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How Joining a Virtual Bike-Racing Team Helped Rebuild Strength and Stamina

A recreational runner and cyclist, Jeff Abernathy nearly abandoned his athletic aspirations in 2014 when he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune condition that…

Sunday, Mar 06

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A recreational runner and cyclist, Jeff Abernathy nearly abandoned his athletic aspirations in 2014 when he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune condition that affects the joints. A virtual bike-racing league now has him training like a pro cyclist. Jeff Abernathy, age 57, finished 140 races last year on Zwift.

After a year of inactivity, he set a goal to run 1 mile or bike 5 miles every day. To keep up his cycling in the winter months, he started riding a stationary bike, streaming workouts via Zwift , an app where indoor cyclists can ride and race together in a live, videogame-like universe. Riders often cycle on virtual versions of real racecourses, like the Tour de France.

He joined a virtual-racing league team in January 2021 to boost his motivation during the pandemic. He now trains to win, not just to stay fit. As president of Alma College in Alma, Mich., Mr. Abernathy, 57 years old, is on the road at least 10 days a month fundraising and networking. He says a team sport was never practical before Zwift because he couldn’t commit consecutive weekends to in-person racing.

Virtual competition lets him race three eight-week seasons with his team each year. He logged 140 races in 2021, and his team finished first in its bracket during the final season. They are hoping to defend their title this year.

“I’ve never had more fun riding my bike in my life,” he says. Virtual competition lets Mr. Abernathy race three eight-week seasons […]

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