Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 1st, 2012 at 3:45 pm
Danny Knudsen share a laugh at
Auker’s 62nd birthday gathering
last night in Hillsdale.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
On November 16th, 2010, a man that friends and family thought would never stop pedaling his bike — did.
David Auker is a living legend in local and national bike racing circles. You might not know his name, but Auker was once one of the most feared racers on the west coast. He never signed a pro contract because he was too much of an independent spirit to go that route; but friends who were there back in the 1970s and ’80s say he won plenty of races against much more famous opponents like Alexi Grewal, Bob Roll, and others.
“In the old days,” former teammate Danny Knudsen recalled at a birthday party for Auker in Hillsdale last night, “the pros would not like to see Dave when they showed up. He’d ruin their plans.”
Auker’s racing prowess made it all that more shocking when his own plans to keep riding well into his 60s nearly came to an abrupt end.
On that fateful day in November of 2010, Auker was out riding about a block from his home in the hills of Southwest Portland when he had a stroke. Rushed to OHSU, Auker was placed in the ICU. He had lost movement on his right side and he had bleeding in his brain. Friends and family prepared for the worst.
“I went and saw him in the hospital,” recalled Knudsen, “And thought I’d never see the man again.”
Thankfully, Auker got better. Maybe it was his excellent physical shape, or maybe it was just his dogged determination to get back on the bike. Just a few months after his stroke, David’s wife Sarah (they’ve been together over 40 years) says he woke up one day and said, “I should go ride my bike.”
So he did.
Last night Auker was eager to tell me that he’s now riding 30-40 miles every day. Sarah says at first she would ride with him because his short-term memory is so faint that he would get lost even on roads he’s pedaled for decades. Now she rides the first few miles and then sets him off on his own. But still, “He takes the exact same route every time,” Sarah says, “Because he knows he’ll get lost if he doesn’t.”
a long time ago.
If you think Auker was just a bike racer, you should talk to Danny Knudsen.
Knudsen, a fit 42-year old with thick white hair who currently coaches the BicycleAttorney.com Cycling Team, calls Auker his mentor. “He really took me under his wing,” recalled Knudsen as Auker looked on, “He’s had a huge impact on my life.”
From how to pack his race-day gear bag, to using mind games as a way to vanquish stronger riders, to using mint-flavored dental floss to sew up flattened tubulars (the mint was for good luck), Knudsen said, “I couldn’t run my team without everything he’s taught me.”
Auker’s influence has been felt in other places as well.
He rode fixed geared bikes and led the local Sunday Fixie Ride long before the bikes became an urban phenomenon (he’s even mentioned in this 2005 AP story: Fixed-gear bikes now all the rage).
At his birthday gathering last night, Auker’s family and friends gathered around to count their blessings and share stories. I didn’t talk at length with Auker (he’s not exactly chatty these days, especially with someone like me who he’s only met a few times over the years); but I could tell he was feeling well and that he was especially happy to be riding again.
For such a competitive person like David, I can only imagine how hard it is to not feel like you can ride as far, as hard, and as often as you’d like. When the topic of his racing came up, David felt like he had to defend the fact that he wasn’t going to ever do it again. “I’ve done that,” he said with a tiny smile, “I’m not sure if it means I’m getting old or just moving on to other things.”