Ian McElmury of La Jolla, Calif. rode 14,000 miles on a bicycle before Sept. 4, 1967, a record of sorts, since that is the day he was born. Two days earlier his cyclist mother Audrey squatted with a 135-pound barbell. Although this is far below her record of 210 pounds, her obstetrician was horrified. However, Audrey McElmury didn't become the best woman distance cyclist in the world by lying in bed eating chocolate orange creams and watching As the World Turns. Last August she arose bleeding from a fall in Brno, Czechoslovakia to beat more than 40 women from 16 countries in a 44-mile road race and became the first American woman ever to win a world cycling championship.
"The hills of La Jolla won it for me," says Audrey. "Compared to them, the Worlds was easy." Rising from the Pacific north of La Jolla are the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains. This is where Audrey McElmury has trained for eight years, 40 miles a day, six days a week, nine months of the year. Of more subtle importance than the angle of acclivity are the heavenly smells of sage, berry and Torrey pine, which make this perhaps the best place on earth to own a nose. Human reactions vary. Some sigh and collapse helplessly beneath the trees. Athletes, though, prefer to exhaust themselves; gasping for air is a pleasure. Other wondrous things besides Audrey McElmury have blossomed here. Her husband Scott opens his La Jolla High School yearbook and points to a picture of his class vice-president, a striking girl named Raquel Tequada, who married, then divorced, a local fisherman named Welch.
Mountains and marvelous air were the key, but regular competition in men's road races didn't hurt Audrey. Fortunately, the ban against women competing against men, which still applies in Europe, has been relaxed in Southern California. No American woman can stay with Audrey in a long race. But then, no American woman has quite her regimen. Not only does Audrey lift weights and pedal up 35° slopes, she makes her own yogurt. "Not many men ride a bike 240 miles a week, work out regularly with weights and care about their diets, too," says Maylan Wiltse, Audrey's weight-lifting coach and the strength and body-building coach of the San Diego Chargers.
"What he's trying to say," Audrey points out, "is that I didn't all of a sudden become world champion."
November 24, 1969
Audrey had to stop climbing up stairs with ankle weights when the stairs started caving in, but since she has been working out at Wiltse's La Jolla Health Studio, fears for her safety in all-male races have disappeared. Not, however, because of new and menacing layers of brawn; normal female hormones resist the development of Mr. America muscle. Audrey McElmury is a slender 5'8", 130 pounds and her power is far more practical, as was demonstrated last month when strong men crashed all around her during the final major U.S. cycling event of the year, a six-lap, 50-mile road race at Solvang, Calif.
Seventy-seven of the best American racers were entered—Audrey and 76 men. "It should be a spectacular race," she said beforehand. "There are lots of bad right-angle corners." The road was narrow, with room for perhaps 15 cyclists abreast, and as the race began the tightly packed swarm looked like one of those giant, mutated Things from a 3 a.m. movie, with a dozen dozen pistonlike legs and a thousand eyes—motes of chrome flashing in the sun—undulating by with a hummm-hummm-hummm.
Jockeying for position in the middle of the maelstrom was Audrey McElmury, body low, hair streaming back. "I'd rather look like a girl than cut my hair," she says, but even with a crew cut she would have stood out like a rose in a potato patch.
Fifteen miles into the race a cyclist fell directly ahead of Audrey. She grimaced, swerved sharply to avoid a collision, then continued without hesitation, years of barbell curls paying off. She sat with the pack now, back and head almost parallel to the ground, face slightly upturned to reveal a tight-lipped mouth and the whites of her eyes. "You can tell when she's really pushing back the pain," a friend had remarked earlier. "Her eyes roll up." Rounding the next corner someone lost control and went down with a lingering clatter just behind Audrey. She curbed a dangerous reflex to look back.
All went well until the next to last lap. Going 35 mph, a cyclist trying to pass slapped his front wheel into Audrey's rear wheel, and suddenly three men were sprawled on the road. Again Audrey stayed upright, weight-trained triceps, shoulders and back resisting sudden lateral movement.
"She rides like a man, so why knock it," Fred Davis of Westminster, Calif. had said before the race. "I've got no fear of Audrey running into me, though there's a whole lot of guys I've got to watch." Davis finished well behind the leaders, and Audrey, so out of shape after the Worlds that she had considered staying home, beat 64 of America's best men to finish 13th, despite losing half a dozen places in a sprint down the last 300 yards. "She has the stamina to stay up," Alan DeFever, the national road champion, explained, "but if there's a sprint at the end, that's where some guys pass her."
