Aaron Shafer Memorial Road Race set for April 21

by | April 16, 2018 6:36 am

By Rima Austin – contributor

A nine-year tradition that grew from a vision for Sparta has now grown into a major event and will take place this year, on April 21

The Aaron Shafer Memorial Road Race and Time Trial is set for April 21.

The idea started in the old coffee shop across from The Expositor office, Aaron Shafer, Kurt Phifer, and Ricky Lack were drawn to each other through the mutual love of bicycle racing. Phifer and Lack would sit down around their coffee cups and discuss races that were coming up or reminisce about ones that they had raced in. What they soon became aware of was that there was another person who was eavesdropping. Eventually, Aaron Shafer joined in on the conversations, and they all three became fast friends.

“[Aaron] would just sit around and listen to Ricky and I talk about travelling the state road races,” says Phifer. “Aaron, being the community guy that he was, he would listen to us talk about all these races that we had been to and he just said, ‘Why can’t we have one here?’”

It was then that the idea for a bike race in Sparta was formed. If there was a name that it was given at the time, it has long been forgotten. Within two months of the bike race having its first race, Aaron Shafer died from injuries suffered in a car wreck. Like any good athletes would do, and knowing that their friend would have wanted it that way, Lack and Phifer decided the best thing to do was to push through and go ahead with the plans as usual. With the help of Jeannie Shafer, Aaron’s mother, the first annual Aaron Shafer Memorial Bike Race was initiated. Nine years later it is still going strong.

The Aaron Shafer Memorial Foundation was started in 2010 to promote what Aaron was committed to and passionate about: making Sparta – his town – a better place.

“Our son started this race,” says Jeannie. “He was on the board of directors at the Chamber of Commerce. He and some friends were trying to think of more ways to get some business generated down town, and they came up with the bike race because some of his friends were racers. He believed if people would come to Sparta to ride, they would bring their families, eat, shop and discover the beauty of Sparta and White County – and come back to hike, bike, and spend time in Sparta.

Jeannie went on to explain that the first race was sponsored by the Chamber but that, after Aaron died, she and his friends knew that if something wasn’t done, the bike race would not happen again. It was then that Jeannie and her husband, Ray, created the Aaron Shafer Foundation, a foundation in Aaron’s name that would raise money for organizations in Sparta that have a hard time raising funds any other way. This foundation took over the bike race as a fundraiser, as well as sponsoring a bike ride every September for anyone who owns a bike and would like to participate.

The goals set by the Foundation Board of Directors are to promote healthy living and bring others to White County to see the natural beauty it offers. Profits from the race have gone to scholarships, the rescue squad, nursing homes, and local school clubs, projects and Boys and Girls State.

Some riders join the Aaron Shafer Memorial Bike Race simply because they remember Aaron and would like to come out and show their support; some riders come out because their extra time is dedicated to the love of bicycle racing. No matter what the reason is for joining the race, one thing that can be agreed upon is that it is fun.

“The day after the memorial race in Sparta is the Criterium in Cookeville,” says Phifer, a co-manager at Caney Fork Cycles in Cookeville and competition director for Caney Fork Racing, a bicycle racing team. “It’s a closed course where we just make loops around the square, and its spectator friendly. We like to do these races to introduce bicycle racing to the kids who may not be exposed to this sport any other way.”

No matter what level one is at as far as bicycle riding, there are sponsored races and rides that one can join. According to Phifer, however, definitely do the homework before signing on the dotted line, as some races, including the Aaron Shafer Memorial Bike Race, are not for amateurs, even at the starter level.

“Level five is the lowest level there is,” says Phifer. “Even the people who register at that level, though, have been racing and training for at least two or three years.”

Jeannie said, “We have a great group of volunteers (many of whom were Aaron’s friends) but are always looking for others to help with the race. The racers always comment on how many volunteers we have and how helpful and cheerful they are. Our race is one of the top favorites in the state of Tennessee. We have racers come from more than 10 states and they love it. The race is held rain or shine – unless, the roads are flooded or too dangerous and TDOT closes them.”

For more information about registration or to help with the event, call or text Jeannie at (931) 265-8004.

More information about how to find races and meet other racers who travel the circuit can be found on the Tennessee Bicycle Racing Association website at http://www.tbra.org.

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