U.S. Cyclists Pedaling for Top Spot in World Games
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., Aug. 11, 1999 An Air Force intelligence analyst and a Coast Guard aviation mechanist are trying to pedal to a medal in the 2nd Military World Games in Zagreb, Croatia.
They concede that bicycling is mainly a European forte and that the Italians, Germans and some riders from Third World countries are tough guys to beat. But that doesn't worry Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard F. Stewart, 37, or Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Steve Mlujeak, 30. They think they're tough, too. And, they said, you'll find eight other tough guys on the U.S. armed forces cycling team.
The American athletes gathered at a team staging area at Aberdeen before heading to Croatia to join 8,000 military athletes from 78 countries at the games Aug. 5-18. The Military World Games are sponsored by the 121-nation International Military Sports Council.
"Eight of us will do the road race and two will do the trial," said Mlujeak, of the Coast Guard Air Station, Miami, Fla. "The goal is to finish in the top 10." He was 68th in the council's 1996 games in Germany and 48th in its 1997 games in Italy. There were no 1998 games.
He said he expects to do better this year because the course is better suited for him than the ones in Germany and Italy. "It's not mountainous and that's good for me. Plus I've been able to train quite a bit more this year," Mlujeak said.
Stewart, assigned to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., started his racing career while stationed in Italy. "I'd injured myself while running and a friend suggested I try cycling," he said. "I enjoyed it so much I started riding with the local Italian clubs."
His interest mushroomed after watching participants in the Tour of Southern Italy zoom down the street he lived on. "I started dabbling in racing in Italy, got a little better at it in Germany, and then won an armed forces championship," said the New Bern, N.C., native. "I've been doing it ever since. It keeps me young and keeps me on the edge." Stewart said he practices "at least a couple of hours a day."
This isn't the first time the two have raced on the same team. They were teammates in a 1994 race in Little Rock, Ark., where Mlujeak "almost made the winning breakaway in the competition," Stewart recalled.
"Five years later, he has been tearing them up all season," Stewart said. "Steve is going to be tough. Motivation is a big thing."
Mlujeak, a native of Traverse City, Mich., started out riding mountain bikes about 10 years ago when he was stationed in Kodiak, Alaska. "The weather there is terrible and there's not many paved roads, so if you're going to do any biking it's going to be off road," he said. He and a couple of buddies used to rent mountain bikes, but then he got hooked on the sport and bought his own racing bike.
Mlujeak qualified for the Olympic cycling trials in Colorado Springs, Colo., by winning the Military National Championship point series in June at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. He has his eyes set on the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.
He said without the support of his wife, Jamie, his commander and co-workers, he wouldn't be able to compete in cycling. "We have a six-month-old baby at home, and I've been gone at least two weeks out of every month racing," he said. "The men and women at the air station, the busiest search and rescue station in the world, take my duties and deployments so I can race."