Fort Lewis cyclist balances bikes with academics

Rotem Ishay’s life was at a crossroads when he discovered Durango cycling and Fort Lewis College.

The 20-year-old was completing his two years of mandatory military service in his native Israel, and he already had pedaled to the top of Israeli cycling circles.

“I was looking for a change. I had fulfilled all I could do in Israel (in cycling),” Ishay said. “I’d won every major mountain bike race there.”

The Israeli national champion was interested in a professional cycling career. But his opportunities were limited.

“No one in Europe was signing foreign bike racers then. It’s a lot different than in the United States,” Ishay said.

That’s when he heard from a couple of old friends – close friends who had raced bikes together in Israel.

Yarden Gazit and Assaf Yogez of Israel were living in Durango, attending FLC and racing bikes on the U.S. collegiate circuit.

“They told me, ‘You should check it out. Come on over and check it out,’” Ishay said. “So I took a vacation to Durango without knowing quite what to expect. I just knew I wanted to bring my mountain bike and ride some really sweet trails,” Ishay said.

“When I got here, I fell in love with the place. I fell in love with the college, with the mountains with the trails ... everything,” he said. “I met with Rick Crawford, who was coaching FLC. He said I should move here and race bikes and go to school.”

Done and done.

“Higher education and a high level of racing. Studying and racing – those two things were perfect for me,” Ishay said, adding that if he would have gone to a full-time racing program, he would have burned out on cycling.

“But this is a perfect balance,” said the now 25-year-old who knows a thing or two about balance.

After a year to prepare his visa and complete his SATs and other enrollment requirements, Ishay enrolled and put on his first FLC cycling kit.

“I can’t ever tell you how happy I am with the decision to come to Fort Lewis College and Durango,” he said.

Ishay went on to win a national collegiate mountain biking title for the Skyhawks.

He branched out to road racing and cyclocross.

This year, he won a national title in the team time trial with his road cycling teammates from FLC.

He helped the Skyhawks retain their standing as the No. 1 cycling racing team in the country, considering all disciplines.

Less than a year after he enrolled at FLC, Ishay was offered a professional cycling contract from Jamis Bicycles. He’s still riding for Jamis, and he scheduled to graduate from FLC in December.

“No way would I have (signed a pro racing contract) if I hadn’t raced at Fort Lewis,” said Ishay, who will ride in the Jamis colors at the 2012 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic this weekend.

The versatile Ishay will go for the King of the Mountain title and will include the Iron Horse mountain bike race on his schedule.

For Ishay, the Iron Horse weekend of racing will be perfect training for the upcoming European and World mountain bike championships.

“The timing is perfect for me,” Ishay said.

Just like his balance.