By Abby Johnson
Jim Pittacora is not the kind of person to fill his fireplace mantle with medals. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he has more than 100 of them for mountain biking. And even talking about the shiny prizes makes him anxious; he waves his hand in the air as if to say that particular piece of information isn’t important.
But there is no hiding that Pittacora is a champion.
He has won four state titles since his first big race in 2012 and twice finished first place in the Breck 100, a 100-mile cycling course climbing more than 13,700 feet that took Pittacora 12.5 hours to complete. This race is the most challenging, he says. And he’s training to do it again in August.
One hundred seems to be the magic number for Pittacora: One hundred plus medals, 100-mile courses and his participation in more than 100 races. It’s a funny coincidence, the frequency of this number, because it’s also a reflection of Pittacora’s dedication to the sport. He gives everything his 100%.
He’s currently preparing for a 15-miler that will take place in West Virginia on July 19. When asked if it’s a relief to be riding such a short distance, he shakes his head. In fact, this race will keep him up the night before, he says.
“There is zero room for mistakes when you’re riding such a short distance,” he said. “You mess up one time, everyone flies by you and that’s it. You’re done for.”
To lessen the possibility of any mistakes, he will spend every night for the next few weeks practicing his starting position, so it can be as close to flawless as possible when the starter pistol fires.
For Pittacora, training isn’t a chore, it’s just part of a hobby. One that began in 2005 and accelerated in 2010 when he retired from his job as a Chicago Police Officer and began preparing for competitive cycle racing. Of course, it’s a good way to stay in shape, he says. But it’s not about the exercise. Pittacora does this because he enjoys it.
“It’s tiring,” he said. “But that’s not something you notice if you like what you’re doing.”
Sometimes he will ride to Dan Ryan Woods and time himself racing up and down the toboggan slides.
Pittacora surely has the stamina, the endurance to excel at something so mentally and physically demanding. But his response when asked how he got to this point is surprising, considering he has certainly earned his bragging rights. It wasn’t hard, he says. Anyone could do it.
“There’s no magic formula. Just ride.”