SEP 2015 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Lives in: Delmar
Family: Wife, Trudy; Sons, Andy, 32, and Kevin, 30
Occupation: Adjunct Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Mechanical Engineer;
President of Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club for past five years
Primary Sports: Road Cycling, Nordic Skiing
Secondary Sports: Kayaking, Hiking
By Dave Kraus
Oliver “Skip” Holmes claims he didn’t grow up in a fitness-oriented family. Nevertheless, he got a start early in cycling because it was his only way to get around. “They gave me a bike and I rode it,” he says of his parents, remembering back to when he was 10 to 12 years old. “Over the summer they would give me 50 cents and say ‘Have a good time and be home by dinnertime.’” That was in 1960 in Utica, where he grew up. He got the nickname Skipper because he and his father had the name ‘Oliver.’ “It got confusing at dinner so they gave me a nickname.” Then, he shortened it to Skip.
His return to cycling and his love of the sport came later after his stint in Vietnam. “In the Army was supposed to be a computer operator, but that didn’t come too much. Instead they put me out in the middle of nowhere, guarding some bunker kind of thing.” Fresh out of the Army and living in Texas, Skip borrowed his roommate’s 10-speed Dawes road bike and headed out of town one day. “I went out on it and probably rode the darn thing 40 or 50 miles and got absolutely hooked,” he remembers. Coming back home to Utica, he didn’t have a car and once again needed to get around, so he got a cheap 10-speed, went to college, and rode his bike a lot.
After graduation got his first “real” job at NYS DEC as a technician doing air and water pollution work in Warrensburg. He remembers that it wasn’t glamorous, but it put him in the Adirondacks – with a bicycle. So once again he started pedaling and headed out of town. “It was all these great roads and hills to go ride and explore. I felt like a kid all over again.” In Warrensburg, he also got into hiking and Nordic skiing “because that’s what was there and those were the people you connected with.”
After working for NYS DEC, Skip decided to go back to college for a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Syracuse University. He already had a BS in Mathematics. After SU, he worked at a hospital in Syracuse. In the 80s he married Trudy, fathered sons Andy and Kevin, and in 1985 moved to Delmar where he’s been ever since. “My sons enjoyed mountain biking and downhill skiing with me, along with doing some Adirondack peaks, while in high school. As adults they’ve moved onto other activities including motorcycling,” he adds.
He went to work at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy as a facilities engineer. While at RPI, he was asked to teach one course in Building Systems, which led to becoming an adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture. He now teaches two courses in Sustainable Building design. Skip says, “It has been an interesting career.”
He established the pattern of road cycling in the summer and Nordic skiing in the winter, and in 1988-89 he discovered the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club, and started doing their group rides. When his schedule kept him from doing as many MHCC rides as he wanted, he started leading his own club rides in the early 90s, and continued to lead his regular Tuesday night Delmar ride from April to October for the next 20 years. It started out with five people and soon grew to large groups of 30 to 40 riders, helping him make many new friends – and learn to deal with some unusual and challenging situations on the road.
He recounts one, explaining that, “We were headed up to Thacher State Park and had just turned onto this back road, and all of a sudden this deer came out of the woods and sprinted straight through the group while we were moving. It took five people down, three of them were eventually transported to the hospital by ambulance with various injuries, and the other two with minor injuries eventually rode home. The deer took off into the woods – didn’t even turn around to look at us,” he said with mock indignation. That particular ride route is still called “The Deer Slayer Ride” by club members.
Skiing, particularly Nordic skiing has also played a large part in Skip’s fitness lifestyle after he started doing it in Warrensburg. He did downhill ski when his kids were young, but now sticks to cross country. “I went into XC not knowing anything about it, then bought my first set of skis, and went wherever I could. Then it got to the point that my cycling friends who were part of the Tuesday night ride crowd also became Nordic skiers.”
He has also become interested in the competitive side of the winter sport, and has done the Lake Placid Loppet, where he has podiumed twice in his 10 outings. He has also done the Canadian Ski Marathon, a 100-mile, two-day ski tour between the regions of Ottawa and Montreal. Skip says he has more pairs of skis, than he has bicycles. “You kind of accumulate them. They cost a lot less than bikes.”
But it’s through his activities with the Mohawk-Hudson Cycling Club that more Capital Region fitness enthusiasts will recognize his name. He was vice-president of the club for 15 years, from 1995-2010, and has been president for the past five. He keeps on serving for several reasons.
“Well, one is the willingness and wanting to encourage people to bike and having the platform to do it. And I think more recently in the past several years, the understanding that we need to provide more education and advocacy for cyclists out there, given the number of motor vehicle and bike crashes that keep happening. There needs to be more advocacy and information out there for this whole ‘Share the Road’ concept.”
He has had his own share of such incidents, everything from being the target of insulting shouts and thrown beer cans, to drivers intentionally crossing the yellow line to try to “buzz” him as close as they can.
Within the club, that means getting ride leaders to follow the rules of the road, behave responsibly, and have their ride participants do the same. “That means not riding five abreast in the road, not running red lights and so forth. If we want to have respect from motorists, we are traffic, and we have to behave accordingly. There needs to be this educational thing for both motorists and cyclists so we can safely share the road.”
Outside of MHCC, for the past three years Skip has been a member of the Town of Bethlehem’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety committee, where he has contributed to a cooperative effort with the highway department to plan and install infrastructure to help make the area a more bike-friendly community.
Also in the cycling world, Skip has put his 40 years of motorcycle riding to good use by getting both his non-moving and moto officiating licenses from USA Cycling, and he can be seen officiating from atop his motorcycle at regional races.
Skip bicycles about 3,000 miles a year now. He used to road race as a Category 4, but work got too busy to train enough. He plans to do at least one or more Nordic ski events this winter, including the Lake Placid Loppet, and perhaps the Craftsbury Ski Marathon or another Canadian Ski Marathon.
Skip says he “absolutely loves” both cycling and skiing and will do both as the seasons come around for as long as he can. “It’s a lifestyle choice. You need to find time for it and integrate it into part of your life to establish a framework. It allows you to do everything else in your life in a better way, whether it’s going to work, taking on volunteer work, or taking on leadership activities. It’s a way to enjoy a long life.”
Dave Kraus (email@example.com) of Schenectady is a longtime area cyclist, photographer and writer, who secretly wishes his nickname was also “Skip.”