This wasn't a problem last July, when Audrey competed against the clock at the Encino (Calif.) Velodrome. She covered 24.8 miles in one hour, a U.S. women's record, and set additional records at 20 miles and at every mile from two to 15. "At 25 miles an hour you get dizzy," she said. "Can you imagine what it was like going that fast, around and around for 162 laps?"
For better or worse, her husband Scott has been the greatest influence in Audrey's life since they met in 1958, when Audrey was 15. He made her a surfboard that year and surfing was her sport until 1960 when he made her a skateboard and she promptly broke her ankle. When it healed Scott and Audrey went out and bought themselves a couple of bikes. Eight months later Audrey entered a 25-mile time trial against 100 men, and beat half of them. When they got married in 1963, Scott was doubly involved—emotionally and mechanically. Sunday is race day, and on Saturday morning he starts getting Audrey's bikes ready, sometimes not finishing until 4 a.m. Sunday. Scott is a fine cyclist in his own right, but most of his recent leisure time has been spent as Audrey's equipment manager, and he only uses his bike to commute the 12.5 miles to San Diego, where he works as a researcher for Solar, a division of International Harvester. Scott has a Ph.D. in aerospace and mechanical engineering science. Indeed, science plays almost as large a role in Audrey's life as cycling: her father, Dr. Fred B. Phleger, who is at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is a leading authority on foraminifera, while Audrey has a degree in zoology and for a time worked as a lab technician at the University of California at San Diego.
The McElmury garage, where Scott works on his wife's machines, looks like a small bicycle factory. Six or seven bikes are suspended from the rafters. Scott buys rims, spokes and hubs and makes all of Audrey's wheels, 19 of which dangle from the walls, as do 40 or 50 chains. Four or five dozen tires protrude like snakeskins from chests and drawers, and lately Ian has been hanging out in the garage, ruining his clothes on the greasy chains and shinnying up to the seat of Audrey's racer.
Ian is a tough-looking, fireplug-shaped little kid. If there's such a thing as a born athlete, he's it. Until he got too big he often went along on 25-mile training rides, riding in a seat above the front wheel. Before he was born, Audrey read a book entitled Let's Have Healthy Children and, as a result, bought a huge incubator and began making a gallon of yogurt a week. Unlike the store variety, McElmury yogurt contains no emulsifiers or preservatives.
A McElmury breakfast is not for the squeamish. The eggs, for example, are fertile, and supposedly contain more iron than yours and mine. The milk isn't pasteurized—an obnoxious process that destroys protein and natural hormones, Audrey explains, assuring the horrified of a local law requiring raw milk to have a lower bacterial count than pasteurized milk. Ian, Scott and Audrey drink a minimum of 18 quarts of milk a week, either straight or in an exotic, home-made mixture they call tiger's milk, which makes fewer concessions to the palate than the commercial product. Audrey's contains raw and powdered milk, orange juice, soy oil, raw eggs, powdered calcium gluconate, yeast, desiccated liver and bananas, the latter masking the flavor of the two previous ingredients. A taste for Audrey's tiger's milk is acquired. "Take a normal 2-year-old and you couldn't make him drink it because the yeast tastes so bad," Audrey says. Ian ain't normal. He is the youngest health nut in Southern California, the health nuthouse of the world. "Ian want tiga muk," he screams regularly. "Ian want tiga muk. Give Ian tiga muk in a bottew." He will guzzle blissfully for a few minutes, then begin thrusting his bottle at guests. "Drink, drink, drink," he orders, and if they refuse he starts throwing surprisingly hard roundhouse punches to their legs.
Ian's precocity and Audrey's achievements may have nothing to do with their superdiets. Still, he doesn't ride a bike or lift weights—yet—and his mother points out that she has broken every one of her personal records since becoming sold on health foods. Audrey should be at her peak around 1972, and it would be a shame if women's cycling weren't an Olympic sport by then. (There are seven men's events.) Who knows? Maybe the sport could win even wider representation. Can't you just see a husky little kid on a tricycle being cheered across the finish line at Munich waving a bottew of tiga muk?