Mike Fraysse, arguably the most internationally-respected American cycling coach and manager ever, vividly remembers the details of the event that foreshadowed Mandy Marquardt’s climb in the sport 14 years ago.
Fraysse was leading a training session of 30 young riders near his resort in Glen Spey, New York, near the Delaware River. It was April, and the temperature was in the 50s when the ride started. But as they prepared for the final leg up a mountain to his home, sleet started to fall from the sky, and the temperature plummeted to 32 degrees.
“It was horrible, so cold and freezing,” Fraysee recalls, “that ice was falling off the spokes.”
Nearly all of the young riders were desperate to abandon the frigid mountain climb and seek the warmth of the inside of a support vehicle.
But a handful of older boys, aged 16 to 18, were joined by a 14-year-old Marquardt.
“It was so uplifting because, in bike racing, there are similar circumstances (due to the weather), and they aren't always going to stop the race,” Marquardt says. “In the moment, I remember battling with myself mentally.”
At the top, after Marquardt completed the treacherous 20-minute climb, Fraysee knew she had greatness in her.
“I said, ‘She’s got it!’ ” Fraysee says. “And she’s from Florida!”
Marquardt, 28, is an 18-time U.S. National champion who has extensively competed internationally and is in a good position to head to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But Marquardt insists she wouldn’t have come this far without exceptional coaches, particularly Fraysse and current coach Andrew Harris.
She started with endurance road and track events in Florida, until a coach recommended she attend one of Fraysse’s camps in New York. Fraysse is highly accomplished in cycling as a coach, manager and even two-time president of the United States Cycling Federation.
Marquardt is thankful for her time there training because Fraysse opened her eyes to something else: Her immense potential.
“I fell in love with the journey and the freedom on the bike,” she says, “and felt accepted by my coach and other riders.”
At the age of 16, while racing with the German national team, Marquardt took a routine physical and discovered that she had Type 1 Diabetes. That means her body either produces very little insulin or fails to produce it altogether. Insulin is a hormone that allows blood sugar to enter the cells in your body where it can be used for energy.
A doctor told her she would never compete at an elite level.
Marquardt has endured coaches who had questioned her work ethic and weren’t sensitive to her diabetes.
That’s where Harris comes in. He started working with Marquardt about six years ago, helping her make the transition from endurance to sprint track cycling.
He is an encourager, trusting his athletes to perform to the best of his or her capabilities.
"He’s in tune with my Type 1 diabetes,” Marquardt says. “He doesn’t question if I’m tired, because he knows I will always give 100 percent. So if I’m struggling with my diabetes during training, which is rare, he’s always understanding and considerate and that inspires me to continue to be a better athlete because I feel supported.”
She is a full-time cyclist for the USA Cycling National Team and Team Novo Nordisk, a global all-diabetes team of cyclists, who inspire, educate and empower people affected by diabetes.
Harris downplays his perspective on Marquardt and other athletes he works with. He believes “all athletes” want to be successful.
“You never hear someone say, ‘I want to be a mediocre performer,’ ” Harris says. “I feel the role of a coach is not to push, but rather to teach and inspire. The single most important thing is to give an athlete absolute crystal clarity on what success demands. Once they understand what is required for a winning performance, then our job is to give them the systems, support, and encouragement that will enable them to meet that demand.”
ABOVE AND BEYOND
But that barely scratches the surface of Harris’ commitment to the athletes he coaches.
He also serves as wise counsel.
“I’ve gone through some hard stuff, off the bike too,” Marquardt says. “He’s been there for me, as well. The conversations I have with my father, I would have with him too. He has three kids, and he’s another voice for things I’m going through.”
Harris and his wife Kelli, though, didn’t stop there. Marquardt and a group of elite athletes didn’t have a steady and reliable “home base” for training. So the Harris family bought a house in December and have worked hard to renovate it.
"On their property is a huge barn that was converted to an indoor training facility — it’s amazing!” Marquardt says. “Andrew and his wife are the sweetest people and are always there for all of us. We are definitely all like family.”
Andrew Harris is quick to point out two things: The facility is for skilled and unskilled athletes alike, and it still needs lots of improvements.
“It is a place that belongs to all of us,” he says, “where we can live by and reinforce our team culture.”
Marquardt has an eye on the Tokyo Olympics, and she couldn’t feel better about her training environment and her coach.
“Thank you for always being there for me and my family.” Marquardt says to Harris. “Thank you for continuing to push me out of my comfort zone. Thank you for buying a house so we could have a place to train. Thank you for helping me realize and unleash my potential. 2020 here we (hopefully) come!”
Such encouraging words mean a lot to Harris. But he’s thankful that he can be a coach, someone so many count on and look up to.
“For me, coaching is the most fulfilling thing I could ever do,” he says. “I am just so grateful that I hopefully can give something meaningful to these young people that they can take, use, and pass on again.”
Harris then cites one of his favorite quotes, which reads: “What I gave, I have; what I kept, I lost.”