badass he is. Why is that? It’s because Charles is riding mountain bikes and cyclocross without his right arm. And while a lot of people who don’t know him are amazed, if you ask people who know or race with Charles, they’ll say “Oh, that’s just Charles.” Nonetheless, Charles is a badass on the bike regardless, and he’s a great guy to boot.
Cyclocross Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Charles Scott McDonald: I live in Bellevue, Kentucky, with my wife, six-year-old son and our dog Buddy.
CXM: How did you get interested in cycling?
CM: I have always enjoyed riding bikes. I rode BMX as a kid. I didn’t compete in cycling as a child. My first race was after my right arm was amputated. I rode in the Henry Clay 30K mountain bike race at Coopers Rock West Virginia. Cycling was a way for me to get back in shape after losing my arm. My second race was the 24 hours of Canaan Valley.
CXM: Your first race was a 30k off-road and second was a 24 hour race? You really jumped into the deep end, it seems. What was the reasoning in picking those two?
CM: They were local races that my friends were doing. I am glad I did a real 24 hour race, since it seems to be thing of the past in North America. The idea of super D makes me sad. I am fortunate to have a new six-hour mountain bike series close to home, but no six-plus mile climbs like the good old days of 24 hours of Canaan Valley.
CXM: How did you get interested in cyclocross? If I recall correctly, when I met you at the John Bryant race a year ago you said something about your coach encouraging you to do it?
CM: I was invited to a training camp in Oklahoma and the coach that ran the camp recommended that I step up my winter training. I told him I don’t care for the trainer and had just learned about ’cross. He said ’cross would be great if I could do it. I started riding ’cross as a reason to train, but I now enjoy ’cross as much as mountain biking.
CXM:How do you feel about your progress in ’cross?
CM: I cat-ed up to a cat 3 at the end of this season. This was my first full season of ’cross, so I think I am progressing as expected. No podiums yet.
CXM: Do you race road and mountain bike as well?
CM: Yes, I race both road and mountain. I prefer mountain and ’cross to road. Unfortunately road is the only way I can qualify for funding. If I could manage to get funded to race MTB and ’cross, I would leave the road racing behind. Road racing is dangerous. I keep breaking bones and nearly getting killed by cars.
CXM: By “qualifying for funding”, what do you mean?
CM: If I hit standards in a 20 k+ TT, I am eligible for money for equipment, training and travel.
CXM: Can you tell us about the team you race for?
CM: I currently ride for the Paralyzed Veterans Racing Team. The PVR team consists of veterans and civilians. The majority of the team are hand cyclists. I am one of a few upright riders for PVR. I may be the only PVR member competing in non-para events. I am the only member that rides cyclocross, as well as the only member to race mountain. The main focus of PVR is hand cycling. I am fortunate to receive reimbursement for my race entry fees. I am also an active rider for Covington Newport Cycling (CNC) and Reser Bicycle Outfitter.
CXM: Are you an equipment geek, or do you just find something that works and you would rather be riding?
CM: I will ride anything that works. I wish I could afford to test stuff, but dropping a few hundred bucks to try an idea just isn’t happening. I would love to try electronic shifting. I have a real estate problem on my bike. I am unable to run drop bars because I cant get both shifter and brake levers on the same side.
CXM: What do you do to make a bike work best for you?
CM: I have both shifters and brakes on the same side. I use MTB shifters because they stack easier. I also put one of the brake levers upside down so they run in the same direction. My ’cross bike is set up with just one brake lever. The lever pulls both the front and rear brakes. It works for ’cross until I get in ice like Nationals this year. When I would hit my brakes on the ice, my front wheel would lock up and dish out.
CXM: Is that something you’re going to rethink for next ’cross season, the two brakes-one lever set up?
CM: Yes, I will be rethinking the single lever. It worked well in dry conditions, but caused some problems on the ice and snow. I have been talking with RidleyUSA and they want me on a 2013 X-ride next season. My 2011 X-ride has canti brakes, but the 2013 has disk brakes. So we will have to play around with that set up to see what works best.
CXM: People seem to make a big deal of you riding ’cross with only one arm, saying that you’re a badass and using you as motivation. Does that sit well with you? How do you feel about being used as an example?
CM: It used to bother me. I used to think I was different because I had one arm. Now it doesn’t bother me. I know I am not different. When I played sports in high school, I was a captain. When I was in basic, I was a squad leader and I have been recognized for effort in other areas. I guess if I had two arms, I would be kicking ass and folks would be inspired. It’s still funny to see my picture and read comments, but I am getting used to it. I am enjoying my new role as an advocate also.
CXM: Do you find yourself at a disadvantage? If so, what would you do to level the field?
CM: I haven’t seen anyone emulating my style. I think fitness can level the field.
CXM: What sort of course suits you best?
CXM: What are your goals for the 2013/2014 season?
CM: I am attempting to hit time trial standards for MC4 US Para. If I hit standards, I will receive funding. My other goals are to do well in the tri-state six hour MTB series. I have also been invited to race CrossVegas in September.
CXM: Race CrossVegas? Excellent, congrats! Could you explain what MC4 US Para Is?
CM: MC4 is a class in Para Cycling. The classes in Para are based on disability type and severity. I started as a MC5 and after my physical at last year’s Para road national championship, I was moved to an MC4. MC5 is the least impaired. My teammates call it the “hangnail class.” I picked up some street cred when I was reclassified. In Para, we have to be classified by a UCI doctor.
CXM: Does your son ride with you?
CM: Yes, we ride together during “kids on bikes.” It’s a wonderful program for kids that allows for the parents to tag along on their bikes. He loves to ride the course and see all the juniors working on their skills. His favorite pro is SS rider Craig Ethridge and he thinks Enzo and Spencer (OVCX’ers) are the best riders in the world.
CXM: What do you want people to remember about you?
CM: I want people to remember how much fun I am having.
CXM: Anything else you’d like to add?
CM: Hey bike industry, I need a job so I can ride more.