INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Call it a “harrowing” way to live. In a single training session, world champion off-road triathlete Libby Harrow cycles across the Barber Bridge not once, but 30 times. Then she swims 2,000 yards in the lap pool behind her Central Beach home. Pulling on her shorts, she steps outside for a run in Riverside Park.
Then she heads off to work. Selling bicycles.
The soft-spoken wisp of a woman ringing up flat repairs and rentals at Orchid Island Bikes and Kayaks could not be more solicitous with her customers. But Harrow is merciless when it comes to attacking a trail, and equally relentless promoting the sport of cycling in Vero.
“It’s amazing,” she says, “but we have more people from Vero in the top ten in the nation than any city this size in the U.S.”
Harrow herself, at 59, is tops in the world for her age in a race that involves mountain biking down treacherous trails, then swimming – sometimes in lakes so cold she wears a wetsuit — and running, sometimes in temperatures of 100 degrees.
On the way to those championships, she spun, lunged and plunged to the fore in innumerable regional races, including one last month in Waco, Texas, taking first place in her age group in a competition that took four hours, including biking for two hours on what she describes as a “roller coaster” trail.
It is astonishing enough that a woman approaching the start of her seventh decade – with all its attendant aches and pains – is capable of pushing through grueling circumstances with near-flawless mental acuity, physical agility and all manner of endurance.
What is more remarkable is that her powerful urge to compete is entirely of her own making. Consider that unlike younger women, who grew up with girls’ sports in schools, Harrow was already out of college by the time Title IX was enacted, the 1972 law that required schools getting federal funding to provide equal access to sports to both girls and boys.
A passionate advocate for bikers and biking, for years Harrow has been working on finding a greenway space for an off-road trail. Greenways are multi-use pathways away from roads where walkers, runners and often cyclists can get a workout well away from motor vehicles.
She has tried to get cooperation from various private and public entities, including the rights to an area near the airport, controlled by the F.A.A., where planes can ditch in an emergency; the rent, however, is dictated by federal law, and must be based on “fair value,” which would amount to $78,000.
Another stretch of suitable land is along a canal bank controlled by Indian River Farms district, which claims it needs both banks of the canal for maintenance; a third is an unused set of railroad tracks that runs alongside a functioning track. There, Florida East Coast Railway says safety is the issue, though the two tracks are some distance apart.
Now her hopes are pinned to Round Island. An off-road trail at the county park, at the southern end of the barrier island, would allow riders to bike essentially from Jungle Trail south, and would be a considerable coup for the barrier island, crowned at both ends of the long A-1-A straightaway with two beautiful rides in natural settings.
“It would be a great way to provide low-cost eco-tourism,” she says. “It’s low-cost entertainment. It would be a wonderful attraction.”
She is cautiously optimistic, hoping to trade on barrier island bikers’ support – which is considerable, she says.
Harrow estimates the number of serious Vero cyclists at around 200, including close to 60 who compete regularly, including Eddie and Lana Brannigan, Dave Winfield, Chuck Sullivan and Tom Daly, with many more casual users, including tourists and children.
“We get at tons of calls and emails during the season from people coming down here for vacation and wanting to know where they can ride,” says Malcolm Allen, shaking his head. “We hate having to say there’s really no place other than A-1-A and Jungle Trail.”