February 10, 2024 5 min read 1 Comment
This is Woody Cox, 73, world champion cyclist. "I’ve never really been out of shape my whole life," he said. Woody was 34 times the USA Cycling National Champion and established eight USA national cycling records.
By Ray Glier
Woody Cox would go so fast on a bike he looked as if he might set the cycling track on fire. He won 19 World Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) masters championships and set five masters world records.
Then Woody switched to U.S. mountain biking and had to change gears, so to speak. He had to bounce the bike over rocks, roots, and rattlers, and deal with elevation changes, and go fast doing it. Cox won the North American Enduro Championship in his age group.
Woody on a bike is as versatile as vinegar—it deodorizes, cleans, rinses, and unclogs—because he had opened his mind to exercise science 50 years ago. Cox learned how to build his body for speed, quickness, muscle, and agility. He won big because he was unafraid of the interplay between mind and body.
Here is the cool part of Woody’s story for those of us who remember one of the powerhouses of college football.
Cox, 73, played football at the University of Nebraska when the Cornhuskers were ahead of every other college program in the nation in the science of strength and conditioning. Nebraska won back-to-back national championships in 1970 and 1971 and Woody was a starting wide receiver.
Cox’s curiosity bubbled up in that exploratory and scientific environment, which leads us to one of the big reasons why Woody is important to Geezer Jocks.
Cox did some intense training for nearly 50 years, but lately has embraced Zone 2 training, the science behind backing off, yet still staying fit. He studied how the body works, he was open to revelations, and now makes his body work for him.
“My ego is not where every bike ride is a race I have to win,” Woody said. ““I used to just pound all the time. I mean, sometimes twice a day.
"A lot of the new training methods are Zone 2, maybe four or five days a week, and only going into high-level maybe two days a week. And so the Zone 2 training and its benefits really seem to have helped me.”
Cox said the scientific testing of Zone 2 over the last five years has drilled down to aid athletes who trained for years at a very intense level. Woody said your body “just starts shutting down and you get slower and slower and slower” if you push too much.
He said even the Tour de France pro cyclists are training in Zone 2 five days a week, which is a pace just above a recovery ride.
“Their heart rate is very low. The wattage output is very low, and it becomes very sustainable,” Cox said. “These pro riders, the best in the world, really can't go out and do a group ride. They basically have to work out by themselves because somebody will always push the pace on a group ride.”
It is quite a step back for a man who was a ferocious competitor.
In Manchester, England, before a masters cycling race, officials waited all morning to tell Cox he could not compete with a bar across the handles of the bike to improve his aerodynamics. He was informed just a few minutes before the race the bar had to come off.
Seriously miffed, Woody crushed the field and won another championship.
“It's called a points race…I just was on fire and won everything," Cox said. “I should have thanked the officials in the end.”
Woody played in the so-called Game of the Century on Nov. 25, 1971. Nebraska (13-0) and its future Heisman Trophy winner, wingback/return man Johnny Rodgers, defeated rival Oklahoma, 35-31, in a thrilling game. The Cornhuskers went on to win the national title, their second straight.
What Woody took from Nebraska off the field lasted a lifetime. Lincoln, Nebraska, in the early 1970s is referred to as “The Birthplace of Strength and Conditioning for Collegiate Athletics.”
“It was really enlightening and satisfied a curiosity I had because, as an athlete, you feel things, you feel lactic acid, but you don't really know what it is, or where it came from, or how it how it happened,” Cox said. “And so getting a degree in that kind of science, and then following it up by taking a bunch of courses on strength and conditioning training, and becoming cardiac rehab certified, and my masters work, brought it all together.”
After college, Woody added to the regimen with diet. He moved to Hawaii and did not eat meat because the fresh fish was abundant. Most athletes reach a peak in college. Woody was still climbing to his.
Before he became one of the best masters cyclists in the world, Cox was a four-time state racquetball champion in Hawaii. For a while he had a stint on the racing boat Captain Courageous helmed by the media mogul Ted Turner. He was certainly qualified being world champion twice in the Tornado Catamaran discipline.
The science of strength and conditioning he acquired at Nebraska laid a foundation for all that fun, and more. Now science commands Cox to ease off the throttle.
Among other things, Woody can devote time to his hobby of wood turning and finishing off a house built in Arizona. Check out Woody's artwork at the end of this story. A fit name to go with his hobby, don't you think?
To be sure, Woody is not hibernating from physical fitness. He still rides the bike hard some weekends. Cox is merely trying to complete his destiny, which is not to be a broken down old guy because he didn’t know when to cool it with the workouts.
“I can't tell you over the years how many people I know that really get into a sport, whatever it is, running, triathlon, and next thing you know, they're so burned out that they can't even get out of bed,” Cox said.
“And then they give up the sport and end up doing nothing. And if they would just do some training in Zone 2, their longevity and health would be far better off.”
These are bowls by Woody and his wood turning hobby.
Woody up to his --- in wood shavings from his work on bowls.
Woody and his friendly biker friends.
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