McKinnon still has wheels
Two years after horrifying collision with motorist, McKinnon is a Southern California road race champ
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
Area baseball fans don’t have to jog their memories too much to remember Marcus McKinnon, one of South Tahoe High School’s fastest outfielders in school history.
He had what sports followers call “wheels.”
That McKinnon was an all-league baseball player – one who led off for the Vikings in 2004 and could flag down fly balls that other outfielders had no chance of grabbing.
Fast forward to the spring of 2008. The present McKinnon still has wheels, but they aren’t attached to his body. The 22-year-old STHS graduate is quickly ascending cycling’s ladder of success in Southern California.
On Sunday, McKinnon, basically a newcomer in cycling, participated in his first professional race, placing 34th out of more than 100 road racers in a redundant criterium. The race required the cyclists to cover as much ground as they could in 75 minutes in an industrial zone.
“That was pretty cool. It was really, really fast,” said McKinnon of testing himself against the pros.
McKinnon, who is a junior at Moorpark College, said many of the courses in Southern California are repetitive since it is difficult to close roads in the densely populated areas.
After winning the 2008 Southern California District Road Championship for category 3 racers earlier this month, McKinnon decided it was time to take his chances with the pros (categories 1 and 2).
“I’d like to keep moving up in category,” said McKinnon, who received $100 and a coveted jersey containing the likeness of the state flag.
Instant success in cycling seemed a remote possibility after what McKinnon experienced only two years ago. During a training ride, a motorist made a left-hand turn into a bike lane and struck McKinnon, who estimated that he was traveling near 30 mph.
“I ended up shooting out about 15 feet,” McKinnon said. “It was definitely the worst spill of my life. But in riding, they say if you haven’t fallen, you haven’t ridden long enough.”
The accident left McKinnon with compound fractures of his tibia and fibula and a broken wrist.
“It took me out of cycling for about four months. It definitely was a learning experience to overcome it and get back on a bike. I think about it every day,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon never went through physical therapy. Doctors decided to get his leg back in shape by riding – what else? – his bike.
He emerged from the accident with a stronger religious faith.
“It showed me that this can be taken away at any time. It definitely drew me closer to the Lord. Every day is dedicated to him,” McKinnon said.
Given his past success on the diamond, McKinnon could have just as easily been nearing the end of a successful college baseball career. But an introduction to cycling by avid road racer Randy Volkmar of South Lake Tahoe changed his life.
“It was Christmas Eve (several years ago) and I took him to Diamond Valley for a spin. He had never ridden a bike. When we went up a hillclimb, I thought he’d be a mile back, and he was right on my wheel,” Volkmar said. “When I saw how close he was and how determined he was to stay on my wheel, I just knew if he put the time in, he was going to do really well.”
Volkmar believes that McKinnon has made uncommon strides in the sport because of his work ethic.
“You see him on a bike, and he’s a natural. It’s effortless, and Marcus understands that you get out of it what you put into it. He’s willing to stay an hour later or get up an hour earlier to put in extra work,” Volkmar said.
Originally, the plan was to use cycling to get in better shape for his baseball season.
“I was trying to get in shape for baseball, and Randy got me into road biking. He showed me the ropes, got me into Alta Alpina (cycling club) and racing with them,” McKinnon said. “Then I started to go as far as I could with it.
“I do miss baseball at times, but now that I’ve jumped into this, it’s like a full-time job and definitely eats up a lot of my time.”
McKinnon estimates that he rides 300 miles per week, but he still owns a car.
“It definitely saves on gas. I get back on roads that people don’t even know about. It keeps the sparks flying,” he said.