Chances are, if you have participated a bike race in Kansas over the past 15 years you have seen him. Maybe he was following you at a local road race in a big red van decked out in stickers, voice ringing out through the roof-mounted loudspeaker, “Pedal faster!” He might have been standing along the roadside on hot summer days spraying you down with a water gun as you passed by. More than likely he was taking your picture or working the turnaround point at a time trial, cheering you on as you made your turn to head back to the finish line. If you arrived early enough to your race you might have seen him helping to set up the course, mark the route, or sweeping the turns.
Even if you didn’t notice, he was probably there.
Roger Harrison has been a local staple on the cycling circuit for fifteen years now after first being introduced to triathlons by his friend, Brendan Sheehan. Over the course of those fifteen years Roger has volunteered at, in his best estimate, 175 events. It doesn’t matter if it is a summer criterium in 106 degree heat or a winter cyclocross race in sub-zero temperatures, Roger is usually there and he is usually volunteering his time to assist in some way. Founder of the Lanterne Rouge Volunteer Group, Roger’s mission is to support local racing and make racing safer for all participants. Why does he invest so much his own time and money into these events? “I really got started because I saw a need for better safety for my children, and other riders’ children. Also for the ridership and to promote the female side of racing.”
Roger keeps very busy assisting promoters with their events on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri state line. Since he was a victim of a hit-and-run a few years ago he has been unable to race and ride as much as he used to, but aside from competing in fewer races, it has done little to slow him down, “… after my hit-and-run, I take more pictures than race.”
Roger wears many hats and keeps himself very busy as a promoter, volunteer, announcer, photographer, and advocate to name a few. He has even been known to make anonymous donations to those in need so they can participate in area cycling events. In 2003 Roger was awarded the Kansas Cycling Association Perpetual Motion Award for his commitment to area cycling.
Gina Poertner of LifeBALANCE Sports & Wellness had this to say about Roger,
“Ever since I’ve known Roger, he’s always doing something to ensure success for all of our events. He’s out marking courses while most of us are still sleeping. When I took over the Time Trial series, he sent race numbers and has kept us supplied each year. He brings the fun with his sense of humor and his music, and does so many things behind the scenes to make sure competitors have a good experience.”
Roger has experienced everything cycling has to offer but it is still, “the people, the kids, and the efforts,” that he enjoys the most. As far as his future plans are concerned, Roger wants to see increased participation of women and youth in cycling, “[I want to] keep it going, try to bring back the Woo Hoo Ladies events and have a symposium by our local female stars: Kelly Benjamin, Catherine Walberg, etc. I would like for the great riders in the area to give back to the children. For example, Jim Whittaker took Joseph Schmalz to a level and then Steve Tilford and his team took him to another level. It can be done.”
Brendan Sheehan, of Santa Fe Trails Bicycle Shop, points out that Roger’s volunteerism and dedication doesn’t end with the cycling world, “Roger volunteers at running races, bicycle races, tennis meets, charity drives, and cancerthons. He is always working on the next event.” Roger invests much of his own money into these events as well, “The key word is volunteer. He not only commits innumerable hours of his time, he pays to do all these things…He has never profited a single penny. He has invested thousands of dollars of his own money in equipment to make events safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable for all who participate.”
Sheehan has promoted many events in the area over the years and says that Roger’s assistance has been critical to the success of these events. Just a few of the events Roger has worked with him on include: Joseph Sheehan Memorial Road Race, Doing Time in Leavenworth Criterium, Late Night Under the Lights Criterium and Children’s Free Bicycle Race Series, Trips for Kids, Buffalo Bill Century, Amelia Earhart Century, Haven’s Cross Race, and the Abele’s Field Cancerthon.
Sheehan echoes a sentiment expressed by many, “He is such a mainstay that riders become disappointed if he does not make it to an event.His efforts make our amateur events seamless and professional.”
He may refer to himself as The Lanterne Rouge, but in the hearts of the cycling community, it is the Maillot Jaune that is draped across Roger’s back.
As I am writing this piece I am reminded of a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr which I find very fitting when discussing Roger and his efforts,
“…if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.’
In other words, “Whatever you are, be the best.” Roger is the best at what he does, making cycling events better, safer, and more enjoyable for everyone.
As riders pull up to the next race and see Roger’s bright red van they will once again all pause and say, “Here lives Roger Harrison who does his job well.”
Photos: Roger Harrison's Facebook