April 13, 2024
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Robbie Marcus Scores Big in Track Cycling Nationals

Coming off 17 glorious days of sharing in the victories of the world’s top athletes as they competed in grueling competitions to break records and earn medals, many of us are energized to incorporate more physical activity into our daily lives. But after the visions of the 2016 Rio Olympics fade, how many of us will follow up?

Robbie Marcus, 57, of Riverdale has been following up for the past 10 years since he began his cycling career. In 2002, Marcus realized that his weight had become a problem, so he undertook a program through which he lost 85 pounds. Then came the challenge of keeping it off. He soon joined his friends in a social cycling group which rode over the George Washington Bridge toward Nyack for 70 to 100 miles on Sundays. This led to his joining the New York Cycle Club for more formal rides with like-minded people. Soon after, more and more riders joined, including more Sabbath observant people from Teaneck and Englewood—a real chevra! At one point, Marcus soon found that he could save time by cycling to work in Jamaica, Queens, a 45- mile round trip adventure. He quickly learned to stay safe by sensing the traffic flow and utilizing the back streets.

Marcus was never quite comfortable with road racing so when his friends mentioned track racing he was intrigued. He went on to learn about the 24 velodromes located throughout the US where track racers train for competitions through clinics and practice. Specifically, he learned about the hidden asphalt velodrome in Kissena Park in Flushing, Queens. From then on, Wednesday evenings saw Marcus headed out to Queens for training and racing.

Track cycling differs from road cycling in that track bikes have no brakes. The pedals and wheels of the bike spin simultaneously. There is no coasting or sudden braking, just free-wheeling. The bike slows down through body pressure applied. This makes track cycling quite a full-bodied physical challenge.

In 2012, Marcus trained as often as possible at the Kissena velodrome and later on at The Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Trexlertown, a high-level venue near Allentown, PA. In 2013 he was already competing in regional tournaments from which he emerged with both silver and bronze medals. Later he earned the NY State Masters 50+ Bronze medal in the Omnium, a five event competition. In 2015, he had gained sufficient credibility in his individual and team events that he was invited to join Pink Rhino Racing, a well-known national track team, where he competes in the Masters Division, including ages 45 and older.

From August 8 through 14, Marcus competed in the USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships in Indianapolis. Of those seven days, one was Shabbat followed by Tisha B’Av, two days during which Marcus was curtailed from competing. Even so, his expertise in longer endurance races and shorter sprinting events earned him two new personal records and loads of experience to his and his family’s delight. As this report was being compiled, Marcus earned his 2nd NY State Bronze Omnium Medal and a Silver in the Team event for Masters 50+ age group. What makes this even more incredible is that one half of the event was supposed to be on Shabbat but was moved to Sunday due to thunderstorms at the track, allowing him to participate in all the events on Sunday with the other racers.

Marcus’s family is very supportive of his cycling. Wife Marcella; daughter Abby, 23, and sons Sammy, 20, and Dovi, 17, are proud of his accomplishments and can be seen in the bleachers, even on hot days, cheering him on. Marcus trains daily in their Riverdale apartment on a specialized training apparatus. “They hardly even notice me anymore as I do my thing,” says Marcus, appreciative of his family’s tolerance.

The Marcuses have lived in Riverdale for 28 years. They daven at the Riverdale Jewish Center under the leadership of Rabbi Yitzi Genack. Their Riverdale friends and neighbors are very proud of Marcus’s impressive competitive cycling involvement. But what is the reaction of those outside the community to a Sabbath-observant cyclist?

“Keeping Shabbat during a national competition is enough of a challenge, but try to explain Tisha B’Av to a midwesterner! It can be a frustrating experience. However, keeping true to your religious obligations and standing up to your moral convictions is what we do. I have a teammate who misses events on Sundays as he attends church services religiously with his family. Mostly, I am respected for my beliefs and a act as a mentor to many new riders,” shares Marcus.

“On the reverse side, on Shabbat Chazon at Congregation Bnei Torah in Indianapolis, I was celebrated as a ‘Hero in Residence.’ From the home hospitality meal on Friday night to the festive Shabbat kiddush in shul., I was treated royally and made to feel very special.”

Marcus is proud of those in our community who take upon themselves serious physical commitments to keeping their bodies fit. “Endeavors such as Bike4Chai, which I participated in 2010, are win-win events. They encourage the participants to keep in shape and raise millions of dollars for a super-worthy cause. We in the religious community must spread the word that keeping the body fit allows us to do everything else we need to do as Torah-observant Jews through a stronger and healthier lifestyle.”

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