While we’ve grown familiar with the accounts of an elite athlete’s demanding schedule of training, travel and competition, few and far between are the stories where both spouses are professional cyclists. For Brent and Jamie Bookwalter, who race for BMC and Team Colavita, respectively, juggling a dual-pro athlete household requires a knack for patience, creativity and keeping the big picture in check.
espnW: Tell us a little bit about how you each got into cycling.
Jamie Bookwalter [JB]: I ran cross country and track for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and after a long run of overuse injuries, I dropped my scholarship and took up mountain biking. I raced mountain biking professionally and collegiately for a few years.
Brent Bookwalter [BB]: I got into cycling through mountain biking. My neighbor took me to a race when I was in middle school, and I was hooked. I began racing Michigan mountain bike race series, and worked my way up to racing NORBAs before signing with Priority Health.
espnW: When and how did you two meet?
BB: I was attending Lees-McRae College while Jamie was at Chattanooga, and we met through collegiate cycling and mutual friends.
JB: Brent and I first met while racing collegiate mountain biking, but we didn't know each other well. After he shattered his leg racing for the U.S. U23 team in Belgium, I sent him a consolatory Facebook message. His message back was pretty funny and engaging, and we sent messages back and forth for three months before meeting again at a post-race collegiate dance party in our friend’s basement. He impressed me with his dance moves, even though he couldn't move his broken leg. When he survived one of my camping/mountain bike trips in the pouring rain, I decided he was a keeper.
espnW: When did Brent sign with BMC, and how did that shape your daily routine as a couple? Then, when you signed with Colavita, how did the routine change?
JB: Brent has been with BMC as long was we've been together (five years), and the team has grown with him. When the team moved up to World Tour status, he began renting an apartment in Spain. Because I was in either undergraduate or graduate school for the first four years of our relationship, I visited Spain as much as I could during my breaks, and he came home as much as he could. I've been out of school since December 2011. I lived with Brent in Girona, Spain for the first three months of last year, and then moved back and forth between Spain and the U.S. because all the racing I did with Colavita was in the U.S.
BB: I've been with BMC since we started dating, but there has been a lot of growth from a team and individual perspective since then,. The commitment to the team and level of competition has risen a great deal, so it’s been nice to have been together for that process and adapted to it together. … When Jamie began racing with Colavita, it was a little adjustment because it was the most serious commitment she's had to a cycling team since we've been together. It meant a little more thinking and adjusting when it came time to planning time together. It also meant a little less riding together since she's following her own training plan and not able to join me on a ride whenever it sounds fun.
espnW: During your 10-month race calendar, you split your time between Asheville, N.C., and Girona, Spain, both of which are known for their cycling-conducive training and climates. How does the concept of “home” work for you?
JB: Brent races quite a bit and rarely gets to spend more than a week in one place. I think the maximum time I spent in one place was about two weeks. I've grown to love Girona; the road riding is second to none, and you can ride in the mountains and by the ocean in one ride. The traffic level is very low, and weather is great. I think Brent and I both have found that when we are in Girona, we don't want to leave, but when we are in Asheville, we don't want to leave, either.
BB: We are always on the go, but are fortunate enough to have two incredible locations as our "home bases." Last year, I spent more time in Girona than in Asheville. We could probably get away with not having a full-time American base, but it’s really nice and I believe valuable to have a place and situation to come back to and get re-centered. I feel like we've done a decent job of embracing the European life while in Girona, but at the end of the day we are Americans. It’s awesome to spend a couple months at the end of the year in the USA, as well as sporadic weeks throughout the season.
espnW: Now that you’ve made it to the pro ranks, what are your goals in cycling? And, life off the bike?
JB: My goal is to seek as high a level as I can train, and to push myself to in cycling. Because the salaries are so low in women's cycling, I think most women race because they purely love the sport. We are certainly not setting ourselves up to be millionaires. I eventually want to have a profession that will relate to my graduate work in invasive forest insects. I also may eventually go back to graduate school and get a Ph.D. in ichthyology.
espnW: Between lengthy races like the three-week Tour de France and the shorter yet clustered calendar of both North American and European events, how much time to you get to spend together during the race season? How do you make it work during the most hectic times of your calendar?
JB: Because travel schedules force us be apart for long periods of time -- one stretch we didn't see each other for three months -- we are better about really enjoying and treasuring our time together because it is so rare. We've learned that when we call each other, we put our full attention to the conversation. We've also learned which online business services have the lowest rate in country-to-country internet phone calls, and which cell phone providers have the best international rates. It also helps that we are both trusting and self-sufficient people.
BB: Each season is different and brings a new schedule and new set of challenges. I think the most difficult part of it is the lack of certainty with my schedule. No matter what is planned or scheduled, things change and we have to adapt. The offseason gets shorter every year but still gives us a couple months at the end of the year to be together for a nice block. Once the season starts we still spend quite a bit of time with each other, but with all the racing and traveling it usually turns into a week or two together, followed by a week or two apart.
espnW: What's the best part about having a spouse who also races?
JB: Brent has been racing bikes at a high level for much of his life, and has a wealth of knowledge I can draw from. He understands the sport from a physiological and managerial perspective, and I always make him write my bios. He can also rip up a downhill on a mountain bike, an attribute I find very attractive.
BB: It helps us understand and relate to each other on another level. The joy of success, the agony of defeat, the challenges of balancing training with the rest of life's hurdles. Most important, being able to share the beauty of just riding a bike with the person in my life who matters most. We live in beautiful corners of the world and to have the chance to share the spectacular experiences of the roads and trails with each other is something that I really treasure and enjoy.
espnW: And the more challenging parts of a dual pro cycling marriage?
JB: We've been consumed lately with trying to get a Spanish residency visa. Americans are only allowed to stay in the Schengen Area, which includes Spain, for 90 days in a 180-day period. In the past, cyclists have not had issues overstaying the 90-day period, but in the past year it seems that enforcement has tightened. Because most, if not all, professional cyclists are independent contractors, the teams are not required to help with visas. That leaves it up to the individual to apply for sporting or non-lucrative visas on their own. It's very difficult, frustrating and expensive, and inspires confidence in neither the U.S. nor Spanish federal government, nor the profession of immigration law.
espnW: What kind of New Year's resolutions do professional cyclists make?
JB: While I can't speak for all professional cyclists, we don't make New Year's resolutions. We mostly enjoy our vices.
Kathryn Bertine is an elite cyclist and the author of two sports memoirs, As Good As Gold (ESPN) and All the Sundays Yet to Come (Little, Brown). She can be reached through her site www.kathrynbertine.com.
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