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."
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."