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Veteran rider looking forward to ‘Biking for Biology’ on Saturday

Darby Harris will be pedaling his bicycle for at least 100 miles this coming Saturday, Sept. 19. But will it turn out to be 125 miles, or maybe 150, or even 200 miles? It all depends on the donations.

Harris, a three-time Western Carolina University alumnus who now teaches as a lecturer in WCU’s Department of Biology, will hop aboard his road bike at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at the Natural Sciences Building to begin the inaugural “Biking for Biology,” an initiative to benefit the students in WCU’s Biology Club.

Darby Harris cruises down a campus road. “Biking for Biology” will take him on an extreme ride from Cullowhee to Sylva and Balsam, and then north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Darby Harris cruises down a campus road. “Biking for Biology” will take him on an extreme ride from Cullowhee to Sylva and Balsam, and then north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Harris will be cycling one mile for every $5 raised for the club, and with about $500 in donations already secured by mid-week, he is destined to go after the cyclist’s “century,” or 100-miler. The donation total as of late Friday will determine his ultimate task – including if his mission will be to complete a 200-mile “double century,” which would take him north on the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to Boone – in one day.

A native of Durham, Harris started racing road bikes as a high school student and enrolled as a WCU undergraduate in the fall of 1990. His three degrees earned in Cullowhee include a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1997, a bachelor’s degree in French in 2001, and a master’s degree in biology in 2005. Harris taught as an adjunct professor in the WCU biology department for a year after receiving his master’s, and then he and his wife, WCU alumna Isabella Jacovino, moved to the University of Kentucky, where he began working on his doctorate in plant biology. He completed the doctoral program in 2011, and the couple moved to Cornell University, where he worked in a post-doctoral research position. They moved back to WCU when he accepted the lecturer’s position for fall semester 2012.

Harris is at least 100 miles from rookie status when it comes to road cycling. He spent the years 2002 through 2007 as a “Category 1” road racer, the highest ability level for amateur road cyclists as defined by USA Cycling, and he often battled professional cyclists in races held from Virginia to Florida. For two years he was a member of a team sponsored by the Earth Fare supermarket chain, based in Asheville, and for another two years he was on a team representing Cane Creek, a cycling component company in Fletcher.

Harris said time spent in the saddle went down for a couple of years after he and his wife moved back to Cullowhee, but last year his road miles started to increase again, highlighted by a 200-mile ride completed in 13 hours in the summer of 2014. The miles have been piling up this year, also. Harris said he was averaging about 300 miles per week by mid-summer, and the 43-year-old recently won the 100-mile Blue Ridge Breakaway race in Haywood County with a time of 5 hours and 53 minutes.

For the Saturday ride, he plans to follow back roads from Sylva to Balsam, and the remainder of the journey will be north along the parkway. “I’m going to be tired at the end of this, no matter if it goes for 200 miles, or whatever,” he said.

Two of the masterminds behind “Biking for Biology,” biology seniors Emily Ashe (left) and Chequita Brooks, maintain their enthusiasm at a rainy Valley Ballyhoo.

Two of the masterminds behind “Biking for Biology,” biology seniors Emily Ashe (left) and Chequita Brooks, maintain their enthusiasm at a rainy Valley Ballyhoo.

Two senior biology majors who are Honors College students and Biology Club officers – president Chequita Brooks and vice president Emily Ashe – started tossing out fundraising ideas for the club last spring, and the two students and Harris decided to start the “Biking for Biology” project. The money raised will be used to send club members on educationally enriching trips to research centers and college campuses in the region.

Harris said Brooks and Ashe have been dynamic leaders for the Biology Club, leading the group to grow from 10 or 15 members several years ago to about 50 members now. “I’ll be more than happy if this is something we can make an annual event, and we can use the money for some really cool student activities,” Harris said.

Harris said his wife will provide logistical support during the Saturday ride and transport him back home, and some Biology Club students also may meet up with him along the parkway.

Donations for “Biking for Biology” are being accepted at the biology department office located in Room 132 of the Natural Sciences Building, and supporters also can donate at the website www.gofundme.com/bikingforbiology.

On the day of the ride, updates and photos will be posted on the biology department’s Facebook page and on the Biology Club’s Facebook page.

By Randall Holcombe

Categories | The Reporter


Photos | WCU News Services

